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Financing Sustainable Global Cities of the Future

By Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw, Poland
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post

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Today I am speaking at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities on a panel called Financing the Global City, where fellow panelists and I will discuss various approaches to financing sustainable infrastructure and the need for collaboration with other levels of government and the private sector to achieve our aims. It presents a great opportunity to share with you a couple of thoughts about the challenges faced by my city – Warsaw, Poland – mainly in the area of sustainable development and climate action.

Running a global city is expensive. In the last decade, our infrastructure has undergone many necessary investments. During this time Warsaw witnessed an impressive dynamic economic and infrastructural growth, which allowed us to construct buildings, build roads, while also decisively increasing the eco-friendly transportation stock of the city. This rapid progress would not have been possible without our membership in the European Union and the European structural funds we successfully applied for.

Naturally, our citizens and other city stakeholders have growing expectations and needs as to the infrastructural development of Warsaw. Therefore we cannot stop looking for innovative methods of fulfilling this demand. Warsaw, like other European cities, meets all regulations concerning the acquisition of its own investment funds. The necessary investments are capital-intensive, while the scope of our own financial contribution depends both on the specific regulations as well as the general-level restrictions related to public debt.

In the coming years, Warsaw’s strategic development will be focusing on public transportation, waste management and waste treatment, energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, municipal buildings (both offices, schools and social housing), sport facilities, street lighting and renovation of historic buildings.

While working on these specific projects, we have to take into account the environmental and climate impacts Warsaw faces today. Despite the fact that Warsaw is one of the greenest large cities in the world, with forests and parks covering 40% of its area, we are aware that there is always room for improvement. Challenges lie in the field of energy efficiency in all categories of city activities. Our actions – shared by other global cities – contribute to achieving the fundamental goals of decreasing COemissions and reducing energy consumption. These are in line with the international initiatives of the Covenant of Mayors and Compact of Mayors.

Perhaps the best illustration of our efforts is transportation. It is hard to imagine modern cities without smart transportation. A sustainable transportation system must be based on the principles of energy-efficiency and safety of its passengers. Warsaw’s transport accounts for 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we are undertaking activities aimed at modernizing infrastructure and vehicles used in public transportation.

The public transportation of Warsaw secures 60% of its non-pedestrian travels. It comprises state-owned railways, city-owned subway, trams and buses (as well as private buses running on a combined ticket). The combined ticket offers the possibility to travel throughout the area of Warsaw and its adjacent municipalities, a solution that encourages our citizens to use the public transportation system, as does the ongoing extension of the underground system as well as the replacement of the rolling stock. The latter includes the recent purchase of:

  • 261 new trams capable of recovering energy from its brakes,
  • 35 six-coach energy-efficient underground sets,
  • 273 modern buses,
  • 19 units for Rapid City Train.

However, an increasing number of private cars continues to constitute a significant challenge, generating CO2 and creating traffic jams. In order to tackle these pressing challenges, we are not only prioritizing public transportation, but also creating a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city-climate. Warsaw has introduced the city bike system, which after a few years in operation already covers more than 200 stations with 3,000 bikes. A similar car-sharing system is now in preparation.

Nonetheless, there will always remain a certain demand for private cars. Therefore, both in public and private transport, we aim to support the development of electric mobility and other alternative, eco-friendly propulsion solutions. Despite a weak system of national-level incentives, Warsaw managed to triple the number of HEVs and EVs between 2014 and 2015. We use hybrid cars in the city fleet, and gas-powered garbage trucks or electric vehicles in the water and wastewater municipal company. Through Warsaw’s bus operator we are involved in the C40 Low Emission Vehicle Network, and Warsaw is a signatory to the Global Clean Bus Declaration. As a result of these efforts, Warsaw is expected to have as many as 130 electric/hybrid vehicles in operation by 2020.

As mayors and city leaders we must continue to seek innovative solutions to our biggest sustainable development challenges – including access to financing and making the economic case for climate action. By collaborating through networks like the C40, and meeting with each other during events like today’s Chicago Forum on Global Cities, we can strengthen our ability to tackle climate change, grow our economy, and increase the livability of our cities at the same time.