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Moving towards sustainable cities

Former City of Paris chief delegate for the ecological transition and resilience, Sébastien Maire is now Chief delegate of the association France Ville Durable (Sustainable City by France).

You talk about the urgency of adopting adaptation strategies in the face of climate change. Does this mean that reducing our footprint is obsolete?

S.M. At COP21 in 2015, when the subject of climate change really came to the public’s attention, the goal was merely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is now known that, without relaxing our efforts on emission reduction, there is also a need to adapt quickly and in depth, as in all cases the effects of the Anthropocene will have consequences that must be pre-empted.

Our model must, therefore, urgently be made compatible with current issues, notably by ensuring that it respects the “environmental ceiling” theorised by Kate Raworth, made up of nine limited and interdependent fields (the water cycle, biodiversity, air pollution, etc.) without weakening social foundations, i.e. our achievements in terms of education, equality, health, access to food, etc.


"Solutions already exist to move towards sustainable regions."

Sébastien Maire
Chief delegate of the association France Ville Durable (Sustainable City by France)

If the challenge is to speed up adaptation, what should cities and regions be doing?

S.M. They should activate the levers we have identified in our manifesto(1), starting with reduced consumption. This represents a major paradigm shift, as it is about doing less but better, or even not doing it at all if it is not a priority. But it is a very effective solution, which costs nothing but generates savings, and with immediate effect! Secondly, they should transform themselves to limit their vulnerability in the face of this rapidly changing world: that is resilience. For all aspects of the region, the challenge is to change operations to make them less prone to the consequences of crises. To put it simply, in the field of flood risk for example, we must move from a philosophy of building ever-higher dykes to one of accepting the presence of water: then, we make the infrastructure resilient.

There is also the lever of inclusion, both social and democratic. Because there can be no ecological transformation if the most vulnerable are left by the wayside. Hence, social justice must be central to the efforts made. Everyone must get round the table to devise solutions specific to each region. The original spirit of the Citizens Convention for Climate, in which people are trained to be able to think about solutions, is a very good starting point. Finally, the fourth lever is creativity, which involves collective intelligence and technological discernment to avoid re-inventing the wheel, or chasing after innovation when it is not necessary. Above all, to move fast and implement solutions quickly.

(1) Reduced consumption, inclusion, resilience and creativity: The fundamentals of a city that cares, Sustainable City by France (ITALIC)

Are there any examples of successful acceleration?

S.M. The Argentan urban area, which had the courage to make reduced consumption a goal. Among its actions, there are very simple examples, such as turning off streetlights at night, or more complex ones, such as consolidating two schools in an existing building, which avoided the construction of a new one.

Another example is the Les Noés eco-village built by Philippe Madec in Val-de-Reuil, in Normandy. 120 homes were made entirely with bio-sourced materials; they are passive buildings heated by a wood-fired boiler, and their residents say they are very happy. Reduced consumption does not mean giving things up. On the contrary, it is usually synonymous with improving the quality of life.

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