With the international conference Green Urban Actions on 22 October 2020, IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policy, Association of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia and the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning of Republic of Slovenia joined the events during the European Week of Regions and Cities.
Speakers from different parts of Europe, including two from Slovenia, agreed that good cooperation between everyone, from citizens to decision-makers, is essential to address climate change properly. Local communities must ensure effective participation of the population, public and private actors, cooperation between sectors and the development of appropriate solutions at local level, while activities at higher levels, regional, national and international, remains very important. They can benefit from the knowledge and experience from other comparable environments. The presented examples opened a number of relevant questions for Slovenian cities and municipalities, such as energy efficiency and social housing, care for clean air through public passenger transport and awareness raising among owners of individual fireplaces and resilience of coastal towns to hazards such as sea level rise, tides and floods, landslides and heat waves that accompany climate change.
More than 100 participants followed the web conference through the Zoom platform. Thank you to all attendees! If you missed the conference, we invite you to read the highlights below and watch the videos.
Aša Rogelj from the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning greeted the participants and presented the expectations of the ministry. She emphasized the important role of cities in the new European perspective and climate change programs, as well as the importance of multilevel action and cooperation, both between cities trough programmes, such as URBACT, but also between countries and between different fields. VIDEO
Urban policies and climate change
Marcelline Bonneau, speaking on behalf of the URBACT programme, highlighted the importance of cities addressing climate change both in terms of their major negative impact on the environment and their power to achieve change. She emphasized that the fight against climate change is apolitical and that anyone could join the movements and actions already under way. Tackling climate change connects us and we all engage constructively, both individuals, NGOs, professionals and politicians. With the help of a survey, she gathered opinions among listeners on who has the most important role in tackling climate change and received confirmation that these are politicians, elected representatives, who therefore play a key role in shaping a common vision. However, participatory methods, such as the URBACT method, must enable the activation of all other actors, which are crucial for the adaptation process to begin immediately. She presented international and European agreements and policies that guide cities in their efforts, as well as examples of good practice from URBACT networks, namely the cultural sector’s efforts to raise awareness in Manchester (C-CHANGE) and organic school meals in Mouans Sartoux (BIOCANTEENS).
Carlos Chocarro presented how the Navarre region, which also has an independent tax system, has focused its energy policy on building rental social housing. They linked the need for energy restructuring and renovation of the building stock to energy poverty, which also led to health problems of the residents, and decided to invest in almost zero-energy rental social housing. This has solved the problem of energy poverty in the long run, as the cost of almost zero-energy housing is up to 90% lower than in conventional housing units. In doing so, they have also made an important contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. He emphasized that the construction of a large number of flats according to these standards also required appropriate training for the construction sector, spatial planners and engineers, who did not have those skills before.
Innovative and responsible public procurement
Tamar Reay from Preston spoke about public procurement and how we can strengthen local wealth by taking into account the social and environmental aspects of public procurement and thus return the benefits of public procurement to local people, communities and the environment. As an example of investments in which special attention should be paid to environmental impacts, she pointed out construction projects, both new construction and renovation. In Preston, when renovating the market in the city centre, the requirements of monument protection had to be taken into account, and efforts were made to maximize the energy efficiency of the renovated building. However, the environmental footprint of the restoration works themselves, such as the safe removal of hazardous materials and the distances travelled by heavy vehicles, and the potential of such an investment to strengthen the local economy should not be overlooked.
Igor Kos from the WCycle Institute in Maribor presented an innovative circular economy practice initiated by public companies in the Municipality of Maribor, which is now developing into an internationally recognized example of good practice. Maribor already started developing the concept during the preparation of the sustainable urban strategy. The public companies of the Municipality of Maribor first connected their development services, and later established WCycle Institute, a special institution, which deals exclusively with the transition of the city to the circular economy. The institute is extremely successful in obtaining funds through various European Territorial Cooperation programs and has managed to establish itself in Europe. Maribor in particular is an interesting example because the initiative for the transition to the circular economy did not come from the private sector, as is usual elsewhere in Europe, but from the public sector. In recent years, they have managed to make some investments, and above all they are proud of their contribution to strengthening the skills of employees in the founding public companies. At the moment, however, they are focusing on awareness raising of the local population.
