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A climate-neutral Valencia

“Like every day, Amparo leaves her building in the centre of Valencia to walk to work on a routine that has been an unimportant part of her life. But today, as she starts walking, she discovers something different from other days: for the first time, she is able to hear her own steps, which makes her feel more like a protagonist in her surroundings, more alive, more confident. As if she had regained herself against the impersonal giant of a big city.

Valencia's green roof
Valencia’s green roof

Everything happened little by little. First, one of the two car lanes was removed and a cycle lane was built. Then access for non-neighbourhood vehicles was restricted and a superblock was designed. Now some electric vehicle charging points are already visible and are starting to proliferate around the city.”

This is a story that the city of Valencia shared to illustrate what they plan to achieve with the series of initiatives that they are putting in place to remain at the forefront of the fight for decarbonisation and climate neutrality in Europe. Several projects focused on a sustainable future and with the wellbeing of citizens as the main objectives have been planned and implemented by the city.

An important regional capital on the shores of the Mediterranean, Valencia is the third-largest metropolitan area of Spain and, therefore, faces several challenges to become climate neutral and more welcoming to its citizens and attractive to businesses and tourists. How to transform a city with 2,000 years of history, one of the largest in Spain, with a diverse population, a busy port and which receives millions of tourists a year?

One of the main barriers.... is the fragmentation that we have in the local administration.
— Jordi Peris

The answer is not simple, but Valencia has been working hard.

Urban strategy for the future

Valencia wants Amparo’s story to become a reality and the city’s ‘Urban Strategy 2030’ was designed as part of the Missions València 2030, a missions-based innovation governance model to improve the quality of life of its citizens through diversity and by including everyone’s talents and all sources of knowledge.

The many efforts of the city made it the World Design Capital in 2022, with a year-long agenda of events, festivals and the unveiling of a series of projects to recover historic spaces, to preserve elements of the local culture among other cutting-edge initiatives.

In the field of sustainability, in February 2021, Valencia approved the Valencia 2030 Climate Mission with broad social and political consensus. It aims to decarbonize the city, reducing CO2 to become climate-neutral.

To achieve this complex goal, for years Valencia has been developing a set of European policies and projects that also work with the rest of the objectives of the 2030 Urban Agenda, promoting sustainable and accessible housing initiatives, urban regeneration, projects focused on climate resilience, fair and inclusive energy transition, and so on.

“One of the main barriers we meet when we try to develop mission-oriented initiatives at the local level is the fragmentation that we have in the local administration and that we have to overcome,” explains Jordi Peris, General Coordinator of Urban Strategies and the Sustainable Agenda of Valencia City Council.

He adds that Valencia “needed a broad political consensus and we are really proud that all the projects we have approved have been supported by 31 out of 33 councillors and we have reached agreements with the regional and national governments as we know that as a municipality we don’t have all the tools and competences to achieve all of our goals.”

Our mission is not only related to emissions, but to a city model and different dimensions of the city, such as the social elements
— Jordi Peris

European projects designed to improve people’s lives

Valencia's GrowGreen initiative
Valencia’s GrowGreen initiative

As part of Valencia’s 2030 Urban Agenda, pilots have been implemented in certain neighbourhoods that will be expanded to other areas of the city if they offer positive results.

“Our mission is not only related to emissions, but to a city model and different dimensions of the city, such as the social elements. We have tried to identify all the benefits of our mission-oriented approach to have a healthier and prosperous, inclusive city,” explained Peris.

In this sense, Valencia is developing projects such as GrowGreen, which seeks solutions based on nature to fight climate change and promotes resilience in the face of periods of drought or heavy rainfall. Solutions such as vertical gardens on facades or on terraces that act against thermal stress in buildings, and rainwater accumulation systems have been built.

Another relevant initiative is Match Up, proposing three pilot projects in the maritime neighbourhood of Valencia that cover issues such as sustainable mobility, energy efficiency and ICT solutions applied to people’s daily lives. The initiative has resulted in, for example, a tidal energy pilot project, electric bicycle rides to improve the quality of life of the elderly, and distribution of local goods by electric bicycles.

Another project, in this case of waste management, is WaysTUP,  in which the remains of the meat and fish industries and coffee capsules are used to obtain fertilizers, substances of interest for the chemical industry and pharmaceutical or energy generation, in a valuable example of the potential of the circular economy.

Among the initiatives in Valencia, it is also worth highlighting the European Sustainable Tourist Destination project, which aims to achieve a zero-carbon footprint for the large and growing number of tourists who come to Valencia, a city of 800,000 inhabitants that has been designated as the European Capital of Smart Tourism for 2022.

Also related to tourism, Valencia has the Comercio Turístico (Tourist Commerce) project, which will mean the digitisation of 200 shops in tourist areas of the city, an issue that will improve the competitiveness in the sector.

The pedestrianisation of key points in the historic centre of the city, the installation of photovoltaic solar-panelled pergolas that generate electricity on a small scale, the creation of superblocks and the construction of more bike lanes are other actions that will improve the lives of the citizens of Valencia. Different projects related to energy self-consumption and the renaturalisation of the metropolis are also being implemented with photovoltaic panels that will be installed in different municipal buildings and the entire lighting system of the city has been technologically transformed, achieving greater efficiency and savings of €4 million per year, which will be reinvested in new energy efficiency projects.

Valencia's Match Up initiative focused on mobility
Valencia’s Match Up initiative focused on mobility
By incorporating our mission-oriented innovation approach at the core of our Urban Strategy we have gained a new way of thinking and working
— Jordi Peris

Consequently, all the effort that the Valencia City Council has been carrying out in recent years in terms of decarbonisation has resulted in the city’s candidacy to be one of the 100 cities chosen by the European Commission within its European mission ‘Achieving 100 climate-neutral and smart cities in 2030.’

To reach all goals, Valencia “needs the engagement of the overall society – companies, citizens, academia – and we are trying to build a city alliance,” explains Peris, adding that “we have an initiative, called Mission Ambassador Entity, through which any kind of organisations, companies, even a small store in the city can contribute and commit to the mission, it’s something that’s working to engage a plurality of actors in the city.”

So far, he says, the public response has been positive and “by incorporating our mission-oriented innovation approach at the core of our Urban Strategy we have gained a new way of thinking and working which is more related to action and learning-planned approaching, orientation towards experimentation, etc.”

Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer