Are European cities due a makeover? Do we need to reinvent them to be greener, cleaner, more resilient and more sustainable? It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve radically transformed our cities. For example, sanitation measures introduced in the 19th century to combat diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, and typhoid have changed cities. It took time and effort but the benefits to public health more than justified the cost.

Extreme floods and heatwaves are going to be more common in future. Devastating floods in 2021 caused hundreds of deaths and billions of euros of property damage, while heatwaves broke records. At the same time, cities are responsible for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions while accounting for only 2% of the surface area of the Earth. Clearly, cities have a role to play in both adapting to existing climate change and in preventing climate catastrophe in future.

Do we need to retrofit buildings to provide better insulation, better ventilation, more shade, and to generate electricity through rooftop solar panels? Do we need greater investment in sustainable public transport? What about car-free city centres, with parking spaces transformed into cycle paths and green spaces? And, just as importantly, what part can citizens play in encouraging and pushing for these changes?

Want to learn more about how we can change our cities to prepare for climate change? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):

We’re continuing our series on the European Climate Pact, an EU-wide initiative inviting people, communities and organisations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe. We will invite scientists, campaigners, activists, European Climate Pact Ambassadors, mayors, politicians and others to take part in our debates and discuss how we can all make a difference.

Let’s start our debate today with reader Anika, who left us a comment about the European Climate Pact itself:

I’m hoping the European Climate Pact will give citizens like me the tools to properly contribute to the fight against climate change, rather than having to wait for politicians to snap into action.

What can citizens do at the local level to help cities mitigate and adapt to climate change? To get a response, we put Anika’s comment to Helena Marschall, a climate activist from Fridays for Future Germany. What advice would she give to Anika?

Do we need to fundamentally rethink what our cities looks like? Instead of steel, concrete and glass skyscrapers, should cities of the 21st century be filled with gardens, parks, and forests?

For example, our reader Stela suggests:

[A] green rooftop on every building is a wonderful [idea] and not so hard to achieve or expensive to pay for!

Meanwhile, Anna thinks Europe should “plant trees everywhere”. Are cities a good place to plant trees? What would Helena Marschall say to the idea of green rooftops and urban forests?

For another perspective, we also put the same comment to Prof. Michal Marek, an expert on forestry and the Director of the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CzechGlobe). He is cautious about the high management costs of urban forests and rooftop gardens (as are others), but is overall supportive:

Finally, we had a comment from Jonathan, who says:

I always thought Brussels had relatively low air pollution until I downloaded [an app] that tracks air quality. Clearly not enough is being done!

Could cities make things like air quality data more available so citizens can better hold local government leaders to account? What would Helena Marschall from Fridays for Future Germany say?

How would Prof. Michal Marek respond?

Do you want to get involved? Sign up to the European Climate Pact and pledge to take practical steps to help reduce carbon pollution on our planet.

What do YOU think? Are European cities due a makeover? Do we need to reinvent them to be greener, cleaner, more resilient and more sustainable? And, just as importantly, what part can citizens play in encouraging and pushing for these changes? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) Visibile
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48 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Крис

    You lost me at ,,according to UN”. That’s like a monarchist explaining to you why republicanism is bad for society.

  2. avatar
    Laszlo

    Instead of energy consuming air conditioning, other methods should be used to cool air in the summer. For example, so-called wind catchers, that are a passive solution that doesn’t consume energy at all once it is set up.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC8BU4GdFzc
    [PHOTO] https://external.fkul2-2.fna.fbcdn.net/safe_image.php?d=AQHUXeVrseXSD24h&w=396&h=222&url=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FgC8BU4GdFzc%2Fmaxresdefault.jpg&_nc_oe=6e97c&_nc_sid=06c271&ccb=3-5&_nc_hash=AQHqQ9x_hDpqqZnv

  3. avatar
    Laszlo

    Instead of energy consuming air conditioning, other methods should be used to cool air in the summer. For example, so-called wind catchers, that are a passive solution that doesn’t consume energy at all once it is set up.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC8BU4GdFzc
    [PHOTO] https://external-frt3-2.xx.fbcdn.net/safe_image.php?d=AQHUXeVrseXSD24h&w=396&h=222&url=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FgC8BU4GdFzc%2Fmaxresdefault.jpg&_nc_oe=6ea08&_nc_sid=06c271&ccb=3-5&_nc_hash=AQFCxjLK-lgw6K0t

  4. avatar
    Bard R.

    Before we talk at the city level, we need to engage communities at the district level.

  5. avatar
    Giorgia

    Passive House – for new builds, retrofits, residential, commercial and public buildings. Only by taking an efficiency first approach to buildings will we reduce operational demand enough to make a fully renewable energy future possible.

