The debate was coordinated by Emmanuelle BASTIDE, journalist at RFI. The speakers were Séverine BOURGEOIS, Deputy Director, Center for Studies and Expertise on Risks, Environment, Mobility, and Urban and Country Planning (CEREMA) ; Gaël GIRAUD, Chief Economist, Agence Française de Développement, specialist in the energy transition ; Daniel PAEZ, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, University of Los Andes, Bogota (Colombia) ; Oscar DAZA, Director of Sectoral Studies, City of Bogota Secretariat of Mobility.
Cities account for some 75% of CO2 emissions due to energy consumption, which makes them key actors in the energy transition: in the fight against climate change “networks such as C40, which includes the world’s 40 largest megacities, are almost as important as the G20” (G. Giraud). However, to measure the environmental impacts, it is necessary to have tools that can assist elected officials in their decision-making. They allow urban projects to be analyzed by combining both social and ecological criteria. But their technicality must not ultimately replace policymaking.
Tools that allow several dimensions to be coordinated
While cities can “have an influence on some 25% of emissions” of greenhouse gases, for many elected officials from local authorities, the implementation of the energy transition at urban level is far from being obvious: “Most [of them] do not consider reducing GHG emissions as a priority”. They assert rather the objective of “offering their residents quality public services and fighting against inequalities”.
While “the two objectives often go hand in hand” (G. Giraud), in reality, they are all too often separated: for example, Bogota is “an ideal city from an environmental perspective”, but “the lack of balance between the social and environmental dimensions” limits the quality of life of its residents. Hence the interest of the work conducted by the academics of the Sur Group: they have built a model that makes it possible “to provide information at various stages of the planning process” by coordinating “the social and environmental factors” (D. Paez).
The software of the Centre for Studies and Expertise on Risks, Environment, Mobility, and Urban and Country planning (CEREMA) is used to “question political choices” (S. Bourgeois), by analyzing hypotheses for urban development in terms of the energy issue. For example, in the territory of Valenciennois, the tool developed has allowed a selection criterion to be added to decide between two urban planning strategies: either a policy to extend the city towards peri-urban areas, or, conversely, the densification of the city center.
Ethics of experts
However, to be effective, the tools designed by experts must be implemented methodically. The expert’s role “is not to propose policies” (D. Paez), but to provide “decision-making support” (S. Bourgeois). This sometimes requires showing patience. In Bogota, “[as] the relations between the Mayor and the Council are very bad”, it took four years for the tool developed by Sur Group to be accepted. There would have been no point in trying to bulldoze through: “It is above all necessary to respect the political process”, otherwise “there will be no result” (D. Paez).
Another essential factor for local authorities to effectively take ownership of a tool is its accessibility. Since “failures can often be put down to the fact that politicians do not believe in [a] tool”, Sur Group “decided to opt for simplicity: easy access, simple processes that give comprehensive results” (Daniel Paez). The flexibility of the tool is also a strong point: “It is important to know how to calibrate [it] for each territory” (O. Daza).
It is subsequently up to the experts to capitalize on experiences by discussing the tools: “Tools used in Bogota can sometimes prove to be extremely interesting in a territory with different characteristics” (S. Bourgeois).
Role of elected officials: Take responsibility for the decisions made
Elected officials, for their part, must use the tools to “find the strength to take decisions” (O. Daza) which will only have a visible impact in the long term. For example, “in Melun, in Seine-et-Marne, […] the extension of the areas that the municipality wanted to urbanize was adjusted downwards because it became aware of the emissions that this would cause” (S. Bourgeois). Even if it would sometimes be “more comfortable” to leave the experts “to come up with a unique solution to all problems”, this would be tantamount to “a political abdication” precisely where it is necessary to demonstrate courage. The provisional nature of the electoral mandate is not a sufficient argument: “On the core issues, as citizens, we are able to have the same idea every five years” (G. Giraud).
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