Laura Walin presented how Helsinki has become one of the European cities that boasts good air quality. Their main causes of poor air quality in the city are narrow traffic corridors, dust on the roads in the spring months that remains after winter sanding and individual fireplaces. The challenges were addressed by a combination of soft and hard measures. They have produced a user-friendly map of air quality, while the university has developed a route planning application so that the residents can avoid areas with poorer air quality. Awareness raising on sustainable use of small fireplaces has been addressed by educating chimney sweeps, who now, as ambassadors, advise people on how to reduce their impact on the environment. They are also aware of the negative impact of traffic emissions and want to reduce them, among other things, by increasing the share of electric buses in the city’s fleet.
Helsinki Air Quality Plan 2017-2024 an overview of successful measures, presentation in .pdf
Stefania Manca explained that Genoa, due to its location on the coastal part of northern Italy with its mountains in the hinterland, faces many dangers posed by climate change. These hazards include floods during heavy rains, landslides, heat waves and others. In order to acquire new knowledge and skills, they decided to coordinate the Partnership for Climate adaptation of the Urban Agenda for the EU. With this knowledge, they designed a resilience strategy and an action plan. She emphasized that the strategy connects everything they are already doing in the city and leads existing programs and actors to common goals. Among the examples of measures, she pointed out the project where they want to restore the area of the former barracks with nature based solutions. This project is in cooperation with the European Investment Bank, which will analyze costs and opportunities and show decision-makers that such investments are worthwhile. Their starting point in this case was that it was worthwhile to present the positive economic consequences of successfully adapting to climate change. They also invest a lot in communication and learning, as they believe that all actors, both officials and citizens, experts and decision-makers, need to speak the same language.
Sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions
Sanja Jerković emphasized that the wider urban area of Zagreb has many natural features and is extremely green. The picture is slightly different in the more densely built-up areas in the center and around it. Therefore, the city has decided to include green infrastructure and other sustainable solutions in the reconstruction of degraded areas. They prepared a development strategy for the wider urban area, in which they set out a vision and goals for better management of land and natural resources. They produced an urban atlas of degraded areas and identified areas for green revitalization. She presented some examples of revitalization projects, such as the Badel and Gradelj projects, ideas for measures along the Sava River and the revitalization of the Černomerec stream.
Sustainable use of land and nature based solutions in city of Zagreb, presentation in .pdf
Matej Gojčič presented the preparation of the regional integrated transport strategy. The Ljubljana urban region, which consists of 24 municipalities, faces a large share of car use for everyday mobility, while public transport does not follow the demand. A lot has been done before they started the process, from various analyzes and studies to sustainable urban mobility plans of individual municipalities. In contrast to municipal strategies, the regional strategies have shown that in the process they need to pay more attention to stakeholder cooperation and the involvement of national actors. The first positive changes since the adoption of the strategy are already visible. Several P + R have been built across the region, some public transport lines have been extended, and new long-distance cycling connections are also planned. They tried to transfer the experience gained drafting the regional strategy to the Urban Mobility partnership of the Urban Agenda for the EU, where they advocated the importance of developing integrated transport strategies for smaller urban centers, so that mobility can be planned from source to the region and beyond.
Celostna prometna strategija Ljubljanske urbane regije, presentation in .pdf
Speakers as well as participants agreed that the accumulation of knowledge and experience is extremely important to tackle climate change. Politicians, officials, the private sector and the public, everyone has to speak the same language in order to contribute their part. The conclusions of the conference will be used by the ministry in preparation for Slovenia’s presidency of the EU Council in 2021.
More about conference here.