  6. avatar
    Pedro

    What Anika says is praiseworthily, however, I do not think that is the most efficient way to go. If we live in a society where we elect our politicians, then they have way more means than we do to do change. Therefore, I, unfortunately, do not believe that individual change can be meaningful – and we should want to go green to save the planet, not to sleep better at night. It is necessary to do institutional reforms at the level of the municipalities to 1) include fighting climate change as the rationale behind every single policy and 2) give young people a bigger voice by having a quota for them in municipal assemblies, since we are the ones that will have to face the consequences of inaction the most.

  7. avatar
    Kimmo

    I’ve had the good fortune to be tangentially involved in subjects like smart cities (including energy solutions), human-focused city planning, and sustainable urban construction. There are lots of ways cities can be improved from the climate perspective – the problem being the ways they have been planned and constructed so far that are not easy or quick to change. Not to speak of politics, local as well as national, and the way work is organized today (why do people need to commute sometimes for hours to go to a specific place to work?).(On a side note, I’d like to hear something constructive instead of a laugh emoji from you, @Крис Караджов.)

    • avatar
      Frank

      How many times has humanity planned Utopia? Planning future cities is great, but functionality is usually disregarded in favour of ideology. Nikola Tesla offered ability of FREE energy, yet we build money models. We experience rolling black outs, but you dream of “smart” cities.You imagine everyone working from home, but most jobs that is not possible. Etc… Ideology is not practicle.

    • avatar
      David

      Kimmo Linkama, I studied this in school. It fell under the umbrella of Cybernetic Systems. It all sounded very logical. Then I realized there is no way I would ever want to live in one of these gloriously planned cities. They are prisons.

    • avatar
      Kimmo

      Frank, David – I’m not talking about any hyper-futuristic greenfield city design. There are lots of ways cities and city life quality can be improved within the present framework and existing technology.For example, both electricity and area heating systems can already be connected into smart networks making use of demand response, microproduction and market participation. This, incidentally, is also a way to avoid rolling blackouts.Similarly, using more engineered wood products instead of steel and concrete for construction and renovation would reduce the carbon footprint and make buildings more modifiable according to needs.As for work, of course not all jobs can be done from home. For those that can, however, employers should provide the opportunity. It is rather idiotic to move half the population from east to west in the morning and back west to east in the evening. Public transport planning is part of this equation, too.None of the above requires massive changes or futurism.

  8. avatar
    Rajesh

    you change your mentality behaviour and your values, not cities…. the reason you want to change and prepare cities is that will result in government spending and will generate millions of revenues for companies who are supporting and funding you the politicians..

  9. avatar
    Colin

    There’s a lot to be said for banning cars from cities. Lockdown last year worked wonders for cleaning up the air in places like Mumbai.

    • avatar
      Enda

      Colin Petticrew go way you telebanner . I’m keeping my car and I’m gonna leave the engine running , even when asleep in bed . Lol

    • avatar
      Enda

      Colin Petticrew 1 car per household. Example , I know two families living next-door to each other who up to a year ago had 7 vehicles between them and all were being used . Now they only have 5 as one vehicle owner died and another vehicle was scrapped.

    • avatar
      Enda

      Colin Petticrew I lived in London for over 3yrs . Dreadful place .

    • avatar
      Colin

      Enda Sims then maybe that’s why it’s dreadful?

    • avatar
      Enda

      Colin Petticrew I used to drive London buses until I wised up and got the hell out of there .

    • avatar
      Colin

      Enda Sims were they your buses , or did you steal them?

    • avatar
      Helen

      Enda Sims I live in a household of 3, Mum, Dad, Teenage Daughter. We all have our own cars because we all have to go to different places every weekdad morning.

    • avatar
      Enda

      Helen Burke let me guess . You live up a mountain , there is no public transport and you won’t let your child walk or cycle to school as it is almost a 15min journey .

    • avatar
      Michael

      Enda Sims 2 of us have full driving licences but we have 5 cars (and 2 motorbikes), as we can only drive one at a time what is the problem with having more cars than drivers?

    • avatar
      Marc

      Enda Sims Don’t be stupid. What happens when the two people in the one household work miles apart, and have to be there at unsociable hours? My wife would sometimes work up to forty odd miles away, one job being fifty two miles away, and that being a night shift. I’ve also had to be in work by 4:30 AM in the past. Your answers to this please?

  10. avatar
    Panayiotis

    At first sanctions to countries which destroy forest, as in same time they reduce clean air, at second don’t buy useless things, by this way the pollution reduce by 50%

  11. avatar
    Anastasia

    While you insist on giving a free pass to developing nations, plus India and China, allowing them to burn coal, dump toxins into rivers, clear cut forests and strip mine. It gives every other country the excuse to say no. Either the whole world does it, or no one bothers. But hey this is the EU, Germany is using more coal per capita than China.

  12. avatar
    Jarne

    Quite a nonsensical comparison, as it’s not the land but the people which cause carbon emissions. Currently slightly more than halve of the population lives in cities, so 56% causes 70% of the emissions. Still not good, but allready looking a lot better than the header seems to imply.

