Within the framework of the Paris Agreement, we seek solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures. Every two weeks Outriders will send you a digital postcard from an inspiring community, town or city that is already making an effort to fight climate change.
Written by Lola García-Ajofrín and Tadeusz Michrowski.
Illustrated by painter watercolorist Grzegorz Chudy.
Issue: Green solutions amidst crime and poverty. Technological and social change coming together with a rise in the quality of living.
Data: According to official data, the medium temperature in Medellin rose by 0.8°C between 1960 and 2010.Read more
Dear Friend! Greetings from Medellín, Colombia, where climate change is fought as well as is crime and poverty!
Medellín was one of the most crime-infested cities in the world – a heritage from the times of famed Pablo Escobar. It was also one of the most struck by poverty – as it reached even 48%. With that came a seemingly “minor” issue of climate change. The city lies in the Colombian Andes – a region especially vulnerable to climate change. Being such a big city it faces many issues, including the urban heat island effect and the deteriorating quality of air. According to one research, the level of air contamination in 2009 exceeded by 200-400% the precautionary limits set by the WHO.
Authorities of Medellín worked hard to address all of those issues with the concept of people-first approach. Especially the people who have the least. After the fall of Pablo Escobar and with the help of the local business (including significant help from the city-owned Empresas Públicas de Medellín) it started to rapidly change the way the city is organized.
Now, everybody has access to public health, education, transport, and many cultural, economic, and online services. It spent almost half of its budget on development and services (median in Latin America being around a quarter). Now, five Metrocable’s gondola lines spread over the town – connecting favelas to the city center and helping to commute around 45 000 people a day – supplemented by the series of outdoor escalators.
That one together with many more massive changes started in the mid-1990s helped lower the murder rate from the by-far top in the world of 381 per 100 000 inhabitants in 1991 to around 20-25 by the mid-2010s. The poverty rate went down to around 14%. The city still has its troubles but it went a long way. One of its main targets is the quality of air and combating the effects of climate change – in February of 2020, it introduced the climate emergency. The city introduced the fleet of electric buses and electric taxis, it also started the initiative of inspection of private cars – checking tens of thousands for compatibility with regulations. Most of all, it created 30 corridors (around waterways and roads), especially in the zones that lacked green areas. 11 200 square meters of hard surfaces were changed into green ones. It helped to lower the temperature in those areas by over 2 degrees.
Lola & Tadeusz
Issue: Urban mobility, pedestrians and CO2 emissions.
Data: The streets of this Galician town have been pedestrianized since 1999. Traffic has been reduced by 97% in the city centre, by 77% in the city’s inner ring and by 53% in the whole city, according to the data provided by Pontevedra city hall. In addition, carbon emissions have dropped by more than 66%. According to the European Parliament, passenger cars are responsible for 60.7% of total CO2 emissions from road transport in Europe.Read more
Greetings from Pontevedra, in Galicia, Spain, a walkable city!
In Pontevedra, a Galician city with a maritime tradition, full of stone houses, tree-lined avenues, cafes and parks, “the only noise that can be heard in the street is the screams of children while playing, no horn, no honking,” says Mr César Mosquera, Vice President of the Provincial Council of Pontevedra and one of the drivers of the pedestrianization of the city. That is so because in 1999, just some days after the newly elected mayor, Miguel Ángel Fernández Lores, assumed office, it was announced that the city centre would be closed to non-essential cars. Progressively the pedestrianization project expanded to the rest of the city. Today, Pontevedra is one of the most pedestrianized cities in Spain.
“We did not empty the streets, but we provided them with urban furniture, gardens and activities,” a spokesperson of the town hall of Pontevedra explains. “We got the streets back for the people who lived in them so that they could walk, chat or play,” they continue.
Mr Mosquera explains that they had realized that there were three types of traffic: “transit traffic”, the one that goes through the city centre to go to other places; “the traffic in search of parking, which is the majority and pollutes a lot”; and finally, “the service traffic, that consisted of people have to deliver something or make quick arrangements.” “And only the third one is essential.” So they set out to ban all unnecessary traffic. For this reason, he points out: “It is not true that Pontevedra is a city without cars; we are a city with only the necessary cars.”
At the same time that the city was pedestrianized, free parking near the city centre was enabled. Thus people could leave the car and walk to the centre,” the city hall explains. In 2010, they also lowered the maximum driving speed at a maximum limit of 30 km / h throughout the city. “It was an absolute success to reduce accidents and mortality, for eleven years fatal collisions did not occur in the city centre and in the past, three deaths a year used to occur,” they continue. Furthermore, in 2019, a record 10 km / h limit in some streets was set, and in 2020 the so-called “friendly driving” came into force, prioritizing pedestrians. They also installed elevated crossings, which help maintain a proper speed and provide safety to people when crossing. “People, not cars, must be our priority.”
