From students to cities: the world that says yes to the environment and no to climate change

If it wasn’t already clear, the recent marches all over the world have highlighted the need to seriously address the risks that climate change poses to our societies. From the ‘60s to today, the average temperature of the Earth has soared by 0.6 °C in some areas due to global warming. The level of CO2 in the air has never been so high since 800.000 years.

Fortunately, something is beginning to change. In the past months, the figure of Greta Thunberg has emerged. She is a 15 years old student and activist who is stirring the consciences of many young students like her.

On March 15th, students from all over the world walked the streets to make their voices heard urging a general awakening on the risks of climate change.

But there weren’t only the students to fight in support of the environment, indeed, in the civil society, the voices that rise in support of this cause are increasingly common.

For example, today there are several networks funded by Urbact, a European program aiming at promoting sustainable urban development, which focus on the theme of environmental protection and on the fight against climate change.

Among the most interesting ones, there is certainly BeePathNet. This network, which involves six European municipalities, sets the goal of dealing with environmental challenges, biodiversity and food self-sufficiency, starting from beekeeping. In fact, the increasing pollution and the widespread use of pesticides, is leading to a drastic reduction in the number of bees in urban areas. This also involves the loss of a fundamental tool for plant life and biodiversity: the pollination.

The leading city of this project is Ljubljana (SLO) which, thanks to an innovative sustainable strategy called “Vision 2050”, has succeeded in effectively renewing the urban environment, thus allowing an incredible development of urban beekeeping. In fact, today in the city there are more of 180 million bees.

Today the other partner cities are trying to successfully replicate some of the good practices that are carried out in this city so that in the end we can reach a medium/long term plan that can guarantee the development of urban beekeeping in individual cities.

Another very interesting and innovative network promoted by URBACT is C-CHANGE. The network aims at rising awareness and to inform citizens on the issue of climate change through art. The leading city of the project is Manchester, which succeeded in obtaining the status of URBACT Good Practice City in 2017 in recognition of the work of the MAST (Manchester Arts Sustainability Team). MAST is a network of about 30 artistic and cultural organizations that, from community art centres and from iconic cultural places, cooperate and work together in actions and climate commitments. An example consists of the practices started in Manchester thanks to MAST. Now, these practices are inspirational for the other partner cities of the project. All these cities are united by the importance of art and culture in their development. Suffice it to say that among them there are two former European Capitals of Culture, four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a former National Capital of Culture.

Then there is BioCanteens, which is a network that aims at finding new solutions to the challenges related to the negative impact of industrial food production on health and on the environment. Particularly, the partner cities focus on everything related to distributing organic meals in school canteens and developing sustainable local food systems. In fact, they are developing 100% organic canteens without any cost increase and being able to reduce food waste by 80%. By promoting these types of canteens, it is possible to obtain considerable benefits also as regards the education of children and their families in food sustainability and the promotion of local agriculture. The shared good practices that are promoted in canteens by partner cities are not particularly complex, for example the creation of a sorting line for food waste or the preparation of alternative dishes that allow a more effective use of vegetable proteins, but have also immediate positive effects on the sustainability of the cooking process and on the distribution of meals, thus ensuring an effective and rapid reduction of waste.

Finally, there is also the Tropa Verde network, which is aimed at encouraging citizens to behave in a way that respects the environment and recycling and re-use. Everything is based on a digital platform that allows citizens to obtain vouchers whenever they deposit their waste in designated places. The vouchers can then be exchanged for discounts and gifts that can be collected at local businesses that collaborate with the platform.

The project that began in Santiago de Compostela (SP) in 2015 saw immediately a great involvement of many local stakeholders.

Today the good practice of the Galician city is an inspiration for the other 5 partner cities of the project.