Cities that anchor sustainability firmly in their policy-making, are much better armed to meet the challenges of the future. Therefore we organised an open forum in Brussels, together with the Federal Council for Sustainable Development (Federale Raad voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling - FRDO) and other major players in the transition of cities.
Sustainable cities are part of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, used by The Shift as a framework of reference. On the 15th of December 2015, we brought together more than 200 stakeholders from civil society, politics and the business world in an open forum on cities in transition. They participated at debates and presentations about major topics like mobility, social cohesion, energy and housing.
Introducing the forum, Federal Ministry of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development Marie-Christine Marghem emphasised the importance of networks and partnerships to realise the transition towards a sustainable society. Following, several spokespersons from Belgian cities and regions presented their policy. Our co-executive officer Sabine Denis also presented two studies on smart cities, available via the link at the bottom of this article.
The studies and presentations confirmed that smart cities benefit from structural mobility policies and solid social cohesion. Speakers mentioned how important partnerships and participation are to stimulate resilient projects. Finally, the emphasis was placed on existing citizen initiatives, already paving the way for transition in many cities.
The forum also featured several solutions leading to a more sustainable urban environment. The reduction of company cars as a part of the salary, a better coordination between public transport companies and trust between citizens and the local authorities, are only some of the examples.
In a round-up panel debate, representatives from the business world (Agoria), the non-profit sector (Réseau Transition et Inter Environnement Wallonie), trade unions (ACV) and future generations (Conseil de la Jeunesse) shared the following conclusions:
- It is essential to work towards a common strategic vision and to draw up an action plan that is in line with the new objectives of the climate agreement from Paris of 1.5°C. The climate policy is an opportunity and not an obstacle. Concepts such as a circular economy or a functionality economy are hugely important in this.
- To reach a common vision, all interested stakeholders should be involved and it is important to strengthen mutual trust.
- The main objective of the transition is to improve the welbeing of citizens, who are themselves important actors in the change.
- The political authorities should act as facilitators who create a legal framework, provide financial resources and an adequate infrastructure.
- The city has to take up its role as an orchestrator in ‘smart-city’ initiatives.
- Businesses must work proactively with other stakeholders, such as cities and citizen movements.
- To achieve a structural change with a long-term impact, the initiatives must go beyond individual projects.
- Technology cannot be an aim in itself, but is a tool to achieve transition.
Only multi-stakeholder cooperations will help achieve the climate objectives set recently in Paris. These kind of cooperations already exist in the field. It is now crucial to further inspire, support and disseminate them on a larger scale.