Barcelona Goes Green To Deal With Climate Change Impacts

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Travel is a wonderful teacher. It opens us up to new ways of thinking about the norms of our local communities back home. We see different approaches to daily life, including strategies to adapt to climate change and its consequences. So a trip to Barcelona seemed like a good idea to check out clean energy applications in a sprawling European city.

From simple people- and battery-powered commutes to major social justice-based climate action, Barcelona — like so many urban cities — is attempting to tackle the climate crisis on the individual as well as systemic level. Progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve the intensity needed to meet zero emissions life.

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What a Waiter!

On our first day in Barcelona on La Rambla, we found a nice sit-down restaurant featuring Mediterranean specialties — caprese salad, Andalusian gazpacho, risotto with mushrooms, and — of course — pizza. When it was time for the food to be delivered from the kitchen, I was surprised to see that a robot was our server!

With a chipper, slightly immature voice, it expressed, “Enjoy your meal!” then swiveled toward the kitchen. The built-in touchscreen had a stylized face on it, which made the robot’s human-ness additionally entertaining. It offered other people standing in the aisle a quick greeting of “I’m behind you” to avoid collisions.

It turns out that these robots are more common in Europe than in the US, and several models and features are available. Since a restaurant robot like this can interact through voice commands and include voice recognition features, certain greetings can be pre-programmed.  Robots for restaurants can take guests’ orders. They can show video  and provide a messaging and gaming platform. The check can be paid using the robot’s NFC Contactless features. Guests can fill out satisfaction surveys through the robots after their meal. The robots can spot VIP guests at the door due to built-in facial recognition capacity, which can also help with occupancy control requirements when RFID tags are added.

Robots are increasingly being used by businesses to drive sustainability and safety as well as efficiency. This restaurant robot in Barcelona functioned seamlessly in the background, allowing the employees to focus on their own equally important, specific roles. It was an example of driving innovation while augmenting human capabilities.

The Barcelona Bike Bus

Friday is a special day for kids in the Eixample area of Barcelona. That’s the day the bicibús travels down Entença Street toward its 3 schools. Although it’s a heavy commuter road that sees about 20,000 vehicles pass through daily, kids bike to school together there, safe in a group.

The bicibús starts off with just a few students and parents, with more and more joining as it travels along. In sum, more than a hundred kids and parents hop on their bikes and pedal down the middle of the street. Police vehicles escort the group, with officers traveling before, in the midst of, and behind the riders.

“It all started with a group of 5 families, a lot of determination, and a deep sense of the greater good,” Mireia Boix, a parent who rides with her 5-year-old son, told NPR. The fun expanded quickly, with more and more families in the area using the growing popularity of the bike commute to build community as they joined together for a safer, more environmentally friendly way for their kids to get to school.

Now parents in the community are advocating for a school-friendly bike lane that is segregated from the main traffic. Other neighborhoods in Barcelona have created their own versions of the bicibús, too.  “We have all felt emotional in one of the rides at some point,” Boix admitted. “It is a group of people convinced that things can be done a bit differently, that we are not asking for something strange or impossible.”

Parents in Glasgow, New York, and San Francisco have been in touch with the Spanish bike commuters to learn how to create their own versions of the bicycle parade.

In Barcelona, E-Bikes are Everywhere

A lot of bicyclists in Barcelona are visitors and residents wanting to move throughout areas of the city without dealing with limited car parking. But the surge of e-bikes in the city is also related to how last mile deliveries are transitioning to e-bikes and other small EVs.

The city has contributed a €‎600,000 grant for exploring a range of new concepts to reduce urban delivery impacts. These initiatives include creating micro-distribution hubs for last mile delivery and the funding of cargo bikes. As ICLEI explains, the concept is simple: vans from logistic operators leave packages in a micro-distribution center right at the edge of the city center, where e-bikes take over the last mile fulfillment within the city core. This effort reduces pollution and congestion by reducing the number of heavy vehicles traveling into the city center as well as promoting cycling.

According to Cycle Logistics, 50% of all motorized trips in European cities related to transport of goods could be shifted to bikes or cargo bikes. Last mile delivery is one of the most expensive and highest polluting elements of the supply chain,and shifting to cargo bikes can help solve these issues. It also promotes workers’ health via cycling versus the stress of driving a big van through congested streets.

Using cargo bikes for delivery has gained momentum in many European cities like Barcelona that have high density, narrow streets, restriction of trucks and vans in certain areas, and congestion — all of which make parking difficult. E-bikes can navigate the city with more flexibility as well as contribute to the achievement of climate goals.

The Barcelona Low Emission Zone

The Barcelona Low Emission Zone was introduced in 2020 to reduce the adverse effects of vehicle emissions on the health of Barcelona residents. The designation of the Barcelona Ring Roads Low Emission Zone is a measure to improve the quality of the air and to promote other ways of getting around the city, which guarantee safe, sustainable, equitable, efficient mobility. More than 200 European cities now have defined protection zones where measures to safeguard people’s health are implemented.

Access to the Barcelona Low Emission Zone is restricted from Monday to Friday between 7 am and 8 pm. During this time, vehicles entering the area must have an environmental label issued by the DGT (Dirección General Tráfico). Owners of foreign-registered vehicles must register their vehicle with the ATM before arrival.

Final Thoughts About Barcelona & Its Climate Crisis Measures

With 1.6 million inhabitants, Barcelona experiences several climate change impacts that are common to the whole Mediterranean region.

  • Rising temperatures and heatwaves are expected to affect people’s health.
  • Reduced water availability means less potable water.
  • Drought and increased flooding due to irregular and torrential rain will become more prevalent.
  • Beaches are shrinking due to sea level rise.

In addition, Barcelona is struggling with socio-economic challenges, such as environmental injustice related to climate challenges, poor air quality, and food insecurity. A report in Climate Adapt describes how the overall climate impact is expected to be large, given the city’s high population density. Increasing the city’s green infrastructure, which comprises public and private green areas and trees, beyond its current 35% of city land is aligned with the Barcelona Nature Plan 2030.

Trees and green areas temper the climate conditions and prevent local flooding. The aim of the city administration is to increase the connectivity between single green areas and between urbanized and green areas. Then again, such improvements, which increase the attractiveness of residential areas, can easily translate into rising housing prices and rents, forcing less well-off inhabitants to leave their neighborhoods.

The city of Barcelona is undertaking measures to keep housing prices low and prevent such effects of green gentrification, in order to green Barcelona in a socially just way.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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