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By AITOR HERNÁNDEZ-MORALES
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Happy Thursday, city lovers, and welcome back to the Living Cities project.
Last week, we looked at the major hurdles facing cities that have signed a pledge to become climate neutral by 2030. This week, we take you to Stockholm, where city authorities say they’ve hit on a winning formula to hit that ambitious target: district heating powered by biofuels and a carbon capture and storage facility expected to be up-and-running by 2026.
There’s enthusiasm among EU lawmakers for the project — which received €180 million in EU funding — but the question is whether the set-up can work in other cities.
More on that after the jump.
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BETTING ON CARBON CAPTURE: In Stockholm, ships carrying bark and sawdust from Sweden’s forestry industry are a regular sight from the city shores. Those shipments help fuel a sprawling district heating network that sends hot water from a central boiler to homes, businesses and public spaces around the city — a system, set up in the 1950s, that has allowed the city to cut its greenhouse gas emissions from heating buildings by 80 percent.
Taking it to the next level: Since its last coal-fired boiler closed in 2020, the system runs increasingly on biofuels — further curbing emissions. Now, Stockholm Exergi, the partly city-owned company that runs the district heating network, is trialing a system to trap and store the emissions released by burning biofuels. It says the technology — known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS — will reduce Stockholm’s emissions by a further 800,000 tons a year. Because trees also absorb CO2 while they’re growing, the whole process of burning them for fuel — and then capturing those emissions — actually removes more gas from the atmosphere than it releases, creating so-called negative emissions, the company says.
First in class: Advocates say the combination should be replicated elsewhere and can lead to a dramatic cut in emissions. “We strongly believe that district heating, using BECCS, can be a viable solution for cities,” said Åsa Lindhagen, a Green Party lawmaker in charge of the city’s environmental and climate policy. During a visit to Stockholm Exergi’s district power plant at Värtan earlier this year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the technology as a boon for Europe’s efforts to become climate neutral by 2050. “This is the future we see right now here,” she said.
Not so fast: Few EU cities have district heating systems that are as extensive as Stockholm’s, although several with existing infrastructure are looking at ways to expand and decarbonize them. Critics of carbon capture technology also argue that throwing money at the new technology is a distraction from implementing urgent policy changes aimed at decarbonizing polluting sectors and curbing high-carbon consumption habits.
Read the full story from my colleague Charlie Duxbury here.
Did you know that by bringing nature into cities we can combat heat islands?
GO-TIME FOR URBAN TRANSITIONS MISSION: 48 global cities — among them Aarhus, Burgas, Cascais, Cluj-Napoca, Kaunas, Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, Mannheim, Greater Manchester, Lappeenranta, Lisbon, Łódź, Roman, Santo Tirso, Siauliai, Turku, Valencia and Vitoria-Gasteiz — were selected at the COP27 summit this week to take part in the Urban Transitions Mission, a scheme aimed at developing roadmaps for getting to net zero. With guidance from the Global Covenant of Mayors, the European Commission and Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe, participating cities will focus on making their energy infrastructure more efficient, revamping their climate plans and getting rid of bureaucratic bottlenecks blocking innovative advances.
That’s so cool: At this week’s COP27 summit the U.N. Environment Program also launched the Nature for Cool Cities Challenge, which incentivizes cities to use nature to fight urban heat. Participating municipalities will receive funding and technical support in exchange for their pledge to boost their nature-based solutions by 2030.
ELECTION RERUN: Berlin’s constitutional court this week ruled that the region will have to repeat last year’s chaotic German capital’s parliamentary and local district council elections, which were plagued by too few ballot boxes, long lines and votes cast after the polls closed. Current polls suggest the new elections may lead to the ouster of Mayor Franziska Giffey of the Social Democratic Party.
The Netherlands is injecting another €1.1 billion into cycling infrastructure | Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP: The Netherlands is gearing up to expand its 35,000-kilometer network of cycling lanes with an additional €1.1 billion in national, regional and municipal cash to be invested in more cycling infrastructure, including new cycle lanes, tunnels and bridges. Part of the cash will go toward extending bike parking facilities at train stations in cities like Utrecht and Goes to encourage travelers to use multiple low-carbon transport options in one trip.
EMBRACING DIVERSITY: Antwerp, Pesaro, Vantaa, Warsaw and Zagreb signed on to Eurocities’ Integrating Cities Charter this week, joining 42 other municipalities that have committed to taking steps to integrate migrants.
PROGRESS ON ‘GOOD LIVING’: Brussels’ Good Living urban planning legislation — which aspires to revamp the use of public space — passed its first formal test this week and was approved by the regional government on its first reading. Among other measures, the plan would require that all sidewalks be at least 2 meters wide, cut in half the amount of the road network reserved for car-use, and oblige between 10 and 15 percent of road surfaces to be used for greenery. But there are still hurdles ahead: A public consultation on the scheme will be held in December, and Brussels’ 19 municipalities will be tapped to give their own feedback. Given the strong pushback on Brussels’ Good Move circulation plans, there’s a chance things won’t go smoothly. The goal is for the plan to take effect in 2024.
Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles reimagined as a car-free oasis | Lynk & Co./Gullermo Guso/Roberto Raez
GO GREEN: A new Ipsos survey of over 8,000 residents in eight major Western European cities found that residents want fewer cars and more trees — with 57 percent backing the idea that parking spaces should be replaced with greenery. Madrid’s residents were the most enthusiastic, with 68 percent in favor; in Brussels, only 43 percent backed that option.
