Cities and major urban centers emit up to 70% of polluting gases into the atmosphere, and concentrate 54% of the world’s population. A percentage that will reach 70% in 2050, when the world population increases from 7,000 to 10,000 million people, according to UN data. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) organization – which analyzes the initiatives of 814 cities in their fight against climate change – highlights in its latest report, ‘Cities on the Route Towards 2030: Building a Zero Emissions, Resilient Planet for All’ (2020), that almost half of the world’s cities lacks plans to deal with threats and climate change.

Spanish cities expect 140,000 million euros that our country will receive from Brussels between 2021 and 2026 suppose, precisely, a boost to its plans to reduce its emissions of polluting gases and to fight against climate change. In this context, The confidential organized, together with Acciona, DKV Seguros and the Zaragoza City Council, the meeting ‘Sustainability and urban forests: the green future of cities’. In the debate, they participated José Luis Martínez-Almeida, Mayor of Madrid; Jorge Azcon, Mayor of Zaragoza; Juan Espadas, mayor of Seville; Gorka Urtaran, mayor of Vitoria; Francisco de la Torre, Mayor of Malaga; Elena Pita, director of the Biodiversity Foundation; Jordi Tintoré, Regional Director of Urban Services and the Environment of Acciona, and Josep Santacreu, CEO of Grupo DKV.

[VÍDEO | Vea aquí el encuentro completo]

According to CDP, the main measures of cities to reduce emissions range from the planting of trees and urban forests to the modernization of the transport system, renewable energy or energy efficiency and smart grids. The World Health Organization (WHO) and FAO consider the existence of green lungs in urban centers essential to reduce not only air pollution, but also acoustics. They also recommend a minimum threshold of between 10 and 15 square meters of green area per inhabitant. What are Spanish cities doing?

“An investment of 21 million euros to plant 440,000 trees in the development of the Metropolitan Forest in Madrid, and structuring with other green areas such as Casa de Campo and El Pardo ”, he pointed out in his speech José Luis Martínez-Almeida, mayor of Madrid. He also highlighted the 184 measures contained in the Madrid 360 Strategy “with a comprehensive vision of sustainability as a transversal axis of public policies ”. These proposals include an electric mobility hub in Canalejas, the obligation for any event with more than 5,000 people to present a report with its commitment to be carbon neutral or the commitment to reduce emissions by 65% ​​to 2030.

Click here to see the album of the meeting.

Gorka Urtaran, Mayor of Vitoria, ironically with Martínez-Almeida about the 250,000 inhabitants who live in this Basque city, a figure similar to that of only one district of Madrid. “We do not compete in size, but Vitoria competes in sustainability, being the only one in the State recognized with the award UN Global Green City in 2019”. The key to this distinction, according to Urtaran, is sustained work over time. “It is not the work of a mayor, but of many mayors and of a committed citizenship”, Highlighted the councilor of Vitoria on the transformation of the most degraded areas of the suburbs into a green ring of 31 kilometers and 833 hectares that now surrounds Vitoria. “This proposal has allowed us to become a benchmark both in Europe and in the world.”

Zaragoza City Council is working on a project similar to that of Vitoria with the Forest of the Zaragozanos, which will occupy 1,200 hectares through different municipalities and will promote the circular economy. “Since all the trees were cut down [en el sitio de Zaragoza (1808)] During the War of Independence, we have never tackled such an important environmental project, because we want the Bosque de los Zaragozanos to be fertilized with the organic waste of our city ”, he pointed out. Jorge Azcón, mayor of the city, about the An urban biorefinery that is planned to be built to “manage its waste with which to generate technological components and new forms of energy.”

José Luis Martínez-Almeida, mayor of Madrid.

In addition to enhancing their water resources as the backbone of their cities – in the case of Seville, the Guadalquivir river, and in Malaga, the coast – the authorities plan in both cases increase the area of ​​your trees to create green rings. “We have registered almost 235,000 trees in Seville, which represents a 20% coverage of the city. We have the obligation to maintain and increase it with a greater diversification of species and generate more areas protected by shade, “he explained. Juan Espadas, mayor of Seville. In the case of Seville, its green belt will have 25,000 additional trees and 42 kilometers long.

The green and forest area of ​​Malaga, meanwhile, “has grown from one million square meters in 2000 to nine million today. We have grown more in forestry, which has multiplied by 15. Now, the budget we dedicate to the maintenance and conservation of these areas has multiplied by four ”, he said Francisco de la Torre, Mayor of Malaga.

And mobility?

Despite their remarkable green area, Spanish cities also have high pollution rates associated with mobility. This is the case of Madrid, with the highest ratio of trees per inhabitant in Europe, but which continuously exceeds the NO2 limits in the air recommended by international organizations. “Although Madrid is doing well within the M-30, the situation is the opposite outside the M-30”, explained Martínez-Almeida, highlighting the commitment to improve mobility in the urban area with public bicycles, with the opening of 90 new stations since the beginning of the legislature, 4,000 new units managed by private initiatives and the future creation of a bike lane on Paseo de la Castellana.

Jorge Azcón, mayor of Zaragoza.

Precisely on this issue, the mayor of Vitoria pointed out the dilemma faced by the consistories between prioritize public transport or promote the use of bicycles. “We are the second city in Spain with more kilometers of bicycle per inhabitant after Albacete, but public transport has a more democratic vision, because not everyone can use a bicycle. Added to which is the problem of coexistence between pedestrians and traffic with cyclists ”, said Urtaran.

The mayor of Zaragoza wanted to highlight the investment to modernize public transport and multiply by three the number of buses. “All the buses that we buy from now on will be electric,” Azcón said about plans to electrify the entire public transport fleet. Despite having more than 200 kilometers of bike lanes, the mayor of Seville agreed with his counterpart in focus investments to improve public transport. “Bike lanes were a gamble in the past. The bet now is to improve this service: expand metro and tram lines, and replace all gas-powered city buses with electric ones, ”said Espadas.

Green gentrification

“We have to pay special attention to the fact that the greening of cities do not lead to a social problem, with a green gentrification. That the most disadvantaged classes are left out of these spaces, and do not have access to these areas, “he warned during his speech at the event. Josep Santacreu, CEO of Grupo DKV, who recalled that “pollution produces 93,000 deaths premature infants in Spain, and that only the European child population is going to lose a total of 125,000 years of life due to pollution and suspended particles ”.

To fight against this giant of pollution, in which we are all judge and part, Jordi Tintoré, Regional Director of Urban Services and Environment of Acciona, recalled that “it is not enough to be neutral in CO₂ emissions, the historical impact of our activity forces us to produce a positive impact on society with objectives and results. “Tintoré referred to the company’s plans for this year, which include the planting of one million trees in five years to neutralize 500,000 tons of CO₂ per year.

Elena Pita, director of Fundación Biodiversidad, on screen, together with Martínez-Almeida, Azcón and García-Aller.

And it is that, as he wanted to remember Elena Pita, director of Fundación Biodiversidad —an organism dependent on the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge—, there are “three sister and intimately related crises: climate, biodiversity and health“” Global warming impacts biodiversity, but biodiversity mitigates climate change and reduces the risks of pandemics or zoonoses. In the end, there are three problems whose impacts are related, “he said.

Pita explained that solutions based on nature and ecosystems to address these climatic and urban problems will be the central axis of public aid from the Biodiversity Foundation, which has a budget of 120 million euros for the development of green infrastructures to which city councils of provincial capitals and other cities of more than 50,000 inhabitants.

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