City Climate Action: How challenges can turn into opportunities

by Ashok Sridharan

In these days, climate and Bonn are thought together. The 23rd Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention is to happen in Bonn between 6 and 17 November, 2017 hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and chaired – for the first time ever – by a small island state, Fiji. Already this 8 May, the Bonn Climate Talks will bring parties, observers and stakeholders together in the city at the Rhine. Throughout the negotiation process on the Paris Agreement, these May rounds were instrumental – and so they are now for the implementation of the agreement which entered into force almost seven month ago.

As a matter of fact, adaptation to climate change, building resilience and dealing with loss and damages will challenge the world just as much as the necessity of mitigating global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius or less.

Bonn is a hotspot for the joint efforts to get there. Firstly, as home to UNFCCC and as the place, where UN Bonn is shaping sustainability. Currently, from the UN campus 1,000 staff members in 18 UN organizations are working on a better future. The campus is continually expanding by infrastructure and newcomer organizations, while sustainability is climbing up in priorities of the global community. Tackling climate change is instrumental to the 2030 Agenda and to the achievement of  the 17 sustainable development goals.

When nations negotiate again in November 2017, action on the ground is an indispensable precondition for a successful implementation of the Paris Agreement. The voices and contributions of provinces, states, cities and towns all over the world are getting more and more important on the international climate stage. Together with North-Rhine-Westphalia’s (NRW) Prime Minister Hannelore Kraft, I therefore committed to make cities and regions of the world listened to in Bonn. On 12 November during the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP), their leaders will come together in Bonn.

Climate Action is action by ALL

Since 1995, Bonn committed to climate action and we are following the path towards a climate-friendly and resilient city. However, any municipal strategy may only unfold its full potential when supported and owned by citizens and communities. In 2013, we started working with an advisory board of stakeholders in order to implement our integrated climate protection concept, coordinated by a special climate unit within the administration. In 2012, our municipal energy agency has been consulting private house owners on energetic refurbishment and the use of renewable energies.

We just launched a new version of our solar roof cadastre. Even in the most difficult times, we held on to keeping municipal energy, water and transport services in municipal ownership. Thanks to this wise decision, we can be proud of our steam power plant with close to 90 % efficiency, feeding from our own thermal waste treatment plant. The first e-busses are running and the split of renewable energies in the energy mix of our electricity services is at almost 70 per cent.

Furthermore, I reward more than thousand new climate ambassadors a year – primary school students aged 8 or 9 who do great work in reaching out to their families and friends. More of 7,000 climate ambassadors are already active in Bonn – and you wouldn’t believe the power of their passion!

Adaptation – a planning business

Climate change is threatening cities and communities all over the world. Europe belongs to the least impacted regions – still we already witness the impacts of climate change at our threshold.

The frequency of heat waves and heavy rains has significantly risen in the past years. Although on the one hand, we are not affected by water scarcity in Bonn, heat waves are a serious threat to health when thinking of the most vulnerable groups amongst our citizens – young children and elderly people. On the other hand, heavy rains are affecting Bonn increasingly – leading to spontaneous stream floods with unpredictable impacts on infrastructure and people. Bonn has a long history of river floods and hence a long-lasting experience in flood protection, however, the new flood scenarios require new approaches.

As an immediate consequence, Bonn became part of a planner’s dialogue on floodings with the German Institute on Urbanistic. Together with the German Weather Service and the State Agency for Environment and Consumer Protection of North Rhine-Westphalia we are currently working on an interactive, web-based information system for climate-adapted city planning in NRW, based on a pre-study in Bonn. This process shall lead to an interactive and web-based tool, enabling as many cities in NRW as possible to evaluate the effects of different planning scenarios on the objective and subjective temperature level.

Climate change is a cross-cutting issue and can therefore only be coped with in a joint effort of municipal departments and responsibilities. The German Ministry of Education and Research has launched their ZURES-programme on future-oriented vulnerability and risk assessment as a tool to increase resilience in cities and urban infrastructure. Bonn has joined the programme in order to develop project, evaluation and planning tools for our urban planning (German: Bauleitplanung). These tools will feature climate assessments for our city with a three-dimensional, high resolution meso scale climate model, planning guidance maps and scenarios. In a second project of that same federal ministry, we are working with the Institute for Waste and Water Management of the University of Aachen to get to a practitioner’s evaluation based on test cases of a city climate model yet to be developped. In the same field, we are contributing to a regional climate prevention strategy of our Cologne/Bonn area.

It’s all about cooperation

While all these regional programmes cater for mitigation and resilience in Bonn, on the ground Bonn has also taken special responsibility to advocate for climate action and sustainability amongst the German cities. Bonn is a hub for climate actors – and Bonn provides a unique communication culture bridging structures and sectoral topics. The cross-cutting issue of climate change is the link between all these stakeholders and key players – from the federal ministry to German development cooperation, from sustainability certification bodies like the forest stewardship council to ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. Since 2016, I am ICLEI’s First Vice President, holding the portfolio of the cities climate registry carbonn as well as the Bonn Climate negotiations.

Furthermore, I patron the Resilient Cities Congress, which will take place from 4 to 6 May, so this week. The Resilient Cities congress series has profiled as the globally most relevant conference on cities, adaptation and resilience. It brings together cities, academia and business, and deals with global agendas, speaking of Sendai and resilience, of Addis Ababa and financing, of Quito and Habitat III and of course of the Paris Agreement on Climate.

A successful local sustainability agenda has to take into consideration all these agendas. With the 2030 Agenda pilot project “Globally sustainable local government in NRW”, Bonn will advance towards a holistic and participatory sustainability strategy.

Global or local – it will not work out without cities and regions, neither without cross-sectoral, multilevel action. May I invite you to join the movement?

Ashok-Alexander Sridharan

Ashok-Alexander Sridharan

Mayor at City of Bonn
Ashok-Alexander Sridharan, born in 1965, married, three children, became Mayor of Bonn in October 2015. He graduated from law school in Bonn in 1995 and has pursued his career in local government administration. As Mayor of Bonn, Mr. Sridharan has set his path to expand networks and to strengthen Bonn as a nationally and internationally successful location and platform for global sustainability. He is deeply committed to Bonn’s role as Germany’s United Nations City and host to a great number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Mayor Sridharan promotes the city as a business location, a hub for science and education and a place of culture and music. Mayor Sridharan feels personally committed to the goal of UN Bonn to shape a sustainable future and to the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. He actively supports the work of national and international city networks, advocating the important role of local governments, stimulating local action, and fostering city-to-city cooperation. Since December 2015, he is a member of the Global Executive Committee of ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability and was elected First Vice President in October 2016.
Ashok-Alexander Sridharan

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