How Barcelona is fighting climate change

Climate change is a severe change in weather pattern which influences oceans, land surfaces, and ice sheets. These changes can persist for several decades or longer, but at the very least for 30 years. Climate changes can occur due to natural processes, like the sun’s radiation or volcanoes. But it can also happen because of human influences.

How does global warming differ from climate change?

Global warming is the result of climate change and is caused by the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a natural process by which the planet’s atmosphere retains some of the sun’s heat. This allows the earth to maintain ideal conditions to host life, otherwise our planet’s average temperature would have been about -180°C. Unfortunately, daily human activities are maximising the greenhouse effect, causing our temperatures to increase more than it should.

As Earth’s temperatures continue to rise, it influences the climate. Our planet’s temperature has naturally warmed up or cooled down in the past. However, such cycles have always taken millions of years. Today, climate change has begun to reach danger levels within as little as 200 years.

The Paris Agreement and climate change

With climate change reaching dangerous levels, different countries decided to ban together to come up with solutions. The result was The Paris Agreement, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) on 12 December 2015 in Paris.

In addition to combating climate change, The Paris Agreement also aims to keep the increase of the global average temperature levels well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Further efforts will later be pursued to limit this rise even further to 1.5°C.

As of May 2019, all 197 UNFCCC members have either signed or acceded to the Paris Agreement, including Spain. 

How are cities fighting climate change?

  • By making buildings more efficient: Buildings in cities contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions due to their electricity- and water usage. Fortunately, smart heating- and cooling systems can result in a building adapting to temperature and reducing energy consumption. This is achieved by installing solar panels along a building’s exterior surfaces, investing in heat pumps, improving window insulation, and installing LED lighting fixtures.
  • By improving public transit: Thanks to public transit systems, cities’ greenhouse gas levels are considerably lowered. Investing in high-speed rails and modernised subways also improve cities’ efficiency and reduce pollution levels. In addition, at least 25 European cities are planning on implementing electric bus systems by 2020, including Barcelona.  
  • By creating sustainable roofs: With cities expanding, more natural green spaces are replaced by concrete, asphalt, glass, tar, etc. This causes the “urban heat island effect” with buildings, streets and other surfaces absorbing and radiating sunlight instead of reflecting it. The result is that the local environment becomes hotter by several degrees, leading to health issues and more people using energy to cool their homes. Fortunately, cities have found three ways to combat this:
    • Paint roofs white to reflect sunlight and cool surfaces by as much as 7°C;
    • Implement rooftop gardens to cool temperatures, provide shade and cleanse the air;
    • Install solar rooftops to cool roofs and capture the sun’s light for energy.
  • By banning plastic: In addition to polluting the planet, plastics also emit powerful greenhouse gases as they degrade, thereby contributing to climate change.

How is Barcelona helping to improve the environment?  

If nothing is done about climate change, the city of Barcelona will face the same consequences as the rest of the world: scorching temperatures, less water, prolonged droughts, more flooding, and more difficulty maintaining beaches. For this reason, the Barcelona City Council has drawn up the Pla Clima (Climate Plan), a strategy detailing 242 actions to complement the Paris Agreement in combating climate change.

Running up to 2030, Barcelona’s Climate Plan is intended to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% and transform the city into a carbon-neutral city by 2050.

In addition, Barcelona is busy implementing a network of walkable, versatile “superblocks” for pedestrians and cyclists. With superblocks, citizens can travel the city without the need for motorised private vehicles. Along with opening cycling spaces for bicycles, improving the city’s bus network and encouraging foot travelling via widened pavements and peaceful streets, Barcelona is working towards becoming a city with more green spaces, fewer private cars and motorcycles, and more public transport. It should be noted that superblocks will not entirely abolish cars in the city, nor deny it to anyone who requires one. But the main aim is to considerably reduce their presence in Barcelona, as well as the spaces they occupy. If fully implemented, Barcelona could become the first “post-car” major city in the world – a considerable step in the worldwide fight against climate change.