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How can we get our cities ready for climate change?



Are European cities due a makeover? Do we need to reinvent them to be greener, cleaner, more resilient and more sustainable? It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve radically transformed our cities. For example, sanitation measures introduced in the 19th century to combat diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, and typhoid have changed cities. It took time and effort but the benefits to public health more than justified the cost.

Extreme floods and heatwaves are going to be more common in future. Devastating floods in 2021 caused hundreds of deaths and billions of euros of property damage, while heatwaves broke records. At the same time, cities are responsible for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions while accounting for only 2% of the surface area of the Earth. Clearly, cities have a role to play in both adapting to existing climate change and in preventing climate catastrophe in future.

Do we need to retrofit buildings to provide better insulation, better ventilation, more shade, and to generate electricity through rooftop solar panels? Do we need greater investment in sustainable public transport? What about car-free city centres, with parking spaces transformed into cycle paths and green spaces? And, just as importantly, what part can citizens play in encouraging and pushing for these changes?

We’re continuing our series on the European Climate Pact, an EU-wide initiative inviting people, communities and organisations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe. We will invite scientists, campaigners, activists, European Climate Pact Ambassadors, mayors, politicians and others to take part in our debates and discuss how we can all make a difference.

Let’s start our debate today with reader Anika, who left us a comment about the European Climate Pact itself:

? I’m hoping the European Climate Pact will give citizens like me the tools to properly contribute to the fight against climate change, rather than having to wait for politicians to snap into action.

What can citizens do at the local level to help cities mitigate and adapt to climate change? To get a response, we put Anika’s comment to Helena Marschall, a climate activist from Fridays for Future Germany. What advice would she give to Anika? Watch our video with her on YouTube!

Do we need to fundamentally rethink what our cities looks like? Instead of steel, concrete and glass skyscrapers, should cities of the 21st century be filled with gardens, parks, and forests?

For example, our reader Stela suggests:

? [A] green rooftop on every building is a wonderful [idea] and not so hard to achieve or expensive to pay for!

Meanwhile, Anna thinks Europe should “plant trees everywhere”. Are cities a good place to plant trees? What would Helena Marschall say to the idea of green rooftops and urban forests? Watch our video with her on YouTube!

For another perspective, we also put the same comment to Prof. Michal Marek, an expert on forestry and the Director of the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CzechGlobe). He is cautious about the high management costs of urban forests and rooftop gardens (as are others), but is overall supportive. Watch our video with him on YouTube!

Finally, we had a comment from Jonathan, who says:

? I always thought Brussels had relatively low air pollution until I downloaded [an app] that tracks air quality. Clearly not enough is being done!

Could cities make things like air quality data more available so citizens can better hold local government leaders to account? What would Helena Marschall from Fridays for Future Germany say? Watch our video with her on YouTube!

How would Prof. Michal Marek respond? Watch our video with him on YouTube!

Do you want to get involved? Sign up to the European Climate Pact and pledge to take practical steps to help reduce carbon pollution on our planet.

What do YOU think? Are European cities due a makeover? Do we need to reinvent them to be greener, cleaner, more resilient and more sustainable? And, just as importantly, what part can citizens play in encouraging and pushing for these changes? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Photo by Milica Spasojevic on Unsplash

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