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Pragmatic Action to Deal with Climate Change

Felix Creutzig

This week, the world is looking at Warsaw where the world's ministers of environment gather to argue about best solutions to tackle climate change. The fundamental fight is over which countries are allowed to emit what share of the emissions. As every country insists on their historic rights to pollute the atmosphere, the stable equilibrium is: no action. International climate conferences are uphill fights.


This same week, the Dahrendorf Symposium in Berlin convenes world scientific experts and policy makers to discuss ways forward for Europe to address the problem of climate change. The Dahrendorf Group on Infrastructures and Climate Change sends a key message: action on climate change needs to be contextualized with the needs, desires and lives of citizens, and be part of an overall pragmatic political agenda, rather than a technocratic exercise. And certain agents are more ready than others to push action pragmatically: cities, and their citizens and mayors.

Our research shows that cities like Malmö, Sofia, Freiburg or Barcelona can reduce their urban transport emissions by up to 80 percent until 2040. And these cities are already on their way to realize many stepping stones towards this goal. Freiburg boasts a long cycling network and the two-wheeler is used regularly by most inhabitants. Visitors see people on the street and envy the high quality of life. Urban planning is equally important to it: the new district, Vauban, has been designed completely car-free and with 10 minute tram-way access to the inner city. It is a success story that has drawn attention worldwide.

Barcelona profits from its historic dense urban structure which allowed for rich street life to stay one of the major characteristics of this city for a long time. Unfortunately, low gasoline prices and unregulated land markets have led to high urban sprawl in the metropolitan region. Developing new train corridors but also concentrating urban development towards in-fill would allow to counteract these trends.

A majority of Europeans live in cities, which they not only inhabit but also shape, fill them with life. Pragmatic action can the lead towards reducing harmful climate change, but more importantly, improve citizens’ life.

At the center of this discussion is the concept of public space. Over the last century public space has been taken over by private motorized vehicles, which use it mostly for free. This constitutes a huge bias in favor of car owners but reduces opportunities for everyone else. A shift to other modes of transportation – public transport as well as cycling or walking – can change that picture dramatically. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also reclaim public space, thus making cities more attractive for their inhabitants. Air quality would improve, congestion would be reduced, more faces would revive streets and parks again.

Polish cities, such as Krakow or Poznan, have well-structured tram networks. A continued upgrading in comfort would allow to maintain the advantageous features. Smart urban planning would enable aspiring citizens to acquire their own home without ending in the trap of long-term car dependency.

Clearly, such urban action cannot substitute for the supply of renewable energy all over Europe. But a growing worldwide network of cities acting on climate change is not only helping local citizens directly but demonstrates that solutions are possible. National state leaders can learn from their municipal colleagues, and should look for action that is already feasible today.

Skoro tu jesteś...

...mamy do Ciebie małą prośbę. Żyjemy w dobie poważnych zagrożeń dla pluralizmu polskich mediów. W Kulturze Liberalnej jesteśmy przekonani, że każdy zasługuje na bezpłatny dostęp do najwyższej jakości dziennikarstwa

Każdy i każda z nas ma prawo do dobrych mediów. Warto na nie wydać nawet drobną kwotę. Nawet jeśli przeznaczysz na naszą działalność 10 złotych miesięcznie, to jeśli podobnie zrobią inni, wspólnie zapewnimy działanie portalowi, który broni wolności, praworządności i różnorodności.

Prosimy Cię, abyś tworzył lub tworzyła Kulturę Liberalną z nami. Dołącz do grona naszych Darczyńców!


Nr 253

11 listopada 2013