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Cities of the future: convenient, healthy and affordable

23 of January '24

The article is from A&B issue 10|23

Zero-emission cities of the future are not only likely to happen, they must. The question is when.

what are zero-emission cities?

Zero-emission cities, or climate-neutral cities, are those in which the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is balanced with its absorption. Why cities and not states? On the one hand, because it is relatively easier for local governments to make decisions that support the concept. On the other—they are the main sources of emissions, due to increased transportation, industry or development. The pursuit of climate neutrality by cities can accelerate the goal of halting the Earth's temperature rise by up to 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to the pre-industrial era. Such a commitment stems from the Paris Agreement, which almost all countries in the world have ratified.

What will such cities mean in practice?

Zero-emission cities are first and foremost those with clean air, free of pollution and harmful dust. This is made possible by green energy sources, low-emission buildings and transportation. It's a city with an extensive green-blue infrastructure, where nature allows you to regulate the temperature, thereby reducing energy consumption, necessary, for example, for cooling during hot weather. It can also be a fifteen-minute city, which is organized in such a way that transportation other than walking or cycling is virtually unnecessary—all necessary services and institutions, such as the health clinic, school, government offices branches, are close enough to home that people live more locally. Low-carbon cities are also cities whose residents are not worried about high electricity bills, either because they are collective clean energy prosumers or their homes are fully termomodernized or passive.

what needs to happen for them to exist?

The most important piece of information is that there is significant EU funding for measures to support zero-carbon in Europe. The EU's policy is to achieve climate neutrality, which is intended not only to curb climate change, but also to ensure security and a better quality of life. Funding for climate goals comes from a wide variety of sources and instruments, for example, from the revenues of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) or the Modernization Fund. In addition, starting in 2026, support will also come from the EU Social Climate Fund, which is designed to mitigate the effects of fast-moving systemic changes toward neutrality from the perspective of ordinary people.

The development of so-called green skills is also needed to create a zero-carbon city. The energy transition needs well-prepared leadership in topics such as sustainable construction, transportation, and the IT field. Of course, political will and public awareness are needed for real change and the chance of low-carbon cities. It is very important that what is green is also widely perceived as what gives energy security, is cheap and simply provides a better quality of life.

Justyna Orlowska

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