Transfer of Urban Sustainability Transition Knowledge: Towards Climate-Neutral Cities 2030 - The City of Görlitz as a Pilot


Achieving climate neutrality rapidly is one of the most important societal challenges of the 21st century. To achieve the climate protection goal of a maximum global warming of 1.5 °C, most of this needs to happen within the present decade, thereby also ensuring compliance with international commitments (e.g. Paris Agreement) as well as EU and national regulations. This requires fundamental changes within and across multiple action domains (energy, transport, food, etc.) and sectors (public, private, civil society).

Cities play a key role in achieving climate neutrality, both because of the accumulation and combination of mitigation challenges and because the innovative potential and transformative power attributed to cities. However, current urban governance and innovation systems lack the capacity to initiate the vast range of deep changes needed to transform and decarbonise cities fast enough. In particular, small and medium-sized cities, as well as cities in geographically peripheral locations, face limited human resources and knowledge both in their public administrations and through the absence of science and innovation actors.

Although extensive both disciplinary and process-oriented knowledge is available on necessary measures and ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions, common transfer approaches have so far not been sufficient to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and societal demands for implementation.

In the city of Görlitz, there are political as well as civil society efforts and also first concrete approaches to action to become climate neutral. At the same time, Görlitz is representative for a city that is strongly affected by the consequences of demographic and economic change. Therefore, both the institutions and structures as well as the necessary knowledge and capacities are limited in Görlitz to cope with the cross-sectoral challenges of the goal of climate neutrality.


The project addresses the critical gaps mentioned above and aims to co-design a transformative urban innovation system for climate neutrality in Görlitz as a pilot case. To this end, an intensive transdisciplinary knowledge transfer will take place between the IOER and the city and its local stakeholders. This will build on current findings from sustainability, transistion and urban research as well as on interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and transformative research experiences.

Beyond the concrete local results, the Görlitz pilot project is intended to be a reference case for other German and European small and medium-sized cities in peripheral regions.

Research questions

TRUST will focus its activities on three transfer streams drawing on the following scientific knowledge domains:

(I) Transition Thinking: How complex urban system change can be understood and navigated?

(II) Transition Governance and Methods: How institutions, processes, instruments, techniques and tools should be shaped to initiate and orientate transformative urban change.

(III) Urban climate neutrality: How climate-neutral urban systems, enhancing co-benefits while avoiding conflicts and rebound effects needs to be designed?


The overall methodology is informed by the ‘Transition Management’ approach, which was originally developed to activate socio-technical innovation systems and initiate and accelerate transformative dynamics towards sustainable futures. The approach has been tested broadly and also further developed for application in cities and urban development in recent years, also by IOER activities (Projects: Zukunftsstadt, TransVer).

In the project different transdisciplinary formats will be implemented: A ‘Transition Team’ will co-design and implement the overall transfer process. In a series of 12 tailored ‘Transition Arenas’, analyses, visions, pathways and actions for urban climate neutrality by 2030will be co-produced, by connecting stakeholders, integrating knowledge and aligning strategies from the public sector, businesses, civil society and science. Specifically we will use the ‘Transition Arena’ format, 1) to create a common understanding of the transformative challenge of climate neutrality and to establish (multi-)system awareness among participants; 2) to elucidate perspectives on sustainable futures and co-produce far-reaching guiding visions for climate neutrality by making use of diverse foresight methods and creative techniques; 3) to co-produce transition pathways towards climate neutrality through facilitated backcasting, which will specify concrete steps and milestones, resulting in a ‘Transition Agenda’ for Görlitz; and (4) to define and agree on strategic ‘Transition Experiments’ that contribute to the envisaged future and leverage the pathways towards climate neutrality.

The scientific knowledge on transition thinking, transition governance and urban climate neutrality will be provided by the research areas of IOER. In addition, for specific or emerging topics we also envisage involving complementary external expertise especially from other Leibniz institutes and from the IOER partner network, as well as from the ICLEI member cities regarding practical experiences.


Planned results

The common understanding, new discourses and interfaces for knowledge transfer as well as new partnerships for climate neutrality make a significant contribution to the transformation of local governance and innovation systems and strengthen the transformation capacity of the city of Görlitz:

Initially, a common understanding of systemic problems and potential solutions among all actors with regard to the challenge of initiating and accelerating a transformative change towards climate neutrality in Görlitz should be established (actor, network and system analysis).

This enables the involved actors from all sectors and fields of action to adapt their institutions and their own agendas to the jointly developed visions, pathways and measures and to use the synergies of the partnerships as well as the bundling of resources and competences for climate neutrality (vision development, transition agenda and transition experiments).

Furthermore, scientific findings on the transformative research approach as well as on the activation of urban innovation systems are introduced into the debates of transition and urban research.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.