    • avatar
      Paddy

      Jarne Colman The people don’t cause emissions equally. The top 1% by income are responsible for 20% of the World’s emissions and the top 10% cause more than half (52%). The poorest half of the World’s population are responsible for less than 10% of the the World’s emissions. I guess the wealthy live in the cities.

    • avatar
      Jarne

      Paddy Mendez Something I don’t deny at all, I don’t know the exact numbers but obviously some people emit way more than others and some countries emit less per capita than others.

    • avatar
      Fred

      Jarne Colman I read that human produced co2 accounts for 0.0016% of the atmosphere, don’t no about you but I don’t sound a lot to me

    • avatar
      Jarne

      Fred Lambert The percentage of the atmosphere doesn’t matter, as the majority components (nitrogen and oxigen) don’t have any effect on the greenhouse effect. It’s the increase in total greenhouse gasses which matters, including CO2 and CH4. When compared to the pre-industrial CO2 levels, human emissions account for practically all the increase since then, which is roughly a 35% increase. A lot more significant thus than “just” 0.0016% of the atmosphere seems to imply.

    • avatar
      Fred

      Would you agree that h20 is also a ghg? And there is an interesting paper recently published by Professor William Happer concerning the saturation point of co2 with regard to its ability to act as a ghg. Makes good reading.

    • avatar
      Jarne

      Fred Lambert I’ve never said that H20 is not a ghg, but that does not negate the role of CO2 emissions in global warming. The total greenhouse effect is far greater than a few degrees, luckily because otherwise earth would be inhospitable. But it’s the slight but fast increase in temperature that is making a lot of things change, with all the economic costs and extinction events following. Without a doubt, life will adapt as it has before. But countless lives and species will be lost in the progress, including the obligatory suffering. If I have to choose between one physicist disputing the role of CO2, and thousands of others confirming it I do know which I trust. Especially if this person has never specialised in climate change. It’s also not a paper if it does not pass peer-review, it’s just a publication then.

  13. avatar
    Phil

    1. Stop consuming cheap plastic crap.2. Fix what you have, don’t buy new (not easy, there’s a big role for right to repair legislation here)3. Force companies and countries to properly account for their emissions, to neutralise the accounting impact of off shoring.4. Tax off shored emissions accordingly. How is it possible we’ve reduced emissions by 44% below 1990 levels while simultaneously enjoying a land of plenty and burgeoning quality of life? We exported it all to China and India.

    • avatar
      Michael

      Eric Winterbottom do the World a favour and just nuke it.

  14. avatar
    Richard

    If you spread all those people out into the countryside and cut down trees and built on green fields is that the answer? Yes cities need to be greener for sure, and reduced car emissions will help, but increase in population is the main thing. And remember plastic pollution – the sea gives off more oxygen than all the rain forests put together – then doubled!

  15. avatar
    Frank

    Everyone that thinks CO2 is killing our planet, please be proactive and quit breathing.

    • avatar
      David

      Frank Ross, I was thinking of commenting, but there’s no need. You covered the topic perfectly right here.

  16. avatar
    Bert

    level all the cities.problem solved.

  17. avatar
    Jean

    Not another invisible enemy !!

  18. avatar
    Larry

    Roughly 54% of people in the world live in urban areas. Also MPG is way higher in the cities due to traffic jams and daily commutes. And also people in the urban areas earn a slightly higher income therefore consume more on average. One of main offenders in terms of pollution in the cities is traffic, especially that created at peak hours. Tax incentives could be created to motive businesses to either encourage work from home, at least in a hybrid model, or even to deregulate the 9-5 routine as such to spread traffic.The other item that is not necessarily related to cities is the amount of waste junk we buy. We are generating a huge amount of waste. 10x times that we actually need to have our current standard of living. Most because of malignant marketing practices for small profit margins. There are many products out there as a virtue of marketing “innovations”, with their real value being useless/waste. To give you an example, all possible combinations for a device chargers, adapter plugs, all these created by a marketing department just for a few extra pennies in profit margins. Also extreme packaging in many products, all for marketing/display purposes which sure has a purpose when they are lined up on the self but not all need to be in that package, companies could have say two types of packing, one pretty for display (say even gift purpose) and a second cheaper (minus tax for extra packaging) with minimal packaging. And at least but not at last products longevity, that could be enforce even as a warranty and say the shorter the warranty the higher the tax for environmental footprint. I think malignant marketing practices could be tackled easy enough, and that will be for the better and even politicians cannot really argue the point that promoting real innovation as opposed to false advertising will benefit everyone. And there are products that do bring a degree of innovation, as in genuinely better products, some actually with a good impact on environment as in better energy efficiency ratings. And some products that really don’t and just rely on marketing strategies to sell. A better informed consumer will drive the real innovators, so here I guess some regulation to fight false advertising might help.

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