The Green Frontier: Building Back Greener Cities
How can cities build back better and greener after coronavirus? Josué Tanaka and Sue Goeransson, climate change and infrastructure experts, gave the EBRD point of view at a webinar hosted by the EBRD Green Cities team and jointly moderated by team leaders Nigel Jollands and Lin O’Grady. (To access the webinar recording please press here)
The webinar, part of London Climate Action Week 2020, began with a keynote speech from London’s Deputy Mayor Shirley Rodrigues, comparing London’s thinking about green city planning post-Covid19 with the work going on in the 43 cities that have joined EBRD Green Cities, the development bank’s innovative urban sustainability programme.
Representing city governments were Tirana’s Deputy Mayor Anuela Ristani and Warsaw’s Justyna Glusman. Sarah Colenbrander of thinktank ODI and Drazen Kucan of the Green Climate Fund, created to support the efforts of developing countries in responding to the challenge of climate change, added a broader perspective.
The thinking was positive and practical. “The reality is that this terrible pandemic has given us a glimpse into a future that could come if we fail to deal with climate change,” Rodrigues told the meeting. “We know we must emerge from this with ways to deal with the climate emergency in next 10 years. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand with the right investments in jobs and infrastructure. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our cities to make them better geared to the challenges of tomorrow. Let’s make most of the opportunity.”
Looking at how to do this in practice, the EBRD’s Josue Tanaka, who is Managing Director for Energy Efficiency and Climate Change, explained that the EBRD is filtering its planning for cities, “at the intersection between green and recovery,” to focus on projects that are labour-intensive, with low capital intensity, and shovel-ready. Many opportunities exist in sustainable infrastructure investments: in decarbonisation of buildings, rebalancing transport planning, and making cities smart and more socially inclusive.
Among challenges, he said, “it’s not a coincidence that from a banking point of view one challenge is money. Tax revenues are going down, there’s been a reprioritisation of budgets. People look to the stimulus, a wave of money will help all cities solve their problems. We don’t yet see many countries’ national governments really emphasising the role of cities. That’s part of the role we see for ourselves, as ‘one of the defenders of cities’. The EBRD business model has been very much to work with cities, directly.”
EBRD Green Cities, founded as a pilot project in 2016 to help cities overhaul their infrastructure to become more sustainable, has proved a runaway success. The EUR 1.5 billion programme now groups 43 cities in eastern Europe, Central Asia and the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Cities in the regions where the EBRD works tend to be much more carbon-intensive than the EU average, making joined-up thinking especially useful. Cities that join the programme demonstrate engagement by signing a trigger project, then, with EBRD help, draw up a tailor-made Green City Action Plan (GCAP) to coordinate further efforts to make their own home more liveable for the future.
As Sue Goeransson said: "EBRD Green Cities are critical to what we’re doing in infrastructure. We aim to enhance and expand the Green Cities programme, and look forward to this year introducing more cities to Green Cities, because its methodology is a fantastic way for cities to address climate challenges."
Both city officials at the webinar talked of the importance of the action plans.
Speaking for Warsaw, which joined the programme just two weeks ago, Justyna Glusman described how her city would put together a plan combining both a GCAP and a CAP, the planning tool for the C40 network of the world’s major cities, supporting them to collaborate effectively and deliver action on climate change. “The GCAP is the backbone for Warsaw’s green recovery,” she said.
As for Tirana, whose current city government has led a push for more sustainability since coming to office in 2015, Anuela Ristani told the discussion that the green agenda had risen in public consciousness due to the pandemic, which had raised public knowledge, awareness and demand for green investment and actions. “The GCAP is now our main strategy, and we filter investments in the city by the GCAP approach,” she said.
How the sudden onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, and the recovery plans now being formulated, fit with existing ambitions to make cities greener, was set out succinctly by Sarah Colenbrander of ODI.
“First, even before the pandemic struck, the numbers were clear: greening cities offers an unprecedented opportunity to boost living standards, enhance productivity, and create jobs. With unemployment soaring around the world, creating decent local jobs is more urgent than ever. One report, Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity, found that pursuing low-carbon urban development would support 65 million more jobs in 2030 than making the same investments in brown urban development. And beyond that? Well, there are no jobs on a dead planet.
“Second, COVID-19 has led governments around the world to (temporarily) tear up the fiscal rulebook. Public debt has suddenly ballooned after a decade of austerity and financialisation to balance public balance sheets - and investors have hardly blinked. This suggests that the large investments needed for a green economic transition are also possible, particularly as many of these are investments that will more than pay for themselves while creating a better quality of life for citizens.
“Third, the coronavirus and the lockdown have laid bare the stark inequalities within cities. Thousands have struggled to survive without secure livelihoods, without decent housing, or with disparities in policing. It is urgent that we have a green recovery to avoid the climate catastrophes that would also hit the poorest the hardest. At the same time, we need to recognise that a green recovery will not solve all those inequalities in itself. We need additional, complementary policies that boost living standards and resilience for the poorest so that nobody is left behind.”
To access the EBRD Green Cities: The Green Frontier webinar recording please press here.