Klaus Bondam: “Climate change gives an opportunity to look at the way we construct our cities”
Interview – 19.03.2010
For Deputy Mayor of Copenhagen, Klaus Bondam, who took part in the debate on climate change during the 18th Session of the Congress, improving liveability of our cities is a permanent task of local authorities. Climate change gives us an opportunity to look at the way we construct and transform urban dwellings, and its real challenge is to make cities a better place despite global warming, he says in an interview.
Question: The Congress is calling on cities and regions to take action on climate change after Copenhagen. In your opinion, what can they do in the absence of a binding international agreement?
Klaus Bondam: Whether States reached an agreement or not, climate change will always remain a positive challenge for local authorities. Their main task is indeed to improve the liveability of the city, its friendliness to urban dwellers, and this task will always be there, climate change or not. But global warming provides an imperative and gives an opportunity to look at the way we construct today our cities, many of which – in Europe – are centuries old.
For instance, Copenhagen is 800 years old, but the “era of the car” dates back only a few decades. Yet the car brought along tremendous challenges in terms of pollution, noise, use of public space. The question is: what are we doing about it, and are we doing it right? In Copenhagen, we are experimenting with electric cars; Strasbourg introduced a marvellous tram system; many German cities push forward bicycle schemes. Let’s take another aspect – urban planning. More and more municipalities are integrating into their urban planning and building regulations the use of new materials, which in the long run will save energy and reduce hazardous health effects. There are also considerations of space for leisure, sports and exercise, all of which will have long-lasting socio-economic implications – better health of the population, better harmony in society, better production output.
In other words, it is all about constructing and transforming our cities, and it is all about innovation and adjustment of our life styles and consumption patterns. This is why I say that local action against climate change makes cities more innovative, more liveable and healthier. The real positive challenge of climate change is to make our cities a better place despite the effects of global warming, and despite the absence of international agreements. And this work is ongoing.
Question: But the key competences in the fight against climate change belong to national governments. Is there a leeway for local authorities to mount effective action, nationally and globally?
The situation differs from one country to another and the world over. The Copenhagen Summit showed it clearly, and revealed some interesting examples. In African countries, for instance, with their strong tribal traditions, local governments leaders can achieve a great deal, being the elders of the settlement. In Europe, local competences must be defined by law. In China, municipal authorities are integrated within the national government system.
But the opportunity is there. In Copenhagen, for example, we have more freedom in developing new neighbourhoods, and we managed to create low-carbon zones around the city and set a 20 per cent reduction target in 2015, compared to 2005. The city and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability have catalogued more than 3100 similar climate targets and initiatives from cities and local governments all over the world. There are also numerous networks, such as ICLEI or Eurocities, that have been or are being built to spread the knowledge and to have local politicians meet one another, which is extremely important. Equally important, there are now networks of civil servants as well, whose input into this work is of great value.
At the same time, it is indispensable to put pressure on national governments and lobby them into changing their attitude. In this regard, these networks and such institutions as the Congress of the Council of Europe play a crucial role.
Question: Before the Summit in December, your city was nicknamed ”Hopenhagen”. Given the results of the Summit and given the gravity of the climate situation, is there still hope?
There is a lot of hope. Hope is inherent in the city: people have always moved to town in the hope for a better life, achievement, personal realisation. And then there is another concept: survival. I think that our strong desire for action and the imperative to act to prevent global disaster will do their job, and we will have an agreement – be it COP 16, COP 17 or COP 18. It is inevitable.