To mitigate climate change while catering to the needs of a growing population, cities need to find smarter ways to manage their resources, while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Since waste management and circular economy will be instrumental in this endeavour, the current level of circularity in cities, the environmental impact of related activities and sharable best practices need to be explored. This paper examines the roadmap to zero emissions of the 362 cities that expressed interest in the Horizon Europe 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission. Based on an unprecedented suite of city inputs, this study answers a set of research questions so far unaddressed due to the lack of a suitable dataset.
The analysis focusses on a) current actions undertaken by cities in achieving a circular economy and reducing/optimising waste streams, b) envisioned circular actions in supporting climate neutrality by 2030, and c) urban sectors and metabolic flows for which circularity has a particularly high potential to mitigate climate change. Best practices are captured to create an informative set of actions aimed at policy-makers and at encouraging peer-to-peer learning.
Finally, the barriers to incrementing circular approaches that emerge from the cities’ self-assessments are compared to those identified in existing scientific literature to provide input for a more comprehensive conceptual framework. Overall, this study distils how circular economy imaginaries are translated into local governance and policy-making by focussing on a large group of cities. This is key to truly understand why some initiatives fail and others succeed and can inform all relevant stakeholders on the next steps to take.