Wed, Nov 21, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Societies must take care of those menaced by green shift

In a push to close most of Spain’s coal mines by the end of this year, Madrid made a deal with unions to invest 250 million euros in affected provinces

By Megan Rowling  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, BARCELONA, Spain

Illustration: Mountain People

Renting a pair of jeans, working on an abandoned houseboat renovated as an office or living in a portable home made from a shipping container — these are just a few ways residents of the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, can play their part to save the planet.

Three years ago, the city launched a quest to become a “circular economy” — reusing products and materials, and minimizing waste — by 2050.

It now has 73 related projects underway, said Eveline Jonkhoff, a strategic adviser on the initiative.

The circular-economy push is part of a wider effort by Amsterdam to help meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb climate change, she told a conference on smart cities in Barcelona, Spain, last week.

Other climate targets for Amsterdam focus on ending the use of natural gas by mid-century and putting in place a clean public transport system that does not contribute to planet-warming emissions by 2025.

However, key to the success of the city’s push toward carbon neutrality is enabling everyone to participate, Jonkhoff said.

“All these changes require very high investments and we need to make sure this transition is affordable for everyone,” she said.

Financial instruments would be needed to help residents buy solar panels and electric cars so they are “not just for the happy few,” she added.

How to make often high-tech measures to limit global warming available and appealing to much of the public — including the elderly and the poor, who are often left out, despite being most vulnerable to climate stresses — has been a key focus of the Barcelona conference.

In Oslo, city authorities are introducing a new congestion charge in rush hours and adding more than 50 new road toll stations in a bid to deter polluting traffic, but “many people experience this as a challenge if they don’t have the money to pay,” said Daniel Rees, political adviser to the Norwegian capital’s deputy mayor.

Shifting to cleaner modes of getting around would require sufficient public transport, safe bicycle lanes and a network of charging points for electric vehicles, and if cities start using autonomous buses in the future, alternative jobs would need to be found for drivers, he said.

Meanwhile, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau highlighted “climate justice” as one of four pillars of the Catalan city’s climate plan, adopted earlier this year.

The city aims to boost support for the 10th of residents who struggle to pay for energy, and to improve housing to save on energy costs and reduce health risks from extreme weather.

Barcelona — which faces more intense heatwaves, rain storms and droughts — is also doubling its bicycle lanes, adding 1.6m2 of greenery per person by planting trees and creating public gardens, and pedestrianizing some city blocks, among other measures.

Spanish Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera told the conference that urban policies on climate change can improve citizens’ lives in the form of cleaner air, better-insulated buildings, energy savings and more parks.

“Greener and healthier cities are also safer cities, and more attractive places to live,” she said.

However, Spain’s Socialist-led government, which came to power in June, is also aware that not everyone would win if it steps up action to decarbonize its economy, as it is promising.

Last month, in a push to close most of Spain’s coal mines by the end of this year, Madrid made a deal with unions to invest 250 million euros (US$283 million) over the next five years in affected provinces, mainly in the northwest.

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