Circular Cities and Regions Initiative – all you need to know

Berenika Serwatka, Journalist, Youth4Regions programme alumna

Everything in the world goes round – so shall the economy. Ever wondered how circularity principles can be implemented in a complex city structure? No worries – there are initiatives watching over that. 

During the European Week of Regions and Cities, a Youth4Regions (the European Commission’s programme for aspiring journalists) participant talks to one of the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI) Coordination and Support Office representatives, Natalia Altman.

Berenika Serwatka: Could you roughly explain what the CCRI is?
Natalia Altman: Sure. It stands for ‘Circular Cities and Regions Initiative’, which is a European Commission’s flagship initiative created as part of the European Circular Economy Action Plan. The main objective is to help EU cities and regions implement circular systemic solutions. They usually involve different sectors and value chains, engage various actors, tackle a variety of circularity issues (for instance business models, regulatory impacts, etc.), as well as exert influence in multiple fields – so not only in terms of the environment, but also social or economic aspects.

And how is that being achieved?
Through an open call for expression of interest, we have selected 12 pilots and 25 fellows, predominantly local and regional authorities, but also territorial clusters. The pilot regions and cities receive tailored support from circular economy experts, who assess their needs and challenges encountered on their circular journey. More specifically, they provide locally-tailored and easily actionable guidance to speed up circular economy implementation. Fellows can benefit from grouped support, for instance by taking part in capacity building and peer learning activities.

Is the initiative therefore limited only to the few selected partners?
Not entirely. The CCRI operates as a multi-stakeholder support and collaboration scheme. Besides the group of pilots and fellows supported by the CCRI office, there are more cities and regions supported through CCRI projects (funded under Horizon Europe). Moreover, we have established strategic partnerships with key partners – such as the OECD, the European Investment Bank and other relevant circular economy stakeholders – to provide additional, complementary services to a larger community.

More support opportunities should follow soon (including a mentoring programme open to all). Yet, we want the CCRI to remain a practical, solution-focused support scheme. The objective is to start with a few pilot cases that could be further replicated and upscaled at a later stage.
Maybe there will be room for involving other regions later on in the future.

Anyway, what criteria were applied throughout the selection process?
We looked for bold partners ready to implement ambitious ideas in various sectors. Concerning the selection, we ensured that we get a mix of cities and regions in terms of size, location and development stage, but also a good variety of solutions tested regarding sector(s) or value chain(s) addressed. There are pilots from Norway, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Slovenia, just to name a few. Being part of the CCRI community adds thereby a great value to participatory cities’ and regions’ performance.

What is the mechanism behind the CCRI and what are the strategies you use?
Firstly, the CCRI provides technical assistance and capacity building opportunities through a dedicated CCRI office as well as a network of collaborating organisations (e.g. EIB, OECD and a few others). Secondly, funding for demonstration projects at local and regional level through Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe is provided. Finally, the CCRI helps develop investment projects through Horizon Europe project development assistance (PDA) calls. CCRI Projects are therefore a fundamental pillar of the Initiative, as they demonstrate systemic solutions and support the development of new circular business and governance models.

Does the CCRI office provide direct funding to CCRI pilots and fellows?
No. The money is granted through expertise. Pilot/fellow cities and regions respectively receive tailored support, in the form of personalised navigation advice by pilot companions and grouped support in the form of Thematic Working Groups. Our goal is to generate and share knowledge and useful resources. However, CCRI-PDA (project development assistance) beneficiaries can apply for financial support in the form of grants.

What is the major obstacle when trying to achieve circularity?
Pilots and Fellows have informed us that one of the biggest struggles is the lack of regulatory frameworks across all levels of government, which hinders the successful implementation of circular solutions. Aside from issues around regulation, limited financial resources that cities and regions often face also pose an obstacle to achieving circularity.

How do you see the future of this EU flagship initiative? Are there any chances of having the pilot actors share their initiatives and resources with other cities and regions nearby?
I reckon it is currently still an open question. For the time being, we are focusing on supporting the CCRI community already in place. However, the intention is to further stimulate replication and upscaling at the EU level.

There are various opportunities for any interested cities and regions to learn from the CCRI and its partners. It will be fundamental to continue incentivising policymakers to tackle the issue and accelerate the law-making procedures, both at national and EU level, while further engaging businesses and investors.

Wish you best of luck; thank you.

This article appears in Thriving Regions Stronger Together

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