URBAN CHALLENGES FOR CLIMATE CHANGE.
One of the conclusions from Diana Reckien’s conference, held on June 13 as part of the Catalunya Europa Foundation - Re-city platform’s "Let's face climate change" cycle, was that the fight against climate change can be spearheaded by cities, and that if we work together we can mitigate climate change. The conference was held in collaboration with BBVA with the support of the Barcelona City Council, the Barcelona Metropolitan Area and the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" from Generalitat de Catalunya.
The conference, titled "Urban challenges for climate change", was held in the Antoni Tàpies Foundation auditorium and was moderated by Lorenzo Chelleri, Re-City’s scientific advisor and a research professor at the International University of Catalonia (UIC) Barcelona.
Diana Reckien is a professor at the University of Twente and one of the main coordinators of a new report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report, in addition to recounting the impact of the climate emergency on the planet, for the first time also disseminates the actions that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to the biggest planetary crisis in recent history.
We have good plans, but we must implement them
According to Reckien, cities will face the worst consequences of extreme weather if we do nothing, impacting both economic and social activity. Water shortages will be a major challenge, particularly for Mediterranean cities. Reckien leads a group of European researchers in assessing how cities in the EU-28 can prepare for the climate emergency. For years, they have analyzed city climate plans to see if current measures will be sufficient for complying with the 2015 Paris Agreement and the latest IPCC report outlining the benefits of limiting the global increase in temperature to 1.5 ° C.
Achieving these objectives will require reducing CO2 emissions by 45% before 2030 and reaching zero emissions by 2050. Reckien explained that we have enough technology to make this possible now. Technology that can even remove CO2 rom the atmosphere by encapsulation of greenhouse gas techniques. Reckien regrets the fact that governments have not been sufficiently concerned about the sustainability of the planet until recently, even though they have been aware of the problem for more than 40 years. She also warns that the Paris Accords are not enough, as even if governments did comply with them all, global warming could only be limited to 3 ° C, a figure nowhere close to the IPCC recommendations. It is clear that we can only get there if we cooperate with each other, that it cannot be achieved individually and that cities can play a very important role. Measures must now be implemented.
There is a divide between Northern and Southern European cities
The study led by Reckien began in 2013 with 200 cities and was extended in 2016 to 885 cities, of which more than half have mitigation plans and 26% have adaptation plans. A third of European Union cities have no plan as of yet. However, in those three years, the number of cities that had started to implement climate plans grew, especially in Southern Europe. Although there is still a significant gap between Northern and Northern Europe - countries such as the United Kingdom, Denmark or Slovakia are pioneering local climate plans. The UK created its first local climate plan ten years ago, and usually renews its local plans every two years. In addition, it is one of the few European countries with a state-level law requiring municipalities to create their own local mitigation or adaptation plans. France, Germany and the Netherlands also have laws of this kind, that also serve to make citizens more aware of the problem.
While there are different types of plan, most focus on specific objectives, such as reducing emissions. There are also sectoral plans (for example, those focused on sectors such as transport or technology) and more holistic plans, designed from a broader or intersectional point of view (such as supramunicipal or European plans that confront broader challenges such as water scarcity, pollution, sustainability, etc.).
Short-term goals are needed to proceed further
Reckien believes that the more concrete the plan, the better, since there is a tendency to develop overly general plans with few specific objectives that are often not met. It is just as important to be able to implement and review the outcomes of climate plans, as it is to have one. She recommends setting specific objectives in the short-term, to encourage progress.
Another of Reckien’s more worrying findings, is the direct relationship between a city’s GDP and the existence of a climate plan. Often cities with higher poverty or unemployment rates do not perceive the climate emergency as an urgent or serious problem and therefore do not prioritise the issue. This is more common in Southern European cities. Intercity, mutual aid networks and partnerships or state laws that allow for the exchange of experiences and resources between cities to fight together against climate change are recommended as potential ways forward. Reckien sees climate change planning as an opportunity to develop new economic activities and job opportunities, and stresses that not just the biggest and wealthiest cities, with the most institutional capacity, but rather all cities, must have their own plans.
Another surprising finding is the lack of plans among coastal cities. This is said to perhaps be due to more historical experience of climate changes, leading to a belief that it will be possible to overcome the problems arising from the current situation too. It must be stressed that these are cities that are very vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding, particularly if nothing is done to adapt.
The most vulnerable groups and the example of Barcelona
Reckien also warned that some plans do not take into account vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those with less financial resources, children, the sick and migrants who may suffer more from the consequences of drought, heat or pollution. The urban planning expert recommends that the plans also seek to address social equity issues, and suggests that they be made with major citizen participation, so as to also integrate the most vulnerable.
For Reckien, participation and design of bottom-up plans is always better, but sometimes you have to impose some regulations or make unpopular decisions. She gave the proliferation of cars, motorcycles, bicycles and shared scooters as an example. This rarely helps to reduce private traffic, since the users of these shared vehicles are usually users of public transport, and not the drivers of private vehicles. To reduce the circulation of cars, there should be regulations aimed at restricting individual traffic and encouraging the use of collective transport.
Finally, Reckien described the Barcelona City Council Climate Plan as ambitious and promising. Particularly for its promotion of green environments in the city, which follows a strategy focused on planting trees and creating new green areas that favor sustainability and help reduce heat and pollution. In addition, she said that these types of natural approaches can also reduce the risk of flooding, as they ensure that the land can better retain water.
For Reckien, things can change if everyone contributes, and she encouraged attendees to participate and increase pressure to demand political changes. There is a need to stop playing around, and to produce serious, dynamic and ambitious climate plans.