Whether teaming up with locals to create urban vineyards and vegetable gardens or with the EU and UN to push climate strategies, Thessaloniki’s approach to climate change is intrinsically collaborative. In the latest podcast from the European Covenant of Mayors, an EU climate initiative supported by Eurocities, Stella Psaropoulou, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer of Thessaloniki, shares her city’s struggle with adapting to the reality of climate change – from flooding to extreme heat and droughts.
Speaking on the Covenant of Mayors Podcast, Psaropoulou paints a picture of the hurdles cities like Thessaloniki face in adapting and preparing for climate change. Due to a centralised approach to governance in Greece, cities like Thessaloniki grapple with a trifecta of challenges: A lack of economic independence for municipalities; complex, sometimes conflicting jurisdictional boundaries across different government levels; and limited access to European funding tools. You can listen to the episode above, or via this link.
Psaropoulou emphasises the need for local governments to evolve out of their silos, and the importance of capacity building and collaboration. “Capacity building, constant training of the staff, linkages with academia and research, and more collaboration with civil society are much needed,” she explains.
Psaropoulou sees technical assistance as a pivotal tool for municipalities to scale up their capacity. As part of the Policy Support Facility of the Covenant of Mayors, Thessaloniki has seized the opportunity to underscore practices that need change and emphasise the interconnectedness of reducing local contributions to climate change (mitigation) and dealing with its effects (adaptation).
The urgency for Thessaloniki to act and adapt has never been clearer. “Extreme weather events are more usual, especially during the spring and summer season,” says Psaropoulou, and summer days now often see temperatures soaring to 45°C, exacerbated by a heat island effect due to a lack of green spaces.
To tackle this, the city sees the need to engage all actors on its territory. “It’s not only the jurisdiction of the municipality,” Psaropoulou expresses, “When we build a school or a park, the neighbourhood should and must participate in co-designing.” One standout project is the Urban Vineyard, located in the city centre, that serves as a model for nature-based solutions. Apart from preventing flooding and providing a green space, it fosters community engagement and contributes to changing the microclimate of the area.
The city’s efforts are not isolated acts of environmental consciousness but rather part of a larger, more strategic vision for the city. Thessaloniki’s commitment to climate action was solidified with its involvement in the 100 Resilient Cities Network, back in 2015. Since then, the city has seized numerous opportunities to advance its goals, from collaborating with the World Bank to engaging with European programmes.
“For us,” says Psaropoulou, “it’s about developing a common vision… working towards those challenges all together.”