Municipal climate neutrality - Cities as climate protection pioneers
Dialogue Forum on 22 June 2022, 19:00
Online and at Munich Re, Conference Room Europe, Giselastr. 21, 80802 Munich
The fight for our planet will be won or lost in cities, as Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General from 2007 to 2016, already emphasised. At the last Dialogue Forum 2022 of the series " Smart Solutions for Climate Protection", municipal decision-makers discussed promising city- and community-based concepts for more climate protection and the problems that arise in practical implementation.
Cities and municipalities lead the way with climate protection projects, take on urban land use planning for climate-friendly building areas, apply for subsidies, act as service providers and motivators and thus directly and indirectly influence CO2 emissions.
Urban regions, which are already home to more than half of the world's population, are playing a central role in the fight against climate change, according to a study conducted by the Coalition for Urban Transitions. After all, cities are responsible for around three quarters of global CO2 emissions. "Municipalities take on many roles in climate protection," explained Nadine Derber, who, as head of division at the Climate Protection and Energy Agency Baden-Württemberg, is the contact person for strategic questions on climate protection and climate adaptation. Cities and municipalities would lead the way with climate protection projects, take over urban land use planning for climate-friendly building areas, apply for subsidies, act as service providers and motivators and thus directly and indirectly influence CO2 emissions. However, there are certain limits: "Federal law and EU law provide the framework," says the expert. Because municipal climate protection is a complex task, strategic planning and sufficient personnel are needed. "The entire administration has to pull together.
Pointing out positive prospects for the future
Munich is to become the first major city in Germany that manages to heat buildings without fuel oil and natural gas. This requires decarbonising district heating and renovating buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Christine Kugler, officer for climate and environmental protection in Munich, sees the biggest lever and simultaneously the biggest challenge on the way to CO2 neutrality in the heat transition. "Munich should become the first major city in Germany to heat buildings without oil and natural gas," she said, pointing the way forward. To achieve this, she said, it is necessary to decarbonise district heating and to renovate buildings to make them more energy efficient. She left no doubt that climate protection and adaptation to climate change must go together by making cities more resilient to heat waves and heavy rains. Kugler is also convinced that the hurdles on the way to climate neutrality can only be overcome together with citizens, whether it is a question of energy supply, new mobility solutions or climate adaptation measures. "We have to show positive perspectives for the future in order to overcome the challenges," she demanded. Participatory approaches are needed!
Citizens have to feel that they are being heard and that their concerns are being taken seriously. To do this, they must be informed in time about possible projects on the local level and benefits such as a higher quality of life due to less traffic must be shown to them.
Alexander Wright, mayor of the city of Gießen, showed how to get people on board: " Citizens must realise that they are being heard and that their concerns are being taken seriously". To accomplish this, they need to be informed about possible projects in time and advantages such as a higher quality of life due to less traffic need to be pointed out to them. In addition, mistakes have to be accepted, because otherwise certain projects would not be tackled at all. Gießen itself wants to become climate-neutral by 2035 and to this end is transforming the areas of electricity, heat and transport. "We need the power of the state and federal government for this, because climate protection is not yet a compulsory task of the municipalities, but is legally on a par with cultural commitment, for example." This shows a challenge in German regulatory policy: the German federal government bindingly agrees to the Paris climate protection agreement and is thus obliged to reduce CO2 emissions. The implementers are then the states and, last but not least, the municipalities in Germany. However, the obligation cannot simply be disaggregated here. First, financing and legal requirements must be examined and regulated. Fortunately, many municipalities do not want to wait until then.
Pragmatism instead of perfectionism
The municipality of Wildpoldsried near Kempten already achieved its goal of climate neutrality in 2013, as former mayor Arno Zengerle explained. "We now generate eight times more green electricity than we consume," he said happily. Among other things, he said, we have succeeded in doing so because we have not fallen prey to the German obsession with perfection, which is usually extremely uneconomical. "I am an advocate of the pareto principle: in most cases, you can already achieve 80 per cent of the result with only 20 per cent of the total effort." Zengerle expressed his conviction that the energy turnaround can succeed without coercion through motivation, advice and promotion alone. "Every house can become a power plant. Our citizens have spent 50 million euros on climate protection and renewable energies in the past 20 years," he made clear. However, he is aware that not every municipality has the same possibilities. "Everyone has to do what they do best. In the countryside there is room for wind turbines, cities are more for hospitals and universities."
I am an advocate of the pareto principle: in most cases you can already achieve 80 per cent of the result with only 20 per cent of the total effort.
A major obstacle on the way to more climate protection are bottlenecks in materials and, above all, qualified craftspeople to increase the rate of building renovation from the current one percent to six to seven percent. "But the obstacles should not stop us from doing something," Kugler demanded and criticised the subsidy policy, which is counterproductive in parts, for example with the company car privilege. In other areas, however, such as the promotion of environmentally friendly heating systems or the energy-efficient renovation of buildings, the funds are having a positive effect. "It all works very well," confirmed former mayor Zengerle.
Another obstacle: "We have to overcome our bureaucratic barriers," demanded climate protection expert Derber. Municipal decision-makers are often stuck in their plans, she said. A lot would be gained if, in the light of the time pressure, they had the courage to simply get started. As a praiseworthy example, she cited the car-free neighbourhood of Vauban in Freiburg, which is enjoying much greater popularity than initially thought.
Climate council examines draft resolutions
In order to achieve the ambitious climate goals, Munich recently established a climate council with representatives from politics, science, business and civil society. It reviews resolutions for their impact on the climate before they are discussed in the city council. "However, the climate council does not have the right of veto," Kugler pointed out. According to Derber, some municipalities in Baden-Württemberg have also introduced climate assessments of draft resolutions. "We have to make sure that these assessments do not become a paper tiger," she demanded. A big advantage even without the right of veto is at least that the administration has to deal more with climate issues and look for alternatives. "In Gießen, for example, we have started to consider wood as an environmentally friendly building material in building construction as well," said Wright. He advocated establishing a circular economy in the building sector as well. "There are many innovative ideas that are already implementing this."
The key to more climate protection is in the hands of the municipalities. The question is to what extent it really works on a voluntary basis only, or is a certain pressure on the citizens necessary after all. "Perhaps it would be more elegant to talk about steering and promoting," Kugler suggested. Steering, he said, is particularly necessary where the freedom of one is at the expense of the other, as in the case of traffic noise. "We don't need a forced debate," Wright added. But in order to make a difference, he said, it is not enough to just talk people down, but politics must set the appropriate framework. "I believe that if municipalities consistently pursue their climate goals, this will also lead to economic success and to people being satisfied and happier," he expressed his conviction.
As pioneers, municipalities and cities can show how climate protection can be implemented quickly and efficiently. Participation and the reduction of bureaucracy are important. However, tackling the bottleneck of staff shortages, especially among craftspeople, is not directly within the power spectrum of the municipalities. More investment is needed in this area throughout Germany.
"Municipal climate neutrality - Cities as climate protection pioneers" was moderated by Andreas Unger, journalist and moderator. Around 40 listeners took part in the event on site and 50 virtually.
We would like to thank our online audience, the on-site participants and, of course, all speakers for an exciting, sometimes controversial and always interesting series of Dialogue Forums in 2022 and wish you all a wonderful summer!