Reshaping cities to be greener and more sustainable is one of the more urgent responses needed to combat climate change in Europe and the rest of the world.
Buildings in urban areas account for 50% of emissions and energy consumption. Yet, most European cities lag far behind when it comes to the requirements for retrofitting and the construction of new urban environments to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG11) on sustainable cities and communities, the participants heard at Friends of Europe’s Green Week sessions on investing in greener cities and the role of citizens as drivers of change on 23 May 2018.
“The majority of buildings we will need to meet sustainability goals by 2050 have not even been built yet,” noted moderator Dharmendra Kanani, Director of Strategy at Friends of Europe. “There is an urgent need to address this.”
Beyond Europe, population growth in China, India, and Africa has created enormous pressure on cities and urban systems, with many cities in developing countries unprepared for the logistics of keeping up with projected growth in urban populations.
While some countries have sustainability agendas going back 40 years, many have only recently begun legislating sustainable and green approaches to urbanisation. “We are looking at better forms of urbanisation that are greener and more environmentally friendly,” underlined Raf Tuts, Director for Programme Division at UN HABITAT, noting that “a better urban future should also be a greener urban future.”
The main barriers to sustainable and green development are legislation, financing and human behaviour, noted Piero Pelizzaro, Chief Resilience Officer of Milan.
In order to achieve a greener urban future, sustainability agendas need to focus on both national and municipal levels to produce lasting change. National urban policies with green entry points need to integrate planning systems, legislation, and financing systems with broad local capacity for implementation.
Throughout the world, there is an increase of issues in development and environmental problems such as congestion and pollution. Any vision of a sustainable urban future must be decided and shared by cities through cross-national and intercontinental cooperation, noted Katarzyna Nawrot, Assistant Professor at the Poznan University of Economics, author of the ‘Rise of Megacities: Challenges, Opportunities and Unique Characteristics’, and European Young Leader (EYL40).
“Big cities will have much more capacity to address problems in sustainable development if they partner with each other across the world,” she said, adding that “it is essential that citizens be involved in these processes and be drivers for change.”
Connecting citizens with governments and policymakers has become easier in recent years with the advent of new technologies in communication and social media. Even so, these technological advances are struggling to cope with socio-economic divides and the darker elements of human behaviour, such as selfishness, individualism, and tribalism.
Overcoming economic and behavioural barriers means more efforts from local governments to reach out to their constituents and ensure that poor and disenfranchised citizens’ voices are heard.
Citizen engagement and participation are essential to the greening of cities. As consumers, citizens should be given more opportunities to accelerate the low-carbon transition of their cities. It is therefore crucial to involve citizens in participatory decision-making and encourage them to modify not only their consumption habits but also the perception of the impact they can have in the urban environment. This debate will explore the role of citizens as drivers for change in the greening of their cities.
Our online discussion platform, Debating Europe, will run a debate on sustainable living ahead of the session, designed to collect questions from its 3.5 million-strong community, a selection of which will be put by the moderator to the panelists on the day.
This debate is taking place in the context of the 2018 European Commission Green Week: ‘Green cities for a greener future’
To register for this specific event, please visit the EU Green Week’s registration form and check Session 4.3 ‘Towards greener cities: citizens as drivers for change’
IMAGE CREDIT: wisanu_1983/Bigstock
Citizen engagement and participation are essential to the greening of cities. As consumers, citizens should be given more opportunities to accelerate the low-carbon transition of their cities. However, the current environmental problems that cities are faced with, whether it is air pollution, inefficient waste policies, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity, are often the results of rapid urban development coupled with policies that are not adapted to today’s needs. Such situations, affecting the daily lives of city dwellers, can give birth to grassroots movements and bottom-up actions, where citizens transform into actors of change. It is therefore crucial to involve citizens in participatory decision-making and encourage them to modify not only their consumption habits but also the perception of the impact they can have. Local decision-makers with the support of civil society organisations and NGOs should aim to work together on raising awareness among citizens and ensure that they act urgently to bend the curve of emissions.
- How can local-decision makers ensure the voice of citizens is heard and sustainable living practices are widely shared and adopted across cities and municipalities?
- What actions can be implemented to reinforce the dialogue between local decision-makers and citizens? How can such accelerate the intake of best practices for the greening of cities?
- How can citizens with the support of different stakeholders ensure that cities are better managed, environmental issues addressed and solutions provided?
- What sort of initiatives can be put in place to increase citizens’ sense of responsibility towards their living environment and how can one ensure their actions complement what local authorities already undertake?
Founder & CEO of OpenCollective and Co-Founder of Storify and 2017 European Young Leader (EYL40)
Director for Community Management at Climate-KIC
Co-founder at the CitizenLab
Member of Polish Academy of Sciences Committee for Future Studies Poland 2000 Plus and 2017 European Young Leader (EYL40)
Chief Operating Officer and Chief Spokesperson of Friends of Europe
Xavier is an engineer in computer science who is passionate about the digital renaissance. In 1999, while still at secondary school, he founded Tribal, a site that gathered student content from around Belgium for publication in a magazine that was distributed to 30,000 students nationwide. Ten years later, he co-founded Storify, a social media curation platform that enables users to create stories or timelines using content from social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Storify is now used by top brands, organisations and publishers around the world, including CNN, the New York Times, the United Nations and the White House. More recently, he co-founded OpenCollective, a company that enables groups to collect and spend money transparently without having to create a new bank account.
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
Aline Muylaert is co-founder and Head of Sales at CitizenLab, an e-democracy platform used by more than eighty governments. She has a passion for urban planning and realizing projects that have a direct, positive impact on society. With CitizenLab she intends to empower citizens to have a direct say in the decision-making processes to co-create their city, while supporting local governments to make better informed data-driven decisions. Aline was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2018 list and was a StartHer Awards finalist, Europe’s biggest competition for female-(co)founded startups.
A Polish economist, Katarzyna is currently a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences Committee for Future Studies Poland 2000 Plus. Her research interests include development, cultural and international economics, with a focus on East Asian markets. Katarzyna’s work also explores challenges to global development. Having lectured at universities across Asia, Africa and Europe, she has worked on several research projects for the European Commission and the National Bureau of Research in Poland, among other international institutions, as well as national and local governments. Her academic achievements have been recognised by numerous awards, including one for outstanding young scholars from Poland’s Minister of Science and Higher Education. Katarzyna has published numerous articles and books on issues relating to development, governance, integration and regional cooperation, most recently having co-edited “The Rise of Megacities: Challenges, Opportunities and Unique Characteristics”.
Giulio Quaggiotto is the Director of Community at Climate KIC, Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership focused on climate innovation. Prior to this, he was an advisor on innovation for the Prime Minister’s office in the UAE. His career includes stints at Pulse Lab Jakarta, UNDP, the World Bank and WWF. Giulio’s interests include lead user innovation and positive deviance as approaches to surface grassroots innovations.
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