One hundred European cities, seven of them Spanish, are tested in the face of the climate challenge on the fronts of mobility, energy, urban planning and innovation. Thanks to Community funding, which has put on the table €360 million, they will be able to access advice and pilot projects to move towards climate neutrality with the horizon set in the year 2030. The mission of the European Union, which has been named as such, allows the creation of networks of contacts, the exchange of best practices between the different cities and support to involve citizens in the objective. This last aspect is decisive, as highlighted by Vicente Inglada, general secretary of the Consumers’ Union of the Valencian Community. “Without citizen awareness, the task is almost impossible,” he points out.
Valencia, Zaragoza, Madrid, Barcelona, Valladolid, Seville and Vitoria-Gasteiz They are the cities chosen to enter this transition towards full sustainability. A path shared with metropolises such as Munich, Rome, Athens, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Nantes, Paris, Riga or Lisbon, which seek to be safer, more inclusive and more resilient. But Not only is a less polluting and more comfortable city model pursued. The challenge also involves improving the health of citizenswith greater innovation and technology to advance cancer treatment.
Going down to the practical field, it translates into having cities connected through digitization to achieve, for example, more efficient routes in selective collection of glass and buried debris. Or the emptying of deposits when they are saturated, preventing the accumulation of rubbish in the street. The implementation of smart water meters it is another example of efficiency in the management of a finite resource. Global Omnium and Telefónica Tech signed an agreement last year for the acquisition and installation of a total of 150,000 SIM cards with Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) technology to increase the data communication power of 450,000 domestic and industrial meters and install them in the whole of Spain where the Valencian company operates and provides its services, benefiting more than 3 million customers.
Cities such as Barcelona, Valencia or Seville are already betting on measures that facilitate decarbonisation, but the 2030 climate mission will allow projects such as sustainable mobility or housing rehabilitation to be multiplied. All the chosen ones, in addition, must establish Low Emission Zones, with restrictions on the most polluting vehicles and fines for non-compliance. This is contemplated by the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition at the state level. A measure that will affect 148 locations throughout Spain.
The new regulations, promoted by Minister Teresa Ribera, establish that these consistories must introduce measures in urban planning to reduce greenhouse gases from road traffic never beyond the year 2023.
A greener and more efficient Valencia
In the case of Valencia, the 2030 climate mission seeks energy adaptation of homes with innovative formulas through the public urban development company Aumsa, social services or the Climate and Energy Foundation to promote these interventions by adapting them to the level of income. Regarding the generation of energy on the roofs of public buildings, the ‘Requiem in Power’ initiative will turn the municipal cemetery into the urban plant with the highest power in Spain with 2.8 MWats for municipal self-consumption but will also offer it to neighbors.
Madrid, 120 shares
Madrid, for its part, has structured its candidacy in the commitment to reduce the time spent on public transport trips by 32.5% on average; traffic congestion up to 10%; 65% of CO2 emissions compared to 1990 (what was established in the COP25 agreement), and 50% of deaths and serious victims on the road. A challenge that he hopes to achieve with 120 actions and 32 measures, despite the fact that in his day an attempt was made to reverse the commitment of the Central Madrid of the previous mayor Manuela Carmena.
Seville, more trees and tram
Seville, for example, has planned to advance in larger areas of trees that cushion the high temperatures and generate more friendly environments. The expansion of the tramway and the promotion of the northern area of the city will be addressed as redevelopment projects with healthier landscape parameters. The Smart Accessibility, Tourists and Events initiative will also allow the development of a geolocated and detailed system for the entire city that will offer an X-ray of accessibility in real time, allowing the elimination of architectural barriers.
Zaragoza, trees and solar energy
In the case of Zaragoza, the European Commission has recognized the work that the Consistory has been developing to achieve zero emissions in a decade. There are four projects that it wants to implement: El Bosque de los Zaragozanos, housing rehabilitation plans to improve its energy efficiency, 100% electric transport, as well as the implementation of photovoltaic plants in neighborhoods and industrial estates.
Barcelona, more urban connectivity
Barcelona, meanwhile, is making progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. A first annual monitoring report of the 2030 Agenda corresponding to 2021 shows that 56% of the actions are going in the right direction. Not in vain, the city of Barcelona has been chosen as the third among the fifty cities smart largest in the world, along with Seoul, New York, Beijing and Shanghai. A reduction achieved thanks to transport and infrastructure, energy and lighting, management and technology or urban connectivity. This last aspect that he hopes to improve in the EU Mission.
Vitoria-Gasteiz asks the neighbors
Vitoria-Gasteiz, for its part, will make a survey available to residents that will serve to find out how they see the city and how they would like it to be in the future. Prior to this participatory process, the Sustainability, Climate and Energy service has promoted internal work with all the departments, in which more than 40 municipal plans have been compiled with the aim of integrating all these sectoral strategies into this new agenda .
Valladolid, district of positive energy
As for Valladolid, its commitment goes through sustainable rehabilitation and comprehensive interventions for energy efficiency, with the creation of at least one positive energy district. These are urban areas with almost zero net CO2 emissions, aimed at producing annual surpluses of local renewable energy. That is, they generate more energy than they consume and share that surplus.
INTERVIEW. DEBORA SUNDAY. Vice-rector of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
“There is a political will to make cities healthier”
The vice-rector for Sustainable Development of the Campuses of the Polytechnic University of Valencia points out that cities change with policies that respond to the needs of their inhabitants.
What role does the Polytechnic University of Valencia play in the European Union’s mission to achieve climate neutrality?
A fundamental paper. The UPV has a network of company chairs that fight for climate change and are linked to public administrations. However, this previous work of the chairs intensified when the UPV institutionally decided to set itself the challenge of being the first Spanish university certified climate neutral, a year ago, with a firm position as a “Living Lab” (a real test bench, where technological prototypes are developed and tested to improve citizen well-being and that will have real and proven effectiveness).
Is climate neutrality a pipe dream?
No, it’s a way of setting a goal. If we do not measure the carbon footprint, if we do not quantify CO2 emissions, we cannot apply reduction policies and it makes no sense to end up compensating either. Climate neutrality is the goal that we will achieve if we follow a certain process, and in that process lies the real interest of being increasingly sustainable.
The most critical environmental voices say that development can never be sustainable.
Because they put economic benefit before everything else. Sustainability has three legs, which are social, environmental and economic. Pursuing economic growth alone can solve the problems of the moment, but it mortgages and exponentially increases the problems of the future.
Are the universities the laboratories where to test the public policies that can be applied later in terms of innovation?
Universities are the perfect “sandbox” in which to test policies and initiatives that can be replicated in larger and more varied communities such as cities. The UPV also has all the technological knowledge that enables research and innovation, and therefore positions itself as a perfect institution in terms of knowledge transfer. That is the spirit of the “Living Lab UPV” that underlies the university-city binomial.
What do cities have to do to transform themselves? Is it a political or civic issue?
Cities are transformed with policies that respond to the needs of their inhabitants, and politicians have to project a better future for the city. This is a political and civic issue. Thanks to the neighborhood movements of the 70s, València today has a natural park in El Saler or a park on the Turia river. It was possible to do politics thanks to the citizenship. Currently, there is political will to transform cities to make them healthier and more sustainable, and this depends on many factors, but in the field of urban planning, we talk about mobility, quality of public space, green infrastructure and biodiversity.
Europe is taking very determined steps towards decarbonisation. It’s enough?
Europe’s steps are necessary, but further progress must be made. All the experts indicate that we are already late to the harmful consequences of climate change and that more, more effective and faster measures should be implemented. The issue is complex and requires agreements, so everything achieved is positive and we must continue adding.
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