The international conference, organised by UNEP/GRID-Warsaw Centre and the Embassy of France in Poland, took place in a hybrid form on September 21st to 25th. A wide range of topics was discussed – from rebuilding local economies after the pandemic to creating sustainable mobility and energy systems.

The opening ceremony of the conference, held in the Copernicus Science Centre, was hosted by the director of the Centre, Maria Andrzejewska, and included speeches by the Minister of Climate Michał Kurtyka, Mayor of the City of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski, and the French Ambassador in Poland – Frederic Billet. 

The inaugural speeches were delivered by Anne Girault, an expert in the field of climate change and energy transformation, and Edwin Bendyk – journalist and president of the Batory Foundation. Two introductory debates on energy of changes in urban areas and cities after the pandemic broadly outlined the subject of the panels planned for the next days. 

The culmination of the day was the prize ceremony of the 7th edition of the Eco-city competition. The biggest winner was the city of Polkowice, awarded not only in the Competition but also by the Minister of Climate, Michał Kurtyka, and by the conference partners. 

Online webinars 

The second day of the conference brought a wide perspective on clean air, including both the issues of technological and organisational transformation, as well as investments in greenery. The main challenge in tackling smog is still the elimination of low emissions from the household and transport sector. The plenipotentiary of the mayor of the city of Krakow for air quality, Paweł Ścigalski, presented an effective program of furnace replacement – We adopted a degressive formula, i.e. we reduced the subsidy with each passing year. In 2015 and 2016, we awarded 100 percent co-financing of eligible costs, in 2017 - 80 percent, and in 2018 and 2019 - 60 percent – he noted. 

Investments in greenery were discussed as well. Focusing on the quality of nature surrounding us is an increasingly visible trend. According to Magdalena Biel, the deputy director of greenery in Katowice we lack emphasis on spatial planning in the education of children and others. This point was proved by the example of the development of land between the road and the forest in one of the cities. – It was natural for the expert that heather and gorse would fit there, giving a beautiful color effect and honey-bearing, and also creating a pseudo-natural border of the forest – said Monika Szewczyk, doctor of biological sciences from the UNEP/GRID-Warsaw Centre. Ultimately, however, the inhabitants decided to have a flower meadow. 

During the third day of the conference social participation in Poland was discussed. The panelists of three different discussions noted that is doing quite well, education is a comprehensive and long-term process, and data is the basis for city management, but it cannot solve problems by itself. This opinion was shared by all of the participants of the last panel, among others the President and CEO of the World Council on City Data, Patricia McCarney. 

Earlier on, during the panel devoted to education, representative of the Conference partner, Veolia Foundation Poland, Agnieszka Kazimierska emphasized that during the implementation of projects with about 80 cities, it turned out that the nature of the activities is not universal and random, but tailored to the characteristics of the city. The key to education can be found in properly defining the problem and setting a good example.  

In terms of cooperation with inhabitants we had an interesting presentation from the perspective of business – CEETRUS, one of the Conference business partners. According to Agnieszka Gutowska, director at CEETRUS, the company wants to blend in and become an element of the urban fabric. That is why they understand the need for open public spaces and consult projects with the local community. 

The need for comprehensive solutions 

The fourth day of the Conference started with the focus on mobility. The transport system should be based on low-emission public transport, complemented by car-sharing and micromobility. The objective for which cities should aim are inhabitants who does not need her or his own car. From the perspective of the Conference business partner Renault, car-sharing is a way to reduce congestion on the streets, improve air quality and change the approach to things from owning to sharing. To prove the point, Car-sharing operations director Vincent Carre gave the example of Madrid, where 350,000 of inhabitants use 750 cars in the Zity system operated by Renault. 

An inspiring debate on circular economy also took place that day. One of the not obvious topics was the transformation of the construction industry. According to Planning Manager at "Circular Gothenburg" Nina Wolf it is possible (however not easy) and requires smart utilisation of green public procurement and cooperation between cities. One of the Polish challenges is the discrepancy between segregation of waste in one and multi-family housing. In 2019 the municipality of Ciechanów started a project: System of Individual Waste Segregation (SISO). Secretary of the city Adrianna Saganek familiarized the participants with a pilot project, in which traditional bin shelters were replaced with three sets of smart bins. Residents have been provided with individual QR codes and stickers with which the bins can be opened and the bags labeled. 

The day closed with a panel by the Conference business partner BNP Paribas, represented among others by his Director, Adam Hirny. It was devoted to financing projects in energy efficiency. Thermal insulation can be a business and it is already working in Paris. Cooperation between the bank, business and municipality allowed there to create a catalog of reliable companies that guarantee a return on investment in the form of 60 percent energy savings after thermal insulation. 

The last day of the conference was focused on climate issues – adapting cities to changing conditions, as well as shifting them to the path of renewable energy. 

The key to success is the removal of thematic silos, the long-term nature of interventions and experimenting in the spirit of co-creation. It is important that the end result is not just a report that hits the shelf, but something that brings a real change – said Aneta Skubida, System Innovation Design Manager for Cities at Climate-KIC. According to Wiesław Bielawski, a board member of the Gdańsk Water and Sewerage Infrastructure, in the climate context, water will be one of the most important sources of global conflicts in the near future. Cooperation including the local level of authorities in this area is becoming more and more urgent. 

During the last panel of the conference we had an opportunity to talk about local energy systems. A step that facilitates energy tranformation in Ostrów Wielkopolski, represented by Mateusz Nycek, was the consolidation of the municipal sector in the city into one capital group. The holding model is supposed to help in the coherent, coordinated implementation of changes. International cooperation stimulates the domestic one. Warsaw is a part of e.g. the Polish Energy Cites network, which also includes smaller towns. Dialogue allows cities to be shown as partners, e.g. for European institutions. Thanks to this, it is possible not only to finance activities or influence the shape of implemented solutions in the field of decarbonisation. Joint discussion also enables preparation for common challenges and new trends, such as the development of civic energy – said Leszek Drogosz from The City of Warsaw and platform Energie Cities. 

The conference is a part of an ongoing project, which includes a dedicateg webpage, a publication with good practices of sustainable policies, implemented in Polish cities, as well as dedicated, local debates which – due to the coronavirus outbreak – currently take place online.