Making green a reality: EBRD Green Cities Annual Conference
The EBRD Green Cities Annual Conference 2022, held in Vienna’s Town Hall on Thursday and Friday, brought together partners from a network of more than 50 cities – one so warm-hearted that it’s no surprise the team refers to the flagship €5 billion EBRD programme as a family.
The conference was supported by the Green Climate Fund and held in partnership with the City of Vienna, which kindly provided the venue.
On Thursday morning, after a multilingual welcome from Vienna’s Omar Al-Rawi, member of the Vienna State Parliament and Municipal Council, EBRD's Climate Strategy and Delivery Managing Director Harry Boyd-Carpenter’s opening address began poignantly by focussing on the seven Ukrainian cities which are part of the network but whose mayors, as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine, were not able to join the meeting on Thursday.
“We are deeply sorry you cannot be with us today,” he said. “We send you our solidarity and we look forward to better times when you can join us in person.”
Harry went on with a call to action: “Climate change is a real and present threat. It requires a tectonic shift to economies. We have to change everything about the way we run our cities and run our economies if we want to preserve and grow the standard of living we currently enjoy.”
This led neatly into the centrepiece of the Thursday morning gathering - a panel, moderated by Aida Sitdikova, Director Energy Eurasia, Middle East and Africa at EBRD, on energy security. Aida’s guests discussing the big issue of today, for the world and for cities, were the mayors of Timisoara and Tirana, Dominic Fritz and Erion Veliaj, Melanie Slade from the International Energy Agency, General Mohamed Elsherif, governor of Alexandria in Egypt, and Murat Pinar, CEO of Turkish energy company Enerjisa Enerji.
The Mayor of Timisoara set out the challenge faced by his city and many others in a year when, as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine, energy prices have skyrocketed:
“We have a public heating system in Timisoara which many are still connected to,” said Dominic Fritz. “Our plan was to get rid of coal because we’ve been using coal to make the public heating run. But now, with the crisis, we are burning one or two trains of coal a day.”
He added: “We are waiting with anxiety for the day next April when we have to pay for emissions for the coal we are using. We are not sure what we will have to pay for it, but we don’t have a choice. For us, it’s about finding a mix of short-term and long-term solutions. Sometimes it hurts to be that pragmatic - but we have to be.”
The discussion on finding solutions that followed ranged from the importance of small things – personal savings in energy efficiency – to the power of aggregating many small advances (think the EBRD’s green tech selectors), to the importance of the EBRD working with national and city governments so sensible regulations are in place to enable cities to implement energy-saving policies.
Perhaps the most quotable part of the day came in the inclusion event that came next, introduced by the Green Climate Fund’s Gender and Social Specialist Seblewongel Negussie. Barbara Rambousek, Director, Gender and Economic Inclusion at EBRD and Ursula Bauer, Head of Section, Gender Mainstreaming, in the city of Vienna swapped tips on how to move ahead with gender policy in green cities.
We probably all have lessons to learn from Vienna, which is top of this year’s most livable cities index. As Bauer commented, “if you take more than just tech into account, you get better cities.”
Her take on how to tackle both gender and green issues together was pithy and practical: “My most important advice is just get started.”
“If you’re constructing a new park, housing projects, anything, just think what could you do for gender. If it’s not perfect just go for it anyway, then you have gender on the agenda.”
The specific example she gave was just as punchy. “Public lighting is crucial for safety and security. If you have a dark city, everyone feels uncertain, but especially for women and girls it is a threat. If you think how many woman work late or early, maybe a lot would go by car - which gets me to climate.”
“If you want to have people walk or use a bike instead of a car, you need good lighting. But what happens now with climate change? People say we have to reduce public lighting. I think this is the wrong approach, because you’re putting women and girls at risk. They can’t participate in the labour market in the same way. They will go back to non-ecological behaviour.”
“So please stick to public lighting and use other innovations to bring about change. In Vienna, we are changing most lights to LED which helps reduce use up to 60 per cent. Use innovation with thinking - ask who needs what most and will be put at risk if it not offered.”
Thursday afternoon at the conference saw four break-out sessions, hosted by different members of the EBRD team, on topics that will dominate the green city planning of tomorrow: e-mobility, digital, nature-based solutions and capital markets.
The final session was on the EBRD Green Cities Start-up Challenge, funded by Taiwan-Business. This aims to identify high-potential start-ups working to accelerate the decarbonisation of cities and give winning companies an intensive 18-month support programme through the EBRD Star Venture programme.
Katharine Chang, the Taipei Ambassador to Vienna, joined the conference to introduce the final session on the Innovation Challenge.
Prizes, certificates, and team photos followed, with EBRD Green Cities programme co-leaders Lin O’Grady and Nigel Jollands keeping the day moving smoothly forward.
Delegates gathered in the evening at the Albertina art museum in the centre of town for drinks and dinner. EBRD's Sustainable Infrastructure Group Managing Director Nandita Parshad’s speech again recalled absent friends, the seven Ukrainian members of the grouping. “We miss you,” she said.
On Friday, the group went to Aspern Seestadt on the fringes of Vienna to see urban design in practice on a site that was once an airfield and is now home to a responsive experiment in urban building.
Then, with the formal work over, EBRD team members went sight-seeing in Vienna or caught up on sleep.
To save emissions, many had travelled across Europe by train in the day or two before the conference – a trip lasting well over 12 hours. On both Saturday and Sunday, the returning train-goers headed for the station to begin the return journey, and get back to work on building the programme into something still better in time for next year.
By Vanora Bennett