Viable Cities is a Swedish strategic innovation programme focusing on the transition to climate-neutral and sustainable cities. Viable Cities aims to create transformative system change based on the mission Climate Neutral Cities 2030 with a good life for everyone within the planetary boundaries. The mission means that cities' climate transition should take place from a broad perspective, where social, ecological and economic sustainability is taken into account.
By leading the way in the transition, through co-creation and learning with cities and actors in other countries and at international level, the programme strives to fulfil the vision that Sweden inspires and has a leading role in the energy and climate transition through climate-neutral and sustainable cities.
Together with cities - municipalities, business, academia and civil society - and public authorities, we work to create ecologically, economically and socially sustainable cities. Cities that work well for the people who live in them, that are good for the economy of citizens, businesses and society - and - that are good for the climate and our planet.
In our major initiative Climate Neutral Cities 2030 , 23 Swedish municipalities - together accounting for 40% of Sweden's population - are working with us and five government agencies to achieve the mission. Our central tool for this is Climate City Contract 2030.
Viable Cities is one of 17 strategic innovation programmes supported in a joint initiative by Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and Formas.
climate transition; city; systemic; mission-driven; quadruple helix
From 2017 to 2030 (in 3 year phases with evaluation and new application for funding for each phase) - Ongoing initiative
Cities commit themselves, among other things, to working to reduce climate emissions, to increase innovation capacity and to involve citizens in climate change transition work. The contract is a long-term document that ensures cooperation between cities and the state level and will develop over time. There is no information about ‘how’ cities are working with citizens.
Scale(s) of the case analysed
Target audience and dimension
Domain(s) of application
Challenge addressed/ Problem-led
Impact to climate neutrality
The mission of the programme is in line with the global sustainability goals of the UN's Agenda 2030, which is a starting point for many Swedish cities' climate and sustainability work. The mission is also in line with the Swedish environmental goals and the climate policy framework with no net greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden by 2045 and the EU's climate neutrality target by 2050.
The programme has been initiated before the launch of EU Mission Climate-neutral Cities by 2030, and it provides relevant models, cases and learnings for the implementation of the Mission. ”Viable Cities now functions as a European ”living lab” for the EU Green Deal initiative on climate-neutral cities. Other countries want to follow suit, and we have a good dialogue with several of them.” (Allan Larsson, Apr 23 2021)
Making the transition to climate-neutral and sustainable cities requires cooperation between citizens, politicians, businesses and civil servants on a scale never seen before. National, regional and local levels must work in new ways, in the same direction and together to achieve climate-neutral cities. The Climate City Contract 2030, that was developed in the programme in 2020, is a tool to achieve this. It is a long-term commitment that ensures cooperation between cities and the government level. The contract will be revised every year, both at the local and national level
Context & Public policy of reference
The programme has been built to contribute to global, European and national climate-neutrality objectives (see above).
Governance is one of the crosscutting themes in the programme. There are also several projects in the programme focusing on creating an action plan and/or a roadmap for a city and on improving cities' ability to deal with the complex decision-making situations.
Innovative approach(es) addressed
The programme builds on the mission-oriented research and innovation and engages stakeholders across disciplines and sectors to mobilise forces and create a movement to achieve climate-neutral cities by 2030 with a good life for all within planetary boundaries.
To enable transformative systems change, Viable Cities is building a mission infrastructure to support:
- New forms of governance and management in quadruple helix
- New forms of citizen engagement
- New forms of cooperation between the state and municipalities (Klimatkontrakt 2030)
- New forms of coordination in financing climate investments in cities
- New ways to support policy development and decision-making processes through knowledge support and digital tools
- New ways to develop, implement, spread and scale up new solutions with a focus on impact
- New forms of reflexive learning and skills development
Examples of how challenges are addressed in Viable Cities:
- The climate city contracts are designed to serve as a new way to coordinate and deliver national support for innovation, investment, policy development to accelerate climate transition in Swedish cities. Climate contracts 2030 are revised every year to accelerate the transition.
- Viable Cities Transition Lab is a central platform for creating a mission infrastructure in Sweden and supporting continuous and coherent processes for innovation, co-creation and learning for climate transition in broad collaboration.
The programme is implemented with support in a concerted effort by Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and Formas, where the Swedish Energy Agency is the responsible authority. KTH is the host organisation for the program.
Stakeholder networks and organisational model
No. of people
[accountable, consulted, informed]
Work full or part-time for the programme (KTH is the host organisation)
Representing cities and companies and research organisations
Members (nbr of organisations)
Public sector (cities, regions and authorities)
Share the vision of smart sustainable cities and work together for the programme’s mission;
Universities and research institutes
Interaction between participants
- Political: Government-backed strategic innovation programme, commitments from cities to long-term work and mission-driven innovation.