In 2012, the city council launched an ideas laboratory, where the “Metrominuto” was born – a map that simulates a subway plan and calculates the minutes it takes a person walking from a specific point to the centre of the city. “We did it intending to show that walking is progress,” Mr Mosquera. The tool was awarded in 2013 by the Intermodes Award of the European Agency. Pontevedra always won the UN Habitat Award in 2014 and the Active Design Award in 2015.
The 2030 agenda of the European Union encourages mobility in cities by walking
Lola & Tadeusz
Issue: Wasting water in urban areas, urban rooftop farming, floods
Data: TURF provides up to 20 tons (80,000 meals) of organic food each year. Its system slows down the runoff of water 20 times more than the traditional roofs.Read more
Greetings from Bangkok
The country’s capital, Bangkok, is among the cities most endangered by the effects of climate change. That is why here ideas of groundbreaking urban architects like Kotchakorn Voraakhom are needed the most.
Like TURF, the biggest rooftop farm in Asia and an abbreviation from Thammasat University Urban Rooftop Farm. A massive, 22 000 square meters rooftop farm that takes from the concept of terraces and combines it with modern technology. Over 40 edible species found there provide 20 tons of food – or 80 000 student meals – a year.
One of the main concepts standing behind the philosophy of Miss Kotchakorn Voraakhom is inspiration from nature. As she mentions in the interview for Bloomberg: “I think there is so much to learn. It’s not only just the form and the color and its beauty but also its function. How can we mimic those kinds of functions to really be part of how we create our city?”
The result is a multilayered space that comes with public green spaces, sources of organic food, a water management system, twelve outdoor classrooms, and energy house. One of the lessons the architect took from nature was that of gravity. Her project of TURF uses heights and angles, creating a system of zigzags that helps to use water efficiently, purify it and slow down the runoff, before collecting it in four retention ponds. That both keeps water in the city for the dry seasons and helps to reduce the size of floods caused by the extensive rainfall.
The massive flood in Thailand in 2011 was the formative moment for Miss Voraakhom. This is when she started to question the way we think of the role of urban architects and resilience. In the past, floods could be a positive factor, source of food, and fertilization, us seeing them as natural disasters comes more from the change of our lifestyle and perception. Miss Voraakhom calls it a “dance with nature”.
In the interview with Bloomberg she says, smiling: “I think we are going to sink.” but then she adds: “But we’re going to live with water again.”
Lola & Tadeusz
Fiji, Indo-Pacific and world
Issue: Overfishing, protecting marine biodiversity
Data: Locally Managed Marine Areas cover over 12000 km2 in 15 Pacific States and much more globally.Read more
Greetings from Fiji!
Issue: Plastic waste, especially in particulary ropes left from fishing activities
Data: Atando Cabos recycles over a thousand tons of old plastic ropes every yearRead more
Greetings from Patagonia!
It was the holidays in Patagonia, one of the most iconic tourist destinations in the world. Thousands of people go there every year to look for the pristine ecosystem and beautiful nature of that scarcely populated region. Many of them find beaches and fjords contaminated with plastic waste and old fishing ropes.
Atando Cabos came from with an idea of cleaning it and the philosophy stated by Michel was: “For me, plastic is never trash.” Now, getting rid of plastic wasn’t the only thing. Another was to make local fishermen help in it and then to make the whole thing economically feasible by using the recycled waste to produce crates, pallets and other long-term (and recyclable) products.
This is how the Circular Economy was created. The fishermen in Patagonia know best their own region and where there is plastic on the beaches. They are paid to collect waste and take it to the collection points. From there it is sent to the factory where the ropes and plastic are recycled into products sold globally.
Over the course of the first 18 months, over 2000 tons of plastic waste was collected. Some of the crates are now used to grow flowers in Netherlands!
Atando Cabos won many prizes for finding the solution to plastic waste and as you can see on their Instagram, they continue to clean Patagonia. And the best part about it is that, that the more they produce and sell, the more plastic waste will be taken away from nature.
Lola & Tadeusz
Issue: Greenhouse gases produced by cities.
Data: Between 2005 and 2018, Grenoble had cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent.Read more
Greetings from Grenoble!
Grenoble, a city surrounded by ski resorts and mountains in the French Alps, is considered a green laboratory in France. It made history in 2014, becoming the first major French city to elect a Green Party. It is an area at risk of floods and forest fires due to climate change.
