Within the framework of the EUKI-project Three4Climate, a virtual study tour to Bielefeld and Radolfzell took place from May 4-6, 2021. Originally, representatives of the cities of Braga and Loulé (Portugal) as well as Maribor and Kranj (Slovenia) were supposed to travel to Germany to learn about local climate protection activities on site. As the study tour could not be carried out in person due to the Corona pandemic, the cities took the tour virtually – with videos, expert presentations and live Q&As.
First stop: Bielefeld
On the first day, the study trip took the participants to Bielefeld. Climate protection has played an important role in this city for a long time, which has become even stronger in recent years thanks to the strong civil society engagement of its citizens. For Mayor Pit Clausen, it is certain that climate protection must have an impact on all areas of life if the climate goals are to be achieved.
Climate protection activities in Bielefeld are concentrated in many areas, with a current focus on reducing emissions in the transport sector. A central component of the ongoing strategy is to divide public space more evenly between different traffic participants in order to reduce traffic emissions and increase the quality of life. For this reason, the Jahnplatz as a traffic junction is undergoing a fundamental reconstruction.
In addition to restructuring the infrastructure, the aim is to show citizens alternatives using their car. The Transition Town e.V. association is working on this together with Bielefeld’s environmental department. In cooperation with the city administration, the association has established a free cargo bike rental system. The initiative started in 2016 with one bike, and by summer 2021 there are to be 10 bikes. The rental system is easy to use and the bikes are convenient for shopping at the weekly market, such as the one at Siegfriedplatz, Bielefeld.
With the “Siggi” bicycle rental system, the city of Bielefeld wants to “think ahead” and organize the future of its transportation planning away from the use of cars. The bicycle rental system is part of the efforts to strengthen bicycle traffic and to establish a network of mobility offers. In addition, a hub system has been used in Bielefeld to link everyday and leisure routes. The system, known from the Netherlands, helps to make the chosen route easy to find. As explained by Olaf Lewald, head of the Office of Transportation “The bicycle is to be rediscovered!”.
Next stop: Radolfzell
The study tour then continued 600 km south, stopping in Radolfzell. There, Carolina Groß from Fridays for Future pointed out: “It’s important to see climate protection as a community project and as progress for the city – and to involve citizens in the process.” Radolfzell was already named Germany’s environmental capital in 1989 – climate protection is a tradition at Lake Constance.
With the climate-neutral commercial area Blurado, the city of Radolfzell demonstrated what progress can look like when ecology is combined with economy. The approximately 5-acre business park will provide space for companies selected based on sustainability and other criteria, offering opportunities for both start-ups and established businesses. Frank Perchtold from the economic development department of the city of Radolfzell stressed: “The concept of sustainable business is becoming more and more important. People are enquiring more often on what a company is undertaking in regards to sustainability.” The business park operates in a climate-neutral manner by promoting various technologies simultaneously: In addition to PV energy and a sustainable-strategic building and site design, agrothermics are used, enabling agricultural use of the land as well. The project process and treatment of the land inspired the Three4Cliamte partner municipalities.
With the “10,000 Trees for Radolfzell” project, Radolfzell is setting an example on how the climate crisis and the ecological crisis can be tackled together. Thanks to the exemplary cooperation of a wide range of stakeholders, 10,000 additional trees will be planted over the next few years. The citizens play a decisive role in this: 1,100 trees were planted through the participation of citizens alone and settlement areas were sustainably reforested.
The third day of the study tour took the participants to the Radolfzell district of Liggeringen. The “solar energy village” has rapidly transformed the heat supply to create a local heating network that contributes to the energy transition and that is socially acceptable. Half of all households have been successfully connected to this network. Andreas Reinhardt from the Radolfzell public utility company and local chairman Hermann Leiz pointed out that local and renewable solutions are more cost-effective in the long term and of course more fair in terms of intergenerational justice. To convince the people of Radolfzell of the energy supply, which consists of solar energy (20 %) and biomass from local forests (80 %), they held 150 customer meetings on site and numerous meetings with citizens. The project then gained momentum through word-of-mouth and became a true village community endeavour! Since the infrastructure planning was designed with an eye to the future right from the start, necessary construction measures for the network connection were immediately supplemented with the fiber optic expansion. Today, Liggeringen has already set a new goal: to become the first climate-neutral district by 2025!
Final stop: Climate protection in schools
The last stop of the study trip was dedicated to the topic of climate protection in schools. The participants paid a virtual visit to Bethel High School in Bielefeld, where a successful climate working group and the Bielefeld Climate Week were presented, for which the German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze had assumed patronage. Thanks to the climate working group of Gymnasium Bethel, founded in 2009, sustainability has become part of the school’s mission statement, which can now expand even further though the Three4Climate project. Meret Karenfort (Fridays for Future, Climate Council Bielefeld) and Carolina Groß (Fridays for Future, Youth Community Council Radolfzell) discussed the possibilities for students to influence local climate policy. Despite the fact that the demands of the youth in Radolfzell are already integrated into decision-making within the framework of the Youth Community Council, the influence on local politics is very limited in many places. According to Karentforth and Groß, being taken seriously by local politicians on climate issues remains a challenge. As they emphasized, the young people in Bielefeld and Radolfzell ultimately want to not only protest, but to help shape the future.
The study tour made it clear that good ideas and ambitious actors are needed to drive forward concrete measures and solutions. As Carolina Groß said, “If something can happen at the local level that is so important for climate protection, then it must also be able to work at higher levels.” We can look forward to seeing more local projects within the European exchange and are excited about the next Three4Climate study tour to Portugal, which will take place from June 29 to July 1, 2021.