- Economic: Long-term funding at national level
- Social: Mission-driven innovation, broad collaboration across sectors and citizen engagement key elements in the programme. Sweden’s goal to have a leading role in the energy and climate transition. Active international networking.
- Technical: Technical capabilities and pilots through the project portfolio and collaboration network.
- Legal: Formal structures for decision-making
Key inhibiting factors
- Political: Organisational boundaries have been identified as a barrier to holistic approach, e.g. with regard to authorisation and sharing resources.
- Economic: Commitment of companies for implementation and scale-up need to increase.
- Social: Better support to other cities and municipalities (than CCCs) to scale-up
- Technical: More broad range of implementing actors to be engaged, also such that challenge the current regime.
- Legal: Potentially also legal issues inhibit flexible decision-making and resource allocation that would be required in transition management.
Drawbacks/pros/cons of the solutions (after implementation)
The programme is still ongoing, it is continuously developed and it proceeds in phases.
+/- Requires substantial investment and long-term commitment broadly.
+ Focus on co-creation and learning, agile
+ Active and open communication, strong links at European level
The first 3-year phase has been successful (e.g. Climate contract, networking, nbr of members). The evaluation report (2020) suggests as areas to focus on in the second phase:
- Engagement of implementation partners and clarification of mechanisms from project work to disruptive innovations and scale up
- Identification of barriers for transition at the “middle layer” (from projects to address transformational challenges) but also risks on the larger scale in the operational environment
Lessons learnt of the programme are already feeding into NZC and EU Mission “100 Climate-neutral cities by 2030”. The Swedish Climate City Contract has inspired the design of the EU’s Climate City Contract.
Other national strategic innovation programmes can benefit from experiences gained in Viable Cities, that are actively shared, but each programme needs to be tailored for context. E.g. new forms of governance of quadruple helix, coordination of financing climate investments in city and ways to support policy development could provide valuable insights to be replicated.
The programme is still ongoing. Some points based on the evaluation of the phase 1 are presented below:
Main positive lessons/opportunities identified
- Key enablers: Strong commitment on national level to the vision and substantial financing.
- The programme has been well led and it is ambitious.
- It has been successful in making Sweden visible in the context of sustainable cities and has actively connected with EU and policy development.
After the successful launch of the programme and Climate City Contract 2030 tool in the first phase, in the second phase the programme is recommended to:
- Develop ways to address the links between programme’s individual projects and transformational challenges
- Further clarify positioning of the programme to other initiatives and enhance exchange of good examples and learnings with other relevant initiatives
- Reach out to potential implementing actors (industry, companies) more broadly
Objectives for phase 2 (2021-2023), building on the learnings of the phase 1 and recommendations of the evaluation (Effect Logic phase 2, in Swedish). An evaluation is conducted and an adjusted plan developed for each 3-year phase.
- 20 cities work actively with “Klimatkontrakt 2030”
- 10 cities have established system demonstrators in larger and smaller scale to enable transformative systems change.
- 20 municipalities have increased engagement of citizens and civic society’s organisations in climate transition.
- 20 municipalities have increased the use of digital tools in decision-making that is increasing the understanding of decision-makers as well as citizens and business.
- 20 cities have successfully developed their way of organizing their systematic innovation work and work with procurement, design and communication for climate transition.
- 20 cities have active support in their climate transition from research and education at geographically nearby universities and research institutes.
- 30 companies are involved in system demonstrators and climate-neutral cities.
- 5 formalized collaborations with joint activities for mission-driven innovation with SIPs and with other relevant programs in Sweden, the Nordic countries and internationally
- Methods for multi-level governance, follow-up, reflexive learning and storytelling for transformative system change for climate transition have been developed and tested.
- A framework for integrating sustainability indicators into financial analysis has been developed/implemented.
- 10 scientific articles, 6 scientific conferences / presentations, 5 courses and 10 dissertations based on new knowledge have been developed with an interdisciplinary, critical approaches to driving climate transition in cities.
- A network for follow-up research on climate transition in cities has been established.
- 8 Swedish cities are successful in the EU's various relevant calls for climate-neutral cities, including Climate City Mission and Energy-efficient districts.
- An open and dynamic arena for accelerating climate transition actively involves 30 municipalities and 200 other actors
- Viable Cities has organized 12 major events and participated in 10 events of strategic importance for climate transition in cities.
- Viable Cities communication has contributed to lessons and experiences from the program being used by all municipalities in Sweden and internationally.
Insights and experiences from climate transition in Sweden have reached 50,000 people internationally through MOOCs and other channels.
Research and innovation projects: https://en.viablecities.se/foi-projekt
Report “Citizen engagement for transition to climate-neutral cities” (in Swedish)