Earlier this month, I visited the Zero Emissions Cities Conference in Vienna’s City Hall which tried to answer the question how tomorrow’s smart cities can significantly reduce their carbon emissions. It offered general insights as well as presentations of specific technologies like building-integrated photovoltaics, small-scale urban wind power, LED lighting systems or thermal energy storage.
Because of its strategic perspective, I’d like to share some insights from the talk by Maria Vassilakou, the Deputy Mayor of Vienna and Executive City Councillor for Urban Planning, Traffic & Transport, Climate Protection, Energy and Public Participation. According to her, climate change is THE challenge of our generation and Vienna is on its way to successfully deal with this challenge, aiming at decreasing per capita CO2 emissions by 20% until 2020 (based on 1990-levels).
While Vienna showed progress in replacing oil and coal with district energy and gas as well as in doubling the share of renewable energy, the next step is to become a global leader in the transformation of our energy system and to put climate change in the centre of political action as cities – in the face of rapid urbanization – are particularly affected by climate change.
As a result, Vienna will soon announce ambitious goals for the next decades, joining cities like Copenhagen, Malmö or Munich who are at the forefront when it comes to emissions reduction and sustainable innovation. Urban planning and energy planning will be central for achieving these goals and need to go hand in hand, building on various integrated measures and policies.
First of all, Vienna aims at increasing energy efficiency, in particular by fostering efficient (existing and new) buildings, facilitating approval procedures and encouraging Viennese people to save energy. Secondly, as cities will develop from energy consumers to energy producers, Vienna wants to increase the share of renewable energy, e.g. through its successful citizens’ solar power plants initiative which allows Viennese citizens to invest in community-funded solar power plants.
Thirdly, Vienna focuses on mobility, trying to further improve its modal split which has recently seen a strong shift towards sustainable transportation thanks to the € 365 annual transit pass, new bike lanes and other measures. Finally, learning from her own experience, Maria Vassilakou emphasized that effective climate leadership requires climate protection, urban planning and traffic/transport policy being integrated in one department, thereby combining strong political will with an interdisciplinary approach to tackle urban sustainability.