Change in the city – easier, cheaper and better

Change in the city – easier, cheaper and better

8 June 2022
Mayors' panel at the Urban Future conference
10 June 2022

Over 1600 participants from over 100 cities at over 70 sessions, workshops and field trips – Urban Future conference in Helsingborg was a global event and UBC Sustainable Cities was happy to be part of it!

The conference took place on 1-3 June 2022 bringing together passionate urban change-makers to discuss experiences and learnings in making cities sustainable. Best practices and unforeseen failures, examples from other continents and local site visits – the conference had it all.

One of the Urban Future sessions was co-hosted by UBC Sustainable Cities Commission, attracting ca. 60 city leaders from the Baltic Sea Region and beyond to discuss leadership in urban transformation. Many UBC member cities are recognized forerunners in climate action in the region – what does it take from the strategic level to make this happen? And what can cities learn from the leadership models applied in the private sector? These questions were explored in the exciting setting of bringing companies’ CEOs and city mayors together under the umbrella of making cities sustainable and smart.

The session “Baltic Cities collaborate for change” was co-moderated jointly by three co-organisers: Wolfgang Schmidt (Chairman of the UBC Smart and Prospering Cities Commission), Agnieszka Ilola (Acting Head of Secretariat of the UBC Sustainable Cities Commission), and Thomas Becker (Managing Director of the STRING political network), who emphasized the context of the discussion. Benefits of cooperation across the region are clear with the fundamental challenges that BSR is facing: the need to urgently address climate change, resource needs for financing the green transition, and the need to decarbonise the energy production. Both UBC and STRING see the green transition as a major challenge for both public and private sectors.

Another perspective to setting the scene was brought by Étienne Métais (Senior Manager, CDP Europe) stressing the importance of following own progress in climate action. Both cities and companies globally report to CDP every year (and over 20 UBC member cities join this movement annually!). This helps to assess climate risks, check and prepare climate action and adaptation plans, and set net-zero targets. The reporting for the year 2022 is currently open and we encourage all cities and companies to join this movement!

The Nordic Castellum company is in the CDP A-List of companies in 2021 and it is working with the real estate sector. Presenting its contribution to a sustainable society, Chief Sustainability Officer Filip Elland explained how Castellum addresses challenges incl. climate and societal changes. The company aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and already now it implements the sustainable approach to construction by a.o. re-using construction materials, reducing volumes of carbon-intense construction materials, changing the materials to wood and renewable sources.

The Innargi company is based in Denmark, and in close cooperation with the City of Aarhus it's developing the EU’s largest geothermal district heating plant. Aarhus also aims at reaching CO2 neutrality by 2030, and the company’s CEO Samir Abboud in his presentation emphasized the need for change at scale to make the green transition a reality. Innargi provides a vivid example of this, having switched from the oil industry to geothermal, keeping the relevant expertise and knowledge. The geothermal pilot currently developed in Aarhus aims to cover up to 20% of the city’s district heating demand.

A leader needs knowledge, conviction, and stamina,
— Ulf Kämpfer

Inspired with concrete solutions, the session continued with the Mayors’ debate, where Ulf Kämpfer (Mayor of the City of Kiel), Karin Pleijel (Deputy Mayor of the City of Gothenburg), and Elina Rantanen (Deputy Mayor of the City of Turku) reflected on the local challenges and offered strategic views. The discussion wasn't polarised: everyone agreed that we need to roll-out the green transformation and increase the ambition in terms of climate action – but how to scale-up this action, and how to involve all necessary actors into the process?

Innovative solutions need to be available all around the world,
— Elina Rantanen

Elina Rantanen, Deputy Mayor and 1st Vice-President of UBC, highlighted the importance of the decision-making level to be flexible and ready to adjust quickly in light of the new changes. Turku has a common goal for the city: 2029 to reach carbon neutrality, and this process involves all local actors. The city can address a significant part of the change, but the rest has to be done by private companies, citizens and organisations, and it's crucial to bring them on board with the common goals. Through robust policies and smart procurement procedures cities can trigger market demand.

By acting now, you can save costs in the future,
— Karin Pleijel

Many cities in the Baltic Sea Region already have climate adaptation goals and aim at being carbon-neutral by 2030. By participating in different international networks like UBC and STRING, or by committing to climate disclosure through CDP, local governments not only demonstrate their ambitions and forerunning potential, but also unlock the opportunities for developing and exchanging concrete innovative solutions for green transition. But while the positive deadlines are set, action has to be taken as early as possible. The sooner the change has started in the city, the easier and cheaper it is to make it happen.