November 14, 2018 / 6:28 PM / a month ago

European mayors urge wider political push to step up climate action

BARCELONA, Nov 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European cities are seeking greater recognition and support for their pioneering efforts to tackle climate change, both from national governments and the European Union, mayors leading the charge said on Wednesday.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau urged all political parties with candidates standing for the European Parliament next May to outline how they plan to help curb global warming.

“The elections should be an occasion for battling against climate change, and putting this important problem on the European agenda,” said Colau, speaking at a conference on smart cities in Barcelona.

The Catalan city adopted a climate plan this year, which the mayor said lays out a path to cut its planet-warming emissions 45 percent by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

The plan also aims to protect vulnerable citizens from intensifying heatwaves, rain storms and drought.

December’s U.N. climate talks in Poland are an opportunity for European cities to “remind their nations and the European Commission that we have to be leaders against climate change”, Colau added.

Georgios Kaminis, mayor of Athens - which is also feeling the effects of rising heat - said the EU should provide direct funding to cities to help them act on climate change.

That can be discussed as cities and the European Commission work out how to implement a U.N. plan for sustainable development of urban areas, he added.

SPANISH CLIMATE LAW

At national level, Colau called on the Spanish government to support cities by boosting investment in infrastructure for public transport and cutting subsidies for diesel immediately.

The Socialist-led government on Tuesday published a draft document for a law on climate change and energy transition that it hopes to present to parliament by the end of the year.

The document proposes setting a timetable to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, in line with an overall goal of decarbonising the economy, as well as a ban on sales of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2040.

Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the government wanted to work with cities, as it would be impossible for them to achieve emissions reductions and build resilience to climate change impacts alone.

But putting together their own plans would enable them to identify where cooperation with different institutions is needed, she said on the sidelines of the Barcelona conference.

The Spanish government wants to assist, and is working on reforms to help finance flow to the municipal level, she added.

Mayors stressed the urgency for all levels of government to move faster in line with a recent report from the U.N. climate science panel on ways the world can keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who is also vice chair of the C40 network of cities acting on climate change, said 72 cities worldwide had pledged to develop plans by the end of 2020 to help meet the lower 1.5C warming goal in the Paris Agreement.

“We are strongly committed - the people of Milan strongly understand that if we go beyond 1.5C, it will be a disaster,” Sala said.

The Italian city is taking measures on a large scale to get people out of cars and onto public transport, such as building a fifth metro line connecting the airport to the city centre, and changing its fleet of buses to run on electricity.

Athens, meanwhile, is rolling out ways to protect residents from heatwaves such as an app to alert them, and directing elderly people in poorer neighbourhoods to green spaces and air-conditioned public buildings where they can cool down.

And Berlin’s governing mayor, Michael Muller, said the German city had been taking back control of energy, housing and transport in the city, after many operations were privatised in the 1990s, so that it can move them onto a cleaner path faster.

Colau noted that Barcelona is setting up its own power company to drive a shift towards 100 percent renewable sources.

"If a city can do this, what can a state do if they put the political will to it? It is time to be brave," she said. (Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)

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