Burgemeester Sharon Dijksma Green Growth & Sustainable Development (GGSD) Forum 2021

Toespraak burgemeester Sharon Dijksma

Speech by Mayor Sharon Dijksma

Rue André-Pascal, Parijs, 16 november 2021

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today the Paris City Council is discussing a revolutionary bicycle plan for the city. Paris wants to give priority to the bicycle. If it is adopted, Paris will experience a historic moment. Cyclists and pedestrians in particular are the future of urban mobility, I believe.

Last week, I was at the COP in Glasgow with a clear message: cities are the drivers of change. Just imagine: in 2050, 70 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. With all that built-up area, countless transport movements, mass production and mass consumption (with ditto air pollution and heat stress), cities are leaving a gigantic ecological footprint.

Let's be clear; it is up to the cities to do something about this. However, we cannot do this alone. Dutch municipalities for instance need one and a half billion euro for climate measures until 2024, but only 72 million has been paid out. The funding we receive from national governments is inadequate. So here too, I say to the leaders or representatives of national governments: put your money where your mouth is.

In the Netherlands people who are vulnerable, feel threatened by the impending measures. They are the ones that will have to make sacrifices.

Cities must help these people by making them the first to benefit from the advantages that green measures will have in the long run.

When you do that, cities become the key to change. We are the implementers of the climate approach. Many cities are already daring to take serious steps towards sustainable, green and healthy solutions.

Take the Colombian capital Bogota: this heavily polluted city chose radically for the bicycle a few years ago and other cities like Rome, Milan, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro are also discovering, also through COVID, the advantages of using bicycles in the city.

We are the implementers of the climate approach and can be the key to change. Many cities are already daring to take serious steps towards sustainable, green and healthy solutions.

When I look at Paris' cycling plans, I recognise the ambitions of my city Utrecht. For years we have been at the top of the world rankings for cycling cities. In Utrecht, there are more bicycles than inhabitants and the city provides extra facilities for those who cannot afford a bicycle or are still unable to cycle. As a result, we actually had the world's first bicycle traffic jam. Every city must always make the most of its available space. That calls for thinking ahead, looking at the future and making clear choices.

Utrecht is making those choices by putting health at the heart of all its policies, because we believe this is the only way to make our city future-proof for future generations. That means making radical choices when it comes to mobility, but also using green space and biodiversity much more strategically in urban development - in short Healthy Urban Living through Healthy Urban Planning...

It also means making hard choices. For example, we demolished a twelve-lane highway that ran right through our city centre and restored the original city canal. The inner city is now once again surrounded by five kilometres of water. In a place where polluting cars used to drive, you can now enjoy greenery and water in the heart of the city. The opening was last year during the COVID pandemic and proved a resounding success.

From day one, 'walking along the canal' was a success for all those who sat at home and sought relaxation in the open air.

Our cycle path network is fully integrated into all our infrastructure and in some places there are so many cyclists that the car has to give way to the bicycle and we redesign the streets specifically for cyclists and pedestrians.

And under our central station, we have built the world's largest bicycle parking facility, covering three floors.

Many of the good ideas and innovations are not of our own invention, but arise from inviting partners to think along with us. And now form part of a business model. Utrecht is in the top three most competitive regions in Europe for years. Innovative sustainable companies wánt to be in Utrecht.

Big changes usually start small, at the kitchen table. One of our residents, for example, came up with a smart charging station that enables electric cars and shared cars to supply power back to the energy network. Renault and Tesla have also collaborated on this. This makes Utrecht the first bi-directional region in the world. Utrecht now has the highest number of charging stations and shared cars in the Netherlands.

To be fair: one thousend smart charging stations in one city will not save the climate. But if other cities adopt each other's ideas, it's a different story. Therefore, dare to go green, challenge your partners to come up with ideas and don't be too modest to copy other people's ideas.

I hope we will be an inspiration to other cities, just as we learn from others. The Belgian city of Ghent is now building an even bigger bicycle parking, maybe Paris will be the cycling capital of the world in a few years. Do I mind? No. On the contrary!

That's my message to you today: meeting our climate targets is not a race to be the first, the best, the biggest or the smartest. We have to beat climate change. Together! That's why I support more and continued cooperation between cities.

The Mayor's Alliance that was concluded during the COP in Glasgow and a hopefully successful European Green Deal are good next steps.

Every idea to make cities a little more sustainable, greener and healthier - no matter how small - might soon become a big step towards making the world a better place.