It had begun its green adventure in 1983, as a group of environmental activists formed an alliance with the then-mayor and started to work on environment-friendly reforms. The tramway returned to the city center in 1987, it became the first metropolis in France to adopt a Climate Plan for the energy transition in 2005 and it launched a renovation campaign in 2010 to reform the old condominiums and reduce energy consumption.
As the Green Party was elected in 2014, one of the first measures of the mayor of the city, Éric Piolle, from the Les Verts party, was banning advertising billboards in public places. As he has defended in several interviews, to fight against climate change it is necessary to end the hyper-consumerism culture. In 2016, roadway speed limits were lowered from 50 to 30 km per hour, a low-emission zone was created and 320 kilometers of additional cycle paths were added. In addition, since 2019, Grenoble has participated in the international “Green Monday” campaign offering 1 or 2 days per week a free meat meal in school canteens.
Between 2005 and 2018, Grenoble had cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent. It has been recently recognized as the European Commission’s European Green Capital Award 2022
Other French cities have followed the trend and the green party surged in municipal elections in 2020, resulting in what some have called a “green wave”. They now run other major sites such as Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and of course, Grenoble.
Lola & Tadeusz
Cuvette Central region in the basin of the Congo river.
Issue: In March 2018, three countries, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Indonesia signed the Brazzaville declaration that promotes a better management and conservation of the world’s largest tropical peatlands.
Data: Peatlands are wetlands that contain a decomposed organic material that traps huge amounts of carbon. The equivalent to 15 years of the whole European Union emissions is stored in Congo peatlands.Read more
Greetings from the Cuvette Central region in the basin of the Congo river, the heart of Africa.
The Brazzaville declaration is a crucial agreement because in its three signatory countries, the largest peatlands on the planet lie – the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Indonesia.
Peatlands are a type of wetland soil in which organic material has accumulated, and they are critical for addressing climate change. This plant material does not fully decompose because it is too wet, accumulating over the years. The accumulated remains of plant material trap huge amounts of carbon. However, they only occupy 3% of the global land area, containing nearly 25% of soil carbonon the planet.
To understand how important conserving the peatlands is, you just need to look at the figures. In 2017, the UK and Congolese researchers team used satellite data to map the forest in the central Congo Basin. They discovered the impressive hidden peatlands covering 145,500 sq km – an area larger than Greece or Uruguay. The researchers explained in an article published in Nature magazine that these peatlands hold 30 billion tonnes of carbon stored, an equivalent to 15 years of the whole European Union emissions.
It means that conserving these giant natural carbon containers is key to combating climate change, but destroying them can be catastrophic. For instance, peat drainage in Indonesia and Malaysia due to fires or to provide land for palm oil plantations represents similar annual emissions to 70 coal plants, according to the World Resources Institute.
Unfortunately, since 2018, Greenpeace Africa has repeatedly denounced the threats to the Congo’s peatlands due to the forest concessions and oil explorations.
Lola & Tadeusz
Issue: Green areas & fighting pollution
Data: A third of the Peru’s population lives in its capital, Lima. Since 1950, massive migration from the interior has multiplied its population by nine. Now it is the fifth-largest city in Latin America, with 10 million people.
Since 2004, the neighbours of Villa María del Triunfo and San Juan de Miraflores in the outskirts of Lima practice urban agriculture. Production of vegetables within and around the cities can help make cities greener and more resilient to climate change.Read more
Greetings from Lima!
“We started these urban vegetable gardens in 2004, using the surface under the transmission lines that the company operates and maintains,” says Milagros Cornejo, a specialist in Sustainability at Red de Energía del Perú (ISA REP), a company that launched the project “Huertos en Línea“.
Cornejo explains that the area “was full of garbage and burns often occurred, which could cause accidents with the transmission lines.” “Since this is an impoverished area, we saw that urban agriculture would not only prevent accidents but could also be very beneficial to alleviate food insecurity while combating pollution by adding new green areas.”
They currently have 13 vegetable gardens in 40,000 square meters in Villa María del Triunfo, a district of houses in the hillside in Lima and stairs painted in colours, populated by migrants who arrived from the mountains dreaming of peace and a new life. The gardens are worked by “140 urban farmers”, as they call themselves, who cultivate vegetables used for the consumption of farmers and their families, some 700 residents, in total.
Urban and peri-urban agriculture is farming, packaging, storing and distributing vegetables within a town or a city. It is not a new activity; historically, humans have grown and kept livestock next to their dwelling. However, as the world’s cities grow and become congested, urban agriculture appears to respond to several challenges from mega-cities.
