Global challenges – local solutions

It is often said that climate challenges are global, but the emissions and solutions are local. Each municipality council around the world holds some of the most important keys to unlocking the threats to our future.

Let me give you some examples from my home town, Gothenburg, in western Sweden. Encompassing Scandinavia’s biggest port and Sweden’s major automotive industry, the city is a large transportation hub with a cluster of companies and researchers within logistics and transport. This cluster carries a huge potential for urgently needed innovations, to meet demands set by the politicians as well to create business opportunities for companies of the next generation.

The city has taken a decision to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from goods transport with at least 80 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 and more than double public transport by 2035. The first ever bus line in Sweden run by electricity powered buses started here in April 2014. The test has been a success which today draws attention from around the world. A tunnel for commuter trains under the city shall make commuters choose public transport instead of private cars from 2026 onwards.

Waste heat from refineries and other industrial processes are keeping people’s homes warm, via district heating. New building techniques makes renovated houses and new-builds more energy efficient. Energy consumption in homes are to be reduced by 30 percent by 2020 compared to 1995.

But more can be done and needs to be done. The use of waste heat could be extended even more, if the district heating grids in Gothenburg and surrounding municipalities were better connected. Environmental criteria can be imposed more rigorously than today in public tendering. Here we politicians have an important role to play.

These are all examples of technical solutions that are absolutely vital if we are to live within the nature’s borders. But they are not enough. If we shall succeed with the necessary transformation of our societies, we also need a change in people’s mind set. And I believe this could be underway.

For some months a six hours working day has been tested at a retirement home in Gothenburg. The results are encouraging; sick leave rate is down, service quality up. Even so, conservative and liberal politicians want to stop the project. It’s too costly, they say. I believe there is another reason to it as well; that a shorter working day in their eyes sends the wrong signals to the Swedish work force in general. In my view though it would be a good thing if people spent more time with friends and family instead of working as much as possible in order to earn as much as possible so that they can consume as much as possible.

Another example that might indicate a broader change in mind set is that the sharing economy is on the rise. The car sharing organisation that I’m a member of has today 1 100 cars in fifty different cities in Sweden. And this is just one of eight similar organisations situated in Gothenburg. A neighbouring family of ours has spent vacations in Australia, New York, London, France… using home exchange. The transition movement offers an alternative perspective on the world we live in and how we could organise societies in order to handle the ecological, energy and economic crises that we, according to them, are facing.

We in the global North has a moral obligation to lead the way for a sustainable future. This should not be seen as a sacrifice: a sustainable world also brings with it life patterns that are more in line with what happiness research tells us we want the most; more time with our loved ones, more possibilities to self-fulfilment.

We are on the right path. And the most encouraging changes are taking place locally. Gothenburg is part of different networks were cities share experiences and develop joint projects in order to push ahead the transformation needed.

These local initiatives of course go hand in hand with national policies and international agreements. They seldom make headlines in media, but I believe that in the long run these local developments will prove the most important.

/Lars-Olof Karlsson

Chairperson Green Forum

 

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