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Mediation: Helio Anjos (City of Lisbon, Portugal)


Chris Castro (City of Orlando, USA)

Flavia Maia (Obama Fellow)

Gisela Provasi (C40 Cities)

Rodrigo Perpétuo (ICLEI South America)

Lesson: Cities have an important role in leading the climate crisis. We are often focussing on the risks posed upon the city by the adverse effects of climate change, but it is important to also take into account all the solutions that we already developed. Put differently, we should not focus on the restrictions, but on the opportunities!

The moderator of this panel was Hélio Anjos, who has more than 12 years of experience working for the Municipality of Lisbon through a range of different positions. Hélio currently works as a Senior Advisor, and is involved in the areas of sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship. Hélio is leading the conversation with Chris Castro, Flavia Maia, Gisela Provasi and Rodrigo Perpétuo. This specific panel will be about resilient cities, which are “cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social & institutional). Resilient cities promote sustainable development, well-being and inclusive growth” (OECD, 2020). Hélio adds to this definition that cities nowadays also need to be resilient against pandemics. Successful cities will be the ones that are willing and pro-actively trying to adapt.

The first one to speak is Chris Castro from the City of Orlando, a fast-growing city well-known for its amusement parks (e.g. Walt Disney) and sports. Chris is the Director of Sustainability and Resilience and also the Co-Chair of the Future-Ready Initiative and is an award-winning sustainability professional, clean energy enthusiast and eco-entrepreneur. Chris is a second-generation Cuban-American, he grew up in Miami (Florida), surrounded by nature. His parents owned a small family business, a palm tree nursery, so he was already involved in growing trees as a child. One of his special passions is to create smart, resilient cities in balance with nature, which brings us back to his work for the City of Orlando. Orlando is one of the fastest growing cities in America, more than a thousand people a week are moving to the city, which has not stopped during the Covid-19 crisis. The city is also the most visited destination over the course of the last 5 years. Last year, the city had 75 million visitors, which is almost 200.000 people per day. Orlando is a vibrant and young community, and the future of Orlando has yet to be written.

The city has the ambition to become a model city of the future! Chris’ personal journey as a youth climate leader began in 2006, when he got accepted for a scholarship to the University of Central Florida (UCF). During his studies, Chris got inspired by students that were leading conversations with their universities to make them commit to carbon neutrality. He assembled a group of friends and peers and started a campaign to make UCF commit to carbon neutrality. After passing a student referendum and engaging the board of trustees, the UCF (University of Central Florida) committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. At that time, he saw the opportunity to create an organisation, which is called ‘’IDEAS For Us’. The idea was to engage an interdisciplinary group of students and develop and implement solutions that would move the needle on their climate commitment. The organisation had practical steps, such as a dorm room energy competition, public recycling, on-campus gardens and even installing solar panels! The idea became to create a sustainable and interdisciplinary consulting firm, which quickly got the attention of other universities. In 2012 he was selected by the United Nations as a Youth Delegate for Rio+20, the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in 1992. Here, he was able to engage in this high-level negotiations on sustainable development and climate over a 2-week period. That experience was a huge milestone in his life. When he came back from this trip, the ideas of the organization started to grow internationally. Today, IDEAS For Us has helped 200 communities across 35 countries with the implementation of the SDG’s with branches as far as Africa and South-East Asia. The transition to a clean and renewable energy future has become one of Chris’ greatest passions, there are so many different ways and topics that we can engage in to move humanity forward to the right direction. As a student, he got selected for a 2-year work-study at the U.S Department of Energy in Washington D.C. Chris explains that it became really clear to him that this transition has many benefits, such as through the creation of new jobs, new economic investment, and through solving the climate crisis. After this opportunity in Washington, Chris opened his own clean energy consulting firm called ‘Citizen Company’, using both his knowledge of UCF and the Department of Energy to help private businesses and building owners to retrofit facilities and incorporate energy efficiency measures and renewable energies.

After this, Chris had the chance to meet the Mayor of Orlando, who wanted to make Orlando a model city for sustainability in the future. Since 2014, he has been working to transform Orlando into one of the most environmentally friendly, socially equitable and economically vibrant communities in the country. Within their program called ‘Green Works Orlando’, they focus on these 7 key focus areas: Green buildings, zero waste, clean energy, local food system clean water, transportation, balance with natural systems and ecology. Because of this, Orlando has within a relatively short period of time become one of the frontrunners in America! The 2 projects in particular that he wants to talk about are ‘Fleet Farming’ and ‘Floating Solar’. The first project is an initiative through changing the Local Food System Policy, which enabled people to grow food on their own property, for example through the transformation of front lawns and rooftops into edible gardens. This spurred the creation of an enterprise called ‘Fleet Farming’, which turns neighbourhoods into ‘agrihoods’ through the creation of micro farms on people’s lawns to meet their local food demands. The second application is called ‘Floating Solar’, which is an innovative application of solar technology that floats on water bodies!