In these 15 years, the project has contributed to “reduce food insecurity and create new incomes and improve the soil, the air quality, and encourage the recycling and transformation of waste,” Cornejo explains. “Even at the landscape level, the difference is noticeable: this area was a desert area, with a lot of garbage,” she adds.
Lola & Tadeusz
Issue: Waste & recycling
Data: Due to the effective synergy of businesses and effective waste collection in Kawasaki at least half a million tons of waste is reused annually.Read more
Greetings from Kawasaki!
Can we have industry without waste? Without outsourcing it to the developing countries and without creating poverty-dominated “rustle belts” where industry once thrived?
The city of Kawasaki in Kagawa, Japan came upon this doubt in a spectacular fashion. Its growth as one of the country’s industrial hubs came with waste, and by 1990 the situation was dire. A “waste emergency” was declared. At the same time, the local authorities realized that the industry is what the livelihood of many of the people in the area depended on. Remember: it was in the nineties when the Japanese GDP growth started to slow down rapidly.
They decided to work towards creating a recycling-oriented society both for citizens and the industry. In 1997 the Japanese government approved it as the first eco-town in the country.
The city did a great job on many levels. It started a wide-range awareness campaign, vastly developed its recycling services and introduced a sophisticated waste management system for its industry. But the keyword is synergy. Kawasaki succeeded in creating a loop in which businesses use each other’s waste products and secondary products from their business activities. One Company’s plastic waste is the second company’s blast furnace fuel or a component for ammonia for another one.
Today, the area is a pro-environment place that didn’t lose its industry. It effectively uses a wide variety of waste (including sewage and construction sludge) to create zero or low-emission products, including cement, toilet paper, PET bottles, ammonia, steel, casting framework and nonferrous metals. Two thousand eight hundred hectares of the historical industrial waterfront area that once polluted and littered the city is now being changed into a zero-emission industry area.
Isn’t it a nice idea? Maybe one day we will have a negative-emission industry that consumes waste, instead of producing it.
Lola & Tadeusz
Kaduna State, Nigeria
Data: An estimated 63 million Nigerians lack access to improved sources of drinking water.
The project #buildawell has helped to build 244 wells across the north of Nigeria by connecting neighbours who need a well and donors who can help to build it via Twitter.Read more
Greetings from Kaduna State!
From Twitter to Build Wells in Nigeria. In 2015, Mohammed Mustapha, a mechanical engineer from Kaduna State in northern Nigeria who used to post information about unprivileged communities on Twitter, got a message from a follower. He told Mustapha about a community in Nigeria lacking water and asked him to share a post to help them to build a well. Mustapha shared the information with the hashtag: #buildawell. “In less than 3 hours, we got our target money and carried out the project,” Mustapha explains. This is how the #Buildawell initiative started.
Since then, they have built hundreds of wells and boreholes in rural northern Nigeria to fight drought and water scarcity. In 2019, they registered Water the Needy Foundation as an indigenous non-governmental organization in the Nigerian corporate affairs commission.
The Twitter account (@angry_ustaaz) has about 63,000 followers, and they have carried out 244 projects, including water wells, solar boreholes, manual hand pump boreholes, and electric boreholes in several communities.
Mohammed Mustapha explains that they don’t need much to build water wells: “just a digger, water, bucket and shovel, for the boreholes, we need drilling trucks, which usually we hire and pay as we do not have the trucks yet.” “It takes a maximum of ten days to complete a well if we do not find a rock beneath the ground and a maximum of one week for a borehole.”
They have supervisors who are locals of most of these rural communities, and they search which communities are in need. Then the organization assigns them to various sponsors and carries out the projects. They also train community leaders on how to manage these water sources. They don’t have support from other organizations yet. Everything started and continues through their Twitter handle.
Lola & Tadeusz
Issue: Transport, bikes
Data: Transport is responsible for nearly 30% of CO2 emissions in the European Union.
In 2014 36% of Dutch citizens said they predominantly used a bike in their daily routine, whereas only 0-1% in Malta, Cyprus and Portugal did.Read more
Greetings from Groningen!
Groningen, in the northern Netherlands, is considered the world’s cycling city.
Bikes became the first way of transport thanks to some urban planning changes that started in 1977, as the city center was divided into four quadrants, and it became prohibited to travel from one side to another by car.
In 2014, intelligent traffic lights for bikers were installed, giving priority to cyclists when it rains. Today, 61% of all trips in this student-city in the Netherlands are made by bike.
A recent study from Global Environmental Change found that shifting just one car trip per day for a bike trip reduces their carbon footprint by about 0.5 tonnes in a year.