Porto is working on drastically reducing its green house gas emissions. In fact, concerted action in combination with the national government has already helped Porto to drop its GHG emissions over 30% from 2004 levels.
To achieve its vision of a 50% reduction by 2030, however, has required the administration to think carefully about the future city it wants to create. As Filipe Araújo, Vice Mayor of Porto, explains, “I think one of the things Porto has done is to think about what the future of the city is in terms of sustainability,” and, “for me, a city that is environmentally friendly, is about quality of life.”
Getting there, however, requires a joined-up approach across many different areas for which the city authorities are responsible.
Transport is without a doubt one of the major pollutants across all cities. Porto has calculated that 31% of its total GHG emissions come from this sector, and consequently reducing this is a major area of focus for the city.
For instance, the city recently replaced 70% of its public fleet of diesel-powered light vehicles with electric and hybrid vehicles, decreasing CO2 emissions by an estimated 542 tonnes.
The city’s metro system has even more impressive results: an estimated 45,000 tonnes of CO2 is removed from the atmosphere each year thanks to a shift in transport use from cars in favour of the metro.
No wonder that Araújo comments, “in terms of mobility, our strategy is all about public transport.” In this sense, he believes, “the city can lead by example,” to make it easier for citizens and others to opt for more environmentally friendly modes of transport.
To capitalise on this, the city is going to have a new metro line between two of its busiest hubs (Boavista and Baixa) and is offering free travel on the city network for all children up to 15 years old. In addition, the regular transport pass for other users has been dropped to just €30 per month.
The city has also recently allowed the installation of 10 new rapid chargers on the street to encourage more use of electric cars.
As Araújo explains, “in a dense city, there is no other way.”
Back to nature
Another area the city is working on is to actively reduce residents’ exposure to the risks of climate change. And a lot of the city’s efforts here come by way of ‘renaturalising’ the local environment.
For example, as Araújo explains, referring to the new station mentioned above, “the new intermodal station we are building will be entirely covered by a green roof.”
In fact, greening rooves is high on the administration’s agenda, and a good option to bring a bit of nature back into any dense urban environment
Current plans involve ‘greening’ 131 rooves of city-owned properties to create an additional 13 hectares of green space in the city. These rooves represent ‘double wins’ by delivering several benefits to the city, such as helping to improve the thermal insulation of buildings, retaining water during rainfall peaks, storing carbon, promoting biodiversity and improving the urban landscape.
But, re-naturing the city is about a whole lot more than this, and Porto is investing in its blue, as well as green, infrastructure.
“We are looking at this in a very strategic way,” says Araújo. For instance, he continues, “some streams were covered several years ago and we are trying to re-naturalise these areas.” Uncovering streams helps allow for a more natural flow of water, especially during times of storm surge, which is the reason behind another project.
The Asprela Central Park, which this year will cover 6 hectares of land within the university campus, brings a new, green, area to the city, that is also 98% permeable. According the Araújo, “at Asprela Park we have 10,000 cubic metres of storage…we’ll have a big lake there if we have a storm.” The purpose of the project is to manage the asprela river so that it works in harmony with the surrounding green space. With this crucial piece of infrastructure, the city hopes to ease flooding pressures for the metro, as well as pedestrian, bike lanes and roads.
Over the past five years, Porto has also produced 74,274 trees in its municipal nursery, which were then planted both in the city itself and in other municipalities of the Porto metropolitan area. As part of the FUN Porto project, the administration is planting only native trees in a bid to rebalance the local ecosystem and through its citizen programme, the municipality’s message to citizens, according to Araújo is, “if you have a garden, we have a tree for you.”
A bright future
Part of Porto’s climate conundrum is finding a way to be more efficient in its energy use. For example, the city expects to complete its transition to LED public lighting by next year.
Porto Municipality also manages a housing stock of about 13,000 units (representing 13% of the existing housing in the city), where approximately 30,000 people live. In the last six years, more than 100 million euros have been allocated to improve these infrastructures and the quality of life of their inhabitants, a lot of which has been spent on improving energy efficiency.
However, another aspect is in the production of energy.
“Often, we think of energy in terms of big plants,” says Araújo. “But I look at it as the distributed network of energy producers, and cities have a very big role and will be big players in the future.”
This year, Porto will produce 2MW of energy itself, largely from photovoltaic cells on public buildings. The city is also engaged in a pilot project on energy communities, which is set to explore the possibility of putting the production and storage of energy into the hands of local communities and citizens.
“We believe that cities, as they have had with water in the past in the utilities market, will have a bigger input on energy in the future,” says Araújo. “In the future they will be able to store their energy. If we can do that then our freedom changes a lot because it’s linked to mobility etc. So, it’s an important topic if we want to run fast in this role cities have in climate mitigation.”
Given the city’s large ownership of public buildings, this is not such a far-fetched notion. Indeed, when such installations can be combined with, for instance, the rooves on social housing, “it means fighting against energy poverty,” comments Araújo.
The circular economy comprises a key factor in Porto’s municipal strategy for the environment and its actions towards 2030.
The city is taking part, for example, in the circular construction project that aims to promote better awareness of and to reduce the waste produced at the different stages of the construction process. In a similar vein, the city is also making use of its own purchasing power, through various public procurement contracts, to ensure circular principles are delivered on.
One big area of responsibility for the city administration is the collection, sorting and treatment of waste – and here too, principles of the circular economy are managed through the municipal company Porto Ambiente. This includes a free collection service for waste electrical and electronic equipment and unused items like sofas and mattresses. However, it also includes a limited door-to-door collection of organic waste and the city is going to have organic food waste bins on the street, which is already being used to produce organic fertiliser.
And in many other areas from the collection of plastics to promoting and protecting biodiversity, the city is thinking ahead.
The secret? It’s elementary. For Araújo, “for all this transformation we have seen, and cities have changed a lot over recent years, we have been using innovation as a very important tool we have to work with in all these topics.”
Secret or not, the city will be sharing many tips and learning with over 100 city representatives next month who will come to Porto for the EUROCITIES Environment Forum.