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8 June 2017

Open European Day in focus

Open European Day at Bonn Resilient Cities took place on 3rd May 2017 with over 100 participants. Representatives of European and global cities caught up with colleagues and collaborators from the climate change adaptation and resilience sector, researchers, the private sector, financiers and EU institutions. Alberto Terenzi (ICLEI Europe) and Birgit Georgi (Strong cities in a changing climate) launched directly into discussions in their opening of the event by greeting new and returning participants by microphone with some topical questions. This friendly and informal opening gave the Open European Day community a flavour of the open and conversational atmosphere that makes the day so special. To officially open the event, Birgit Georgi spotted a regular returning participant, Deputy Mayor of Bonn, Reinhard Limbach, who took to the podium with an opening sentiment on climate reality to which the cities in the audience applauded in agreement: “What used to happen once in 100 years now happens once a year.”

Facilitators Aleksandra Kazmierczak (European Environment Agency) and Holger Robrecht (ICLEI Europe) looked back over the last year in climate change adaptation, particularly the success among cities of the European Environment Agency report “Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe 2016 — Transforming cities in a changing climate,” which was launched at last year’s Open European Day and been widely used by cities since.

Cities need support in adapting to climate change

Sirpa Hertell (Committee of the Regions) joined the opening panel as a unique voice representing both the Committee of the Regions and the Finnish city and municipality Espoo, where she is a city councillor. She stressed that cities and regions should be helped to find the right combination of public and private funding for adapting to climate change, and called on researchers and universities to support cities in assessing their climate risks and vulnerability.

A lot of data and technical tools for climate change adaptation in cities have been gathered and produced, but the crucial step is making scientific results useable. This was the message from Nicolas Faivre (European Commission – DG Research) on the need for cities to articulate their needs so that they can be supported in climate action. This kind of transfer depends on exchange and co-creation between researchers and cities as well as collaborative events such as Open European Day.

Politicians need to commit to climate change adaptation

Climate hazards and extreme climate events often function as a trigger for adaptation policies to be implemented. In Vejle’s case, alongside broad work on resilience underway in the city, attention was drawn to the need for adaptation following heavy rains and flooding last year. While there can be many different reasons why cities decide to implement climate change adaptation measures, including reactions to hazards and disasters, recreational or aesthetic improvements or for city planning logistics, Peter Massini (City of London) reminded his colleagues from around Europe that these moments are crucial opportunities for practitioners with more knowledge and awareness of the co-benefits of adaptation. Once funding and permission for an adaptation measure has been approved through political commitment, policy officers in municipalities and city councils are the ones who can capitalise on the many co-benefits: from health, biodiversity, flood risk management, air quality and reducing the urban heat island effect to areas as diverse as social cohesion and economic advantages.

Cities have common climate challenges

“Solutions should add social value to the city for cities and also raise awareness about risks," said Anne Petersen (City of Vejle) and suggested that other cities make note of measures like the nature-based flood management solutions in Vejle that also provide recreational water areas. Vejle has been working as part of the Smart Mature Resilience project and its involvement in the 100 Resilient Cities network to help citizens understand the concepts of climate change adaptation and resilience, as this word does not exist in Danish. Communication on climate is a challenge common to European cities. In London’s case, Peter Massini addressed the difficulty of motivating citizens to engage with climate issues, which they can find abstract or irrelevant. For example, in London, it is easy to communicate air quality issues, but flooding London has been transforming: it has a climate adaptation strategy and is now developing a London environment strategy.

Making progress on climate action

“Cities have been doing adaptation without calling it so,” as Sandro Nieto Silleras (European Commission DG Clima) noted before inviting cities to communicate their local energy and climate action needs to the European Commission’s DG Clima and the Global Covenant of Mayors via a survey. He commended cities for their progress on climate change adaptation and encouraged cities to communicate their stories and to help their peers replicate their successful measures.

Guimarães has been able to save money and work towards the Sustainable Development Goals by working with local researchers. A flood management project in the historical city centre helped the city eliminate floods in the area and by extension, all flood-related losses in the area, since the measures were implemented in 2015. The city of Bilbao, a partner of the RAMSES project and RESIN project, which were supporters and co-organisers of the event respectively, showed how the city has made great leaps recently in its work on climate change by including a chapter on climate change in its master plan and elaborating a sustainable urban mobility plan.

Insider tips: how cities can finance adaptation

One question on many cities’ lips and a barrier brought up on every edition on Open European Day is how to access financing to fund climate adaptation projects. Stefanie Lindenberg (European Investment Bank) gave specific advice for cities on how to write successful applications to the EIB’s Natural Capital Financing Facility, which provides loans and investments between €1m-€50m to cities for climate change adaptation projects. How can cities have their applications approved? Favourable factors are: well-defined projects, well-defined stakeholders and realistic capacity expectations, and the presence of a city adaptation strategy. Innovation as it relates to nature-based solutions can be useful, but innovation is not necessarily the most important criteria overall.

The event also hosted a successful ‘OED Marketplace’ including stands by ICLEI, the EEA, RESIN, RAMSES, PLACARD, the EIB, DG CLIMA and DG RESEARCH. The day concluded with the ‘Sound of Adaptation’: a collaborative improvisation by all of the conference participants and facilitated by Clara Grimes (ICLEI Europe). Four cycles of climate change challenges: storms, rain, flooding and heatwaves were created with acoustic sounds, and live recordings of the sounds created rhythmic electronic loops, creating an immersive experience where the players became increasingly aware of their part in the climate system. The effect became increasingly clamorous, as the mixture of recorded loops and acoustic sounds reached a crescendo, when the groups synced in with one another, calming down the electronic noise and leaving natural swoops and falls of a healthy and adapted climate system.

Photos are available of the conference on Flickr. Video interviews of the event with Nuno Lopes, City of Almada and Lykke Leonardsen, City of Copenhagen are available on ICLEI Europe’s YouTube channel. A full report on the conference will be made available in early autumn 2017.