Who’s Getting Ready for Zero in Catalonia?

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CAT’s External Relations Officer, Paul Allen reports from his trip to Spain.

One of the things Catalonia and Wales have in common is that they are both active members of The Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development, or nrg4SD for short. Established in 2002 at the World Summit of Johannesburg, this non-profit international organisation acts as the voice of over 50 sub-national governments at global level, and will be an active player in the run up to the UN climate conference in Paris. As the train taking me to present “Who’s Getting Ready for Zero” report for the British Council in Madrid passes through Barcelona, a day-long stop over offered a good opportunity for Peter Harper and myself to share our work with both the Catalonia Government and the Barcelona City Council.

In the morning I met with Josep Enric Llebot, Secretary of Environment and the Salvador Samitier, Director of the Office on Climate Change of the Catalan Government where I presented copies of the ‘Who’s Getting Ready for Zero’ report. The Office on Climate Change are responsible for promoting and coordinating mitigation and adaptation strategies and plans for Catalonia, based on the commitments made by the State and the European Union. Our presentation was well received as Catalan Government clearly gets the need to change, and there was enthusiasm about pulling together a local team to begin to develop a rapid decarbonisation model for Catalonia. They were also keen to explore our invitation to attend CAT’s side-event at the UN summit in Paris.

Paul meets Barcelona’s deputy major

Whilst I was in the area I was also keen to meet with various departments of Barcelona’s new City Council. Earlier his year Spain’s progressive activists made the move from ‘city square’ to the ‘city hall’ as municipal and regional elections saw the people’s anti-poverty activist Ada Colau elected as mayor of Barcelona. Colau’s party won 11 of the 41 seats on the city council, meaning that she will need to form key alliances in order to govern, but it is a very powerful shift. Her policy commitments included plans to return decision-making in the city to the people, to end home evictions, increase public housing and better distribute the city’s wealth.

Despite the light rain, we walked back from our morning meeting along the busy ‘diagonal’ route which crosses the mostly grid based road system. As we approached the centre, we came across a large group of citizens protesting in a powerful but peacefully way outside a major bank. Our hosts explained to us the problem is that in Spain: the 3.4m homes that lie vacant – amounting to a third of all empty homes across Europe – whilst around 95 homes a day were seized by the banks last year after residents defaulted on their mortgage payments – and under Spain’s draconian laws they must continue paying off the loan even after the home has been repossessed. Promoted by the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages group which Colau co-founded before becoming Mayor, a law allowing Barcelona to crack down on banks with empty homes was passed by the previous city council in 2014, but was never applied. Ada Colau has clearly signalled that the right to housing is one of her mayoral priorities and, supported by street level action, unless empty homes are made available to those who need them, it is expected that official action against the bank may be on the cards for the coming weeks.

My particular interest was how the ‘radical progressive’ approach of Barcelona’s new Council could help raise ambition at the UN climate conference in Paris, so I had asked my Barcelona based colleagues to arrange an evening ‘working session’ on Zero Carbon Scenarios with people involved with the ‘Barcelona Declaration on Climate Change’ which the city plans to make public before the UN Climate Summit in December.

This session allowed us to present our experience on developing and collating Zero Carbon scenarios, after which participants from various departments had the opportunity to ask questions or make comments in order to help in the development of their Barcelona Declaration on Climate Change. The event was held at a local environmental education centre called ‘Fàbrica del Sol’ or ‘Sunshine factory’. A renovated gas-works, the building was introduced to us as if it were a living organism, integrated into the environment and supported environmental measures such as the collection and use of rainwater, a pergola for solar collectors and photovoltaic panels, and natural ventilation. La Fàbrica del Sol certainly seemed like an active space for exchanging ideas about the resources and best practices needed to meet the challenges of sustainability.

The meeting was well attended, and my presentation of Zero Carbon Britain and the Who’s getting to Zero report opened up passionate conversations with representatives from Barcelona Energy Agency, Barcelona City Council and the Department of Transport. The Energy Agency could see the potential for developing energy scenarios, as their role is to ensure the city achieves optimum standards in its use and management of local energy resources and to help Barcelona meet its environmental and energy commitments. The Department of Transport was also keen to explore ways of overcoming barriers. The Catalan Government released an Action Plan to reducing public transportation prices on the most polluted days by up to 50% to fight climate change and improve air quality within Barcelona’s Metropolitan Transport Area. This is hoped to be in place between 2015 and 2016, to coincide with the launch of the new transportation card similar to London’s Oyster Card.

We were honoured that Janet Sanz, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona City Council in the area of ​​Ecology, Urban and Mobility and Eva Herrero Commissioner on Ecology both made time to attend our seminar. Their commitment to climate was clear, and we were assured that the new Mayor Ada Colau would be present in Paris – so I gave printed copies of Zero Carbon Britain and ‘Who’s Getting Ready for Zero’ for her to read in advance of the Summit.