International cooperation will continue to drive sustainable urban development


This year has clearly shown the need for greater urban resilience. Crises, including the coronavirus pandemic or the climate change crisis, know no borders – local, national, or international. In order to limit their impact, we need bold leaders willing to take decisive action in collaboration with international partners across governing levels.

The International Urban Cooperation (IUC) programme has demonstrated this value time and time again, as cities the world over have faced unprecedented challenges.

The impact of international urban cooperation has been seen even just in the past few months. Although the coronavirus pandemic has now impacted all corners of the globe, the pandemic hit different cities and regions at different times and in vastly different contexts. This enabled, for example, the City of Nanjing (China) to have the foresight to know that other cities were at risk of running low on personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, and thereby to reach out to cities such as Barcelona (Spain) via the IUC programme to donate equipment to them. And, it enabled European IUC cities to come together with their North American peers to exchange experiences and learn from each other’s successes and challenges as each worked to support their residents throughout the pandemic. This peer-to-peer support in the face of the health crisis was seen across all IUC regions, and made a tangible difference in local authorities’ abilities to take action.

Although the coronavirus pandemic provides one example to highlight the ways that city-to-city and region-to-region networking can bolster resilience, it is certainly not the only challenge that has been aided by such a network. The City of Surat (India), for example, relied on the experiences of their IUC partner, Rotterdam (the Netherlands), in their efforts to improve urban water resilience and increase access to public green space. The port cities were connected via the IUC, and Rotterdam is now supporting Surat to implement their “water plaza” concept to address flooding, water scarcity, and to convert a former dumpsite into a public green space. And, when Umeå (Sweden) was looking for new ways to breakdown siloes and foster participatory social innovation, they adapted and implemented Kamakura (Japan)’s “Kamacon” concept, putting in place “Umecons,” where local stakeholders can brainstorm creative ideas and identify solutions to local challenges together.

Across urban challenges spanning healthcare, climate resilience, and citizen engagement, creating a network of engaged peers builds resilience and fosters sustainable urban development. The IUC programme has successfully demonstrated that over the past four years.

Through the upcoming IURC, the programme will be expanded to ensure that this network of committed cities and regions grows and continues to foster sustainable urban development across the globe.

The IUC will continue its work under a second phase, beginning in early 2021. The programme will be expanded and reinforced to include cities from EU and non-EU countries in America, Asia and Australasia under the denomination International Urban and Regional Cooperation (IURC) programme. Through the IURC, cities will primarily work in thematic clusters based on the UN New Urban Agenda and the Urban Agenda for the EU. Cities who wish to develop a more intensive cooperation with a European partner will also be able to pursue one-to-one city pairings. Region-to-region cooperation will follow a similar model of using both thematic clustering and one-on-one pairings, and will focus on improving and internationalising regional innovation strategies.

Rudolf Niessler, Principal Advisor for International Relations, European Commission Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, explained: “The Commission is proud to continue to support the IUC programme. This sends a clear message that cities and regions play a critical role in sustainable development. This role will only become ever more important with the continued implementation of the EU Green Deal.” Mr. Niessler went on to explain the importance of the programme today, saying: “Europe’s only hope of meeting ambitious sustainability and justice goals is through acknowledging and bolstering local efforts and actors. The IUC programme is one of the critical tools used by the European Commission to do just this.”

According to Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), “To ensure a just and fair future for all, we need all regions of the world to be on board. We must work together towards ambitious goals, together with urban and regional levels of government and with civil society. We must put all our knowledge and experience together to achieve those goals. The International Urban and Regional Cooperation programme will foster exchanging knowledge and best practices across the globe. Together, we can bring about real change. At the European Commission, we are strongly committed to helping make this happen.”

The International Urban Cooperation programme (IUC) programme, run by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and the Foreign Policy Instruments Service (FPI), enables cities in different global regions to link up and share solutions to common problems. It is part of a long-term strategy by the European Union to foster sustainable urban development in cooperation with the public and private sectors, as well as representatives of research and innovation, community groups and citizens. Through engaging in the IUC, cities have the chance to share and exchange knowledge with their international counterparts, building a greener, more prosperous future. The IUC programme is an opportunity for local governments to learn from each other, set ambitious targets, forge lasting partnerships, test new solutions, and boost their city’s international profile. Its activities support the achievement of policy objectives, as well as major international agreements on urban development and climate change, such as the EU Urban Agenda, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement.