Level of sustainability in Slovak cities

Level of sustainability in Slovak cities

The climate crisis is a global issue. Are Slovak cities ready for it? What can the municipalities do to be more sustainable and what difficulties do they face? Does Slovakia have the potential to have as many sustainable cities as possible? Patrícia Arpášová will find it out in this show with Veronika Hagovská (Institute for Circular Economy) and Daniela Piršelová (The Union of Towns and Cities of Slovakia).

Level of Sustainability in Slovak Cities Máte problém s prehrávaním? Nahláste nám chybu v prehrávači.

According to the Slovak hydrometeorological institute, September 2023 in our country was record-breaking warm. Climate change can be spotted through the higher temperatures as well as the record number of tropical nights during summer. Experts say Slovak regions are affected differently.

While the east of Slovakia suffers from increased rainfall and flooding, the south is plagued by drought. This affects the quality and quantity of harvests and depletes water supplies. The west and north of Slovakia are experiencing extreme heat. Life is changing in Slovak cities and people can feel it. It also affects the city and state budgets. It is therefore extremely important that we recognise this context and begin to tackle the climate crisis with urgent short-term measures, but also systematically for the future, says Daniela Piršelová from The Union of towns and cities of Slovakia.

In the end of September 2023, the Institute for Circular Economy and The Union of towns and cities of Slovakia published the survey results on sustainability in Slovak towns with twenty-four participating.

The study showed that more than half of the world's population now lives in cities, which consume two-thirds of all energy. Cities are responsible for around three quarters of CO2 emissions. This includes the electricity and heat production, industry, energy-intensive buildings, transport, agriculture and waste. More than 70% of cities are already struggling with the dangerous effects of climate change.

Sustainability also means building green, healthy and resilient cities that can effectively deal with today's crises. This ensures a safe and comfortable environment for residents. Veronika Hagovská of the Institute for Circular Economy says urban populations will grow by up to 70% by 2050. Cities therefore have a key role to play in establishing effective sustainability policies and in combating the climate crisis, Hagovská claims.

This is, in fact, the reason why the sustainability survey was carried out in Slovakia. Fourteen of its participants already have an approved sustainability strategy. Daniela Piršelová from the Union of towns and cities of Slovakia gives an example from the practice.

A very nice example from practice is the project of the city of Trnava in western Slovakia. The city organised the first ever town meeting on climate change. It was a space for communication with the participation of residents, experts and representatives. The result was a vision for Trnava until 2030. Participants worked in three thematic groups. The first was on water retention in the city and its surroundings. The second was on greening public spaces and biodiversity. The third was focused on the city's communication on preparing for climate change.

Each Slovak city has its own way of communicating this issue to its citizens. Residents themselves are also starting to become more active in this area.

The survey showed that Banská Bystrica in central Slovakia, is one of the few Slovak towns to have a separate department tied to the climate change agenda. Rain gardens, green roofs, traffic planning are among the measures planned and implemented by the city. A project for an urban photovoltaic power plant is being prepared. It is planned to be installed on the roofs of municipal buildings in Banska Bystrica.

The city of Prešov, eastern Slovakia, is building cycling routes and covered bicycle parking. The municipality uses photovoltaics on some of its buildings. It plans to increase renewable energy sources.

Bratislava is the only Slovak city to have a strategy for the waste management development with the aim of moving towards a circular economy. Daniela Piršelová from the Union of towns and cities of Slovakia argues that an effective solution to the climate crisis requires everyone to work together - citizens, municipalities, the state, the private or non-profit sector.

The state has to create the environment in which cities can act. Because they know their situation best and are closest to their residents. Residents, in turn, have the best first-hand experience of how life in cities changes and can elect their city representatives. They have the opportunity to choose the people who want to tackle climate change. If it doesn't work, it is a vicious circle. If it works, the result is meaningful and effective collaboration, says Piršelová.

The Institute for Circular Economy and The Union of towns and cities of Slovakia studied the needs and difficulties of cities in promoting sustainable measures. Veronika Hagovská from the Institute says that the most common problem of cities is mainly financial. Next were complicated procedural, administrative and legislative tasks. The third important area mentioned was the lack of human and professional resources.

Sustainability solutions often require experts who are lacking in the cities. Also financing is a problem. Some cities cannot afford solutions due to the lack of finances in their budget. These kinds of problems were mentioned frequently. If there are experts in Slovakia, their financing is unaffordable for many municipalities. The state could make it easier for towns. That is, either within the education system or by providing experts in the field of sustainability. It is also important to train experts in circular economy issues. A more efficient financing system is also essential. At the same time, simplifying administrative tasks and the use of various funds, grants and subsidies would also be of a help to the cities, believes Hagovská.

One of the ways of being more eco-friendly is a circular economy. Today, most of the world's economies are linear. They are characterised by the extraction of natural resources, production, distribution and over-consumption. Within this economic model we also have a large amount of waste, which is mostly not perceived as a resource.

On the contrary, the circular economy is about conserving resources, using renewable energy, renting, sharing, supporting local trade or eco-innovation. Eco-design is also important in this model. Products are designed to be easier to dismantle. So that we can reuse the parts.

Veronika Hagovská thinks society's transition to a circular economy is inevitable.

The current linear economic model is unsustainable. We use a lot of natural resources. In most economies, we rely mainly on primary resources. These are not infinite. They should be there for future generations. We see the circular economy as one of the tools to deal with the crises we face. Whether in regards to the climate, biodiversity and pollution or the lack of resources which will be the crisis in the future.

Experts at the Institute for Circular Economy believe Slovakia has the potential to have as many sustainable cities as possible. In collaboration with the Union of towns and cities of Slovakia, they propose a series of measures. Drinking fountains in public places, water troughs for animals and rainwater harvesting are some of them. Food banks should try to prevent wasting food along with promoting regional products in the farmers´ or local markets. Creating shaded areas by planting trees could also help.

The level of sustainability in Slovak towns does not meet European standards. Nevertheless, municipalities take steps to change the situation and educate citizens on the need of changing attitude. The September survey in 2023 shows that persistence in pursuing sustainable solutions is inevitable. In the sphere of cooperation, financing, HR and of support to experts.

Patrícia Arpášová, Photo: TASR

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