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"Responsible cities, breathable cities".

By Cinta Lomba and Marta Iturriza, researchers in the Department of Industrial Organisation at Tecnun-University of Navarra

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Marta Iturriza and Cinta Lomba. PHOTO: Courtesy
05/06/19 15:21 Communication Service


Today is World Environment Day and we reproduce below the opinion article that Cinta Lomba and Marta Iturriza, researchers at the Department of Industrial Organisation at Tecnun, have published in El Diario Vaco, El Correo and El Diario Montañés:

"Today is World Environment Day. This year's edition is dedicated to the fight against air pollution, an issue of great importance given that, according to the UN, 92% of the planet's inhabitants do not breathe clean air. This has a direct effect on people's health and translates into a very significant economic and social cost.

This year's World Environment Day is perhaps even more relevant in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, "Global warming of 1.5ºC", which warns of the need to limit the increase in the planet's average temperature to 1.5ºC by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45%. The objective fact is that climate change is a scientifically proven reality and that its impact is already visible on our planet. This impact manifests itself, above all, in the form of an increase in average temperature, a fact that has direct consequences on natural and urban systems, as well as on people's lives.  

Climate change is largely due to human action. The way we have been producing and consuming in recent decades is incompatible with the objective of reducing emissions and limiting temperature increases. It has been scientifically proven that humans are responsible for a large part of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are causing the climate change we are already experiencing.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21 held in Paris in 2015 led to the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which establishes the global framework for combating climate change after 2020. In this agreement, the signatory countries committed themselves, among other things, to meeting emission reduction targets. In the European Union, this target translates into a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

The Paris Agreement is therefore a starting point for participating countries to have a common goal and a roadmap for combating climate change. Starting from a strategic level, the objectives set out in the agreement have been introduced into national, regional and local plans and strategies. In 2008, a significant milestone was reached: for the first time in history, more than half of the world's population resided in urban areas, and projections indicate that by 2050 urban centres will account for more than 68% of the world's population. Therefore, at the local level, cities started to take measures to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants while combating the effects of climate change. Initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors for the Climate were created to make these measures a reality. In the Basque Country, a GHG inventory has been carried out since 2002, and numerous actions are coordinated through the Basque network of sustainable municipalities Udalsarea 2030.

In Europe, the benchmark cities are Copenhagen in Denmark and Stockholm in Sweden. Among other actions, Copenhagen has activated a plan to become the first emission-neutral city by 2025. To this end, it has focused on reducing emissions from the energy sector by 70% by investing in energy efficiency technology and renewables. It has also achieved a 45% daily bicycle commute and a preference for public transport or zero-emission vehicles. Stockholm, proclaimed the first "European Green Capital" in 2010, focuses its success on raising public awareness. Eight out of ten locals argue that adopting environmentally friendly habits should be the natural way of interacting with the city.

Days like today's bring to the forefront of the debate the urgency of adopting strategies and actions similar to those carried out in Copenhagen or Stockholm, which are effective in combating climate change and the deterioration of the natural environment. Cities are no longer only seeking to mitigate climate change, but to adapt to it by adopting sustainable and adapted solutions in nature. These local strategies, inspired by the Paris Pact, translate into a transformation of the urban ecosystem, moving towards resilient cities and territories.

The positive aspect is that the environment has moved out of the narrow sphere of specialised scientists and dedicated organisations to become more generalised and permeate a society that is increasingly aware and active. A society that is demanding commitment and real action from the leaders of their countries and international organisations, while adopting more sustainable consumption habits. The "Fridays for the future" phenomenon is a clear example of this. Preserving the environment is everyone's business. It is in our hands to ensure that the environment around us remains habitable. Let's be responsible.

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