Trending: The survey was commissioned by car-sharing company Lynk & Co., which released the data along with some impressive artists’ impressions of the polled cities reimagined as green utopias. Several micro-mobility companies have recently produced utopian visuals to underscore what less car-dependent cities would look like; to celebrate World Car Free Day, e-bike and scooter group Dott released similar images.
TACKLING CLIMATE MIGRATION: Millions of people around the world are already being displaced by rising sea levels, extreme weather events and drought every year. According to Vittoria Zanuso, executive director of the Mayors Migration Council (MMC) — a mayor-led global coalition aimed at helping climate migrants — the overwhelming majority of climate migrants head to their nearest cities. “Since 2008 the climate emergency has forced the displacement of more than 21 million people every year,” Zanuso said in a phone interview from Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, where she is attending the COP27 climate summit. “The World Bank expects that number to jump to 1 billion people by 2050.”
A problem for everyone: While most climate displacements occur within the low and middle-income countries often referred to as the Global South, Zanuso said those movements inevitably have international impacts. “Dhaka, Bangladesh, takes in an average of 2,000 climate migrants every day,” Zanuso explained. “It’s a very big city, but it has already received around 18 million people … As it has become more crowded, many who moved there initially have subsequently migrated to cities like Paris or London, which now boasts a Bangladeshi community of 200,000.” Similar trends have been recorded in countries like Italy, where a new report from IDOS research in Rome shows that the majority of migrants who arrived in 2021 came from countries devastated by floods and droughts.
Money talks: Zanuso and MMC mayors have been pressuring global leaders at COP27 to speed up action on climate mitigation. “The international community promised to set aside $100 billion in climate finance per year,” Zanuso said. “That’s not even close to what’s needed, but not even that is being fulfilled.” Zanuso argued that countries needed to “fix their broken climate finance promises” and direct that money toward cities and local governments, “who are at the forefront of the issue and best equipped to immediately respond to vulnerable communities.”
A migrant walks between the make-shift tents in a migrant camp in Casablanca | Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images
No time to waste: MMC last year partnered with C40 Cities to expand its existing pandemic-relief Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees to also boost green jobs for climate migrants in five African cities. This week the Ikea Foundation announced that it would contribute $1.2 million to expand the scheme to an additional six cities including Casablanca, Dar es Salaam, eThekwini, Hargeisa, Nairobi and Rwanda’s Nyamagabe District. The fund is a step forward, Zanuso said, but a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed: Some 86 million people in Africa are expected to be displaced by climate change by 2050.
Northern support: MMC members in European cities are developing projects aimed at helping those who are forced to move abroad as a result of climate change. In Milan, Mayor Giuseppe Sala has committed to creating over 50,000 new, green jobs in sustainable construction and other sectors. Some of those jobs will be reserved for climate migrants, Zanuso said. But she stressed that more needs to be done to address the root causes of climate migration. “There is a big difference between people who are in your city because they want to be there and those who are there not out of choice, but because they have been displaced,” she said. “We need to do everything we can to stop that from happening.”
COP27 NEWS: Read the latest from our reporting team at COP27 in POLITICO’s Energy and Climate newsletter which we’ve brought free for the two weeks of the summit. Also, look out for our Twitter Space discussion live from Sharm El Sheikh on Friday.
Did you know that by bringing nature into cities we can combat heat islands?
I’ll be interviewing academic and urbanist Carlos Moreno at POLITICO’s Sustainable Future Week, a three-day sustainability summit starting November 29. Got a question for the creator of the 15-minute city concept? Send it to me here.
**Has COP27 managed to boost green financial flows to combat climate change? POLITICO Live’s Sustainable Future Week is taking place soon after COP27, on November 29 – December 1 in Brussels and online. Join us for discussions on the most pressing sustainability issues from aviation to maritime to nature – you don’t want to miss it. Explore the summit and register today.**
— I was delighted to read about Bilbao’s new free Adinak Biziz (“Ageless Bikes”) service: Custom-made bikes are being made available to older adults so that they, too, can enjoy decarbonized travel within the city.
Bilbao’s Adinak Biziz bicycles are designed with ergonomic chairs and space to accommodate wheelchairs | City of Bilbao
— The Guardian has an interesting write-up of local anger over Brussels’ street murals, which some have labeled racist or sexist. City authorities have tasked a team of scholars to “recontextualize” the artwork; passers-by can scan QR codes on the wall next to a mural to find out about its artist and historical context.
— This tweet from architect Simon Battisti highlights the difference that reducing on-street parking and widening sidewalks made for students at one primary school in Tirana.
— And finally, next Thursday, I’m joining a panel discussion at the European Journalism Symposium in Brussels on the merits of participatory journalism. Come and say hi if you’re there in person or join the live stream (in French and English.)
**Over 500 media professionals, academics and members of civil society from all 27 EU countries will gather to reflect on the conditions of quality journalism in Europe at IHECS. Join the 1st edition of the European Journalism Symposium on 23-25 November in Brussels.**
MANY THANKS TO: Giovanna Coi, Charlie Duxbury, Louise Guillot, Pieter Haeck, my editors Esther King and James Randerson and producer Giulia Poloni.
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