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Kick-off seminar of Cities for Life campaign brings people together to discuss ideas for climate-friendly cities

The kick-off seminar of Cities for Life campaign was held on September 30 in St.Petersburg, Russia. It brought together those who are interested in making the city more liveable: in improving the urban environment and help to implement solutions that help to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, as well as adapt to negative effects of climate change. Among the participants were those who deal with environmental issues professionally, as well as local enthusiasts and activists who had specific ideas for ecoprojects and the desire to make them come true.

The groups represented at the seminar included SPARE project (school project for application of resources and energy), the Youth group of Russian Social Ecological Union’s Climate Program, Razdelny Sbor (recycling initiative), Velocipedization (the cycling movement), Green Universities network, as well as a number of smaller eco-initiatives and private persons, municipal and government officials, and guest environmentalists from the town of Veliky Novgorod.

The Cities for Life campaign was initiated this year by 350.org, an international climate movement, and is dedicated to fostering public participation in the creating, promoting and implementing climate strategies and plans and to intersectoral collaboration aimed at bringing climate plans to life and using them to create cities that are liveable in many different ways, cities for life.

In St.Petersburg, the campaign is implemented by Friends of the Baltic NGO, which has a lot of experience in climate-related work, including the promotion of energy saving and energy efficiency, informal education aimed at various age groups on the topic of ecofriendly lifestyle.
Many solutions that are necessary to create cities for life are already available – they deal with improving energy efficiency at home, environmentally friendly means of transportation, green consumerism, conservation of green areas, etc.

St.Petersburg is one of Russia’s most advanced cities in terms of climate policy. It already has a developed pilot climate strategy, due to be integrated into the City’s main Strategy of social and economic development until 2030. The Strategy will be a mandatory document for all city Committees to take into consideration. It will include many climate-related aspects to be considered when developing all sorts of city plans. Apart from that, the new General plan of the city is to be adopted in 2018. There is also a whole range of state programs where it is possible to include certain strategic climate-related aspects.

According to Ivan Serebritsky, vice-chair of the Committee for Nature Use, the climate strategy of St.Petersburg is essentially an adaptation strategy. The city is quite vulnerable to negative consequences of climate change due to its relatively low position – exactly on the zero point marking the sea level. An increasing level of ground and surface waters and changes in ice cover have an effect on the city’s infrastructure. The future General Plan already takes the potentially inundated areas into consideration. Yet the issue of adapting the infrastructure, utility and transportation networks remains of paramount importance to the city’s future.

According to Yury Petrov, a Healthcare Committee expert, climate change is one of the most important aspects influencing public health in the city. In the past few years primary disease incidence has increased by 5%, however, scientists still lack data in order to demonstrate correlation between this and the change in climate-related parameters. New large-scale research projects are necessary. A few years ago, St.Petersburg joined the international program initiated by the World Health Organization, called Healthy Cities. One of the main goals of the program for St.Petersburg is to fight dust and the negative health impact of exhaust gases and small particles from cars and power generation based on burning fossil fuels. This common issue unites both healthcare issues and climate change mitigation. Among the solutions are energy saving, energy efficiency, renewable energy development and promotion of environmentally friendly means of transportation.

For example, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is something citizens can do themselves, and the potential for energy saving is huge in this sector. The participants discussed ideas of plot projects in multi-story houses that help promote practical solutions, as well as those helping raise public awareness and change behaviors, and exchange best practices in the field.

The Energy Efficient Building exhibition was presented at the seminar. It demonstrates simple solutions that are accessible to household owners. School projects that children design for SPARE Energy and Environment competition are also often dedicated to energy related solutions for cities – the ones that help reduce carbon emissions – starting from simple solutions for any person, up to large-scale solutions for schools and multi-story buildings.

Local municipalities may facilitate many of these solutions, by working directly with household owners’ associations. For instance, Sennoy Okrug municipality already provides support to local teams of household owners that include members and heads of associations. They try to find ways and gradually improve their apartments, whole buildings and nearby green areas and inner yards.
A lot is being done for the promotion of environmentally friendly transportation in the city. Velocipedization, a movement for the development of cycling infrastructure, fights for rights of cyclists for a safe and comfortable environment. According to official statistics, there are more bicycles in the city than cars, yet the length of all bike lanes combined is over 100 times shorter than that of roads for cars. The need to develop cycling infrastructure is discussed on the city authorities’ level, but due to budget shortages, many ideas never come to life. However, many things may be achieved by horizontal cooperation between lay citizens, activists, small businesses, and ordinary cyclists. One may advocate for the development of a network of the right type of parking spots for bicycles at hotels, cafes and shopping centers, or start a series of lectures on safe cycling in the city for beginners, etc.

In order to implement all the proposed green solutions, all stakeholders must join their efforts. Certain steps have been taken in this directions. Many ideas and initiatives wait for their turn.
During the work groups, the participants singled out the main issues they are willing to work on, possible solutions, and discussed what resources are available for contributing and sharing. Among the focus areas are transportation (with emphasis on cycling), information and education, waste management and others. The next step is the creation of a single common project. For the end of October we are planning a training for activists and everyone who is ready to actively participate in the development and implementation of such a project. Follow our updates in our VK group and here on our website.

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