Bonn – Oxford: Expert exchange on municipal climate commitment (November 2023)
Contribution by the Federal City of Bonn

The cities Bonn and Oxford have both set out to become climate neutral by 2035 (Bonn) and 2040 (Oxford) and have started extensive implementation processes to achieve this. It was therefore a very welcome opportunity for both cities to find out about municipal climate commitment in the respective partner city as part of an expert exchange mission in the framework of the “Urban Diplomacy Exchange” project of the Service Agency Communities in One World (SKEW).

From November 19th to 23rd, 2023, a three-person delegation from the City of Oxford's administration visited the partner City of Bonn. This was the first visit in the 75-year-old partnership that was entirely dedicated to the exchange of expertise on a municipal topic. So far, the main focus of the town twinning has been the encounter between citizens from Oxford and the Bonn district. The program included numerous discussions with the various administrative units and institutions responsible for implementing the Bonn climate plan. 

Copyright: City of Oxford / Federal City of Bonn

At the Program Office Climate Neutral Bonn 2035 the colleagues from Oxford received a general introduction to the Climate plan of the City of Bonn, which was decided by the Bonn City Council in March 2023. Oxford has adopted a similar strategy with the “Zero Carbon Oxford Roadmap"2021. In the subsequent conversation, the team from Oxford explained some aspects of the roadmap. The economic structure of the two cities is similar: both cities are characterized by a large number of university facilities and institutions; there is hardly any manufacturing industry. However, due to British administrative structures, Oxford has significantly fewer opportunities for direct intervention in some areas (e.g. public transport). The City Council therefore has a broad alliance with partner institutions (Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership) and together with them, action plans for the respective sector (including institutions, industry, trade) are drawn up.

For the city administration itself, Oxford has set itself the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2030. The focus is particularly on the approximately 800 municipal buildings and municipal facilities such as swimming pools, an ice skating stadium and municipal social housing. In order to generally anchor climate aspects more firmly in municipal actions, a mandatory CO2 impact assessment was introduced for all expenditure of GBP 1 million or more.

In the area of air pollution control the Oxford colleagues presented some innovative measures, such as:

  • a campaign to promote public transport with a flat rate of £2 for every bus journey, regardless of distance
  • the fee system for driving in the Zero Emission Zone (depending on the vehicle 2 – 10 GBP with exceptions for residents, businesses and people with reduced mobility)
  • Parking fee for companies that provide parking space to employees.
During a sustainability tour, the guests from Oxford got their own impression of the mobility transition measures in Bonn

The exchange on citizen participation in connection with measures for the mobility transition was also very interesting. The Citizen Participation Office gave an overview of the participation process “Bonn quarter“, which aims to talk to residents about alternative forms of mobility.

In the subsequent conversation, the experts discussed that a slow, broad-based process can have advantages. In Oxford, the introduction of traffic calming measures has partly very violent reactions caused by the population.

Climate adaptation is also an important issue for both cities. Both cities are affected by heavy rain events and flooding. The activities of the City of Bonn for Sponge City met with great interest from colleagues from Oxford.

Another important component of the exchange between Bonn and Oxford was the exchange with Bonn municipal utilities, which as a municipal company is a key player in achieving climate goals. There is no comparable structure in Oxford. In addition to a general overview of the organization and tasks of the municipal utilities, the focus was on concrete technical solutions on topics such as energy transition, expansion of district heating and the expansion of e-charging infrastructure. When it came to technical solutions, there was a lot of overlap and lively exchange. 

Visit to the Bonn municipal utilities (Stadtwerken Bonn)
The advisory services offered by the Bonn Energy Agency were met with great interest by the guests from Oxford

When visiting the Bonn Energy Agency, an association supported by the City of Bonn, among others, the guests found out what an advisory service could look like as a “one stop shop” for private households who would like to find out about possible measures and funding for energy-saving construction and renovation. Since Oxford is currently applying for funding to set up a similar advisory service, there was immediately great interest in a follow-up appointment to discuss further details.


Everyone from Oxford and Bonn who took part in the Urban Diplomacy Exchange project gained in-depth insights into the political structures in Germany and Great Britain, especially how decision-making structures work at the local level.

Both during the expert exchange missions in November 2023 and at the joint conference in Leeds in June 2023, many interesting specialist topics that both cities are currently dealing with were discussed. The three employees from the environmental department of the Oxford city administration who visited Bonn then reported on the Bonn experiences to the sustainability team of the city of Oxford. We are currently planning to hold an in-depth online exchange with the advising opportunity on energy-saving construction and renovation.

There is also great interest in both cities in continuing the exchange on specific specialist topics. Pedro Abreu, Air Pollution Control Officer at Oxford City Council said: “We would definitely be up to continue to explore this type of interchange in the near future. I feel that we have more interesting projects that could be worth presenting and discussing within this space.” Return visits to Oxford are also highly encouraged, as Ed Turner, deputy leader of Oxford City Council, said: Municipal experts from Bonn will always be welcome for exchange visits as critical friends.”