The second is to speak is Flávia Maia, she is an Obama Fellow of the Obama Foundation. This organization has the mission to inspire, empower and people to connect people to change their world. Flávia is from Teresina (Brazil), a city located in one of the poorest regions of Brazil. The city has more than 1 million inhabitants, almost 25% of the people live in some sort of social and economic vulnerability. For Flávia it is really clear that the environmental and the social vulnerability overlap each other. In Brazil they even have a word for it: “Socioambiental”, to indicate the intricate relationship between the social dimension and the environmental dimension. It is important to understand that the warmer parts of the planet will also suffer the most from the adverse effects of climate change. We need to carefully determine the climate hotspots. It will be important to find the other places like Teresina that require special attention. Flávia invested a lot of time in understanding the dynamics of the city, in order to increase its resiliency. Based on this, the city was able to create a strategy to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) for the year 2030. This strategy focussed on climate action, sustainable development and gender equality (the social dimension). According to Flávia, special attention needs to be paid to the gender gap, as it is omnipresent in society (e.g. payments, employment and jobs). To overcome this gap, Teresina created a project called ‘Women for Climate’. They put together a lot of different people, such as professionals, NGO’s and part of the public and private sector to understand the vulnerability of specific groups of women to the adverse effects of climate change. The goal of this project is to improve their situation and to empower them so they can act as agents of change. It is important to not only look at them for their vulnerability, but also for their potential. Flavia likes to see projects through the lens of relationships: How can we improve our relationships and build a better future together? Flávia also stresses the importance of cities, since there are not only many impacts of climate change on the city, but also many solutions. We should see the city as a space in which we can test these solutions! Especially important is to think long-term. We are constantly putting out fires (emergencies that pop up), but we need to use our imagination and knowledge to change things for the better in the future. We need to create a new mindset, we are not planning the city for the upcoming 4 years, but for at least 10 more years. We are trapped in an unsustainable model of urbanism, but according to Flávia, we are able to reverse it through changing our behaviour. It’s all about how we are willing to live: Our individual choice has a collective impact. As a young climate leader, it is important to understand that every change starts with a change in someone’s mind. If we are planning a city, we need to understand what people want to do and what kind of city they want to live in. In Teresina for example, Flávia helped to develop the Territorial Development Plan, through the use of the public opinion. Examples of questions that she asked to local people for example: ‘Are you willing to live close to a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?’, or ‘Are you willing to change your house for an apartment?’. Through questions like these, we can think of solutions that everyone embraces. Another important step towards an equitable and sustainable city was the inventory of the greenhouse gas emissions, which is essential to measure the impact of a city. We need to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), so we need to know where we are right now. Other examples include opening up the ‘black boxes’ of information to the general public and using blockchain to improve bus performance. Flávia ends her part with a quote of one of her favourite poets who has a poem about commitment:

Be bold in your ambition plans in your plans for the climate. Boldness has genius power and magic in it!”

The third speaker is Rodrigo Perpétuo, who works for ICLEI South America. This is a global network of more than 1,750 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development, with the World Secretariat located in Bonn (Germany). The goal is to represent local governments towards both the Global Climate Agenda and the Biodiversity Agenda through fostering international cooperation between cities or regions. Together with national governments and local actors, ICLEI draws cooperation projects and helps to implement these projects in the territory. ICLEI is especially involved in the resilience topic, as climate change will not only impact cities, but every part of human society in the future. The World Economic Forum pointed out that the most important risks for financial investments are currently climate risks. As already pointed out by Flávia before too, it is important to not only think about the risks, but also about the opportunities that are present in cities. ICLEI is helping local governments to focus on both the risks and the opportunities. In practice, this means that the projects are trying to reduce the vulnerability to climate change, while at the same trying to ‘grab’ opportunities, such as the energy transition. As Rodrigo finished early, Hélio decided to ask about where to look for jobs in the sustainability sector, as there are so many websites nowadays. Rodrigo advises everyone interested in a ‘green’ job to look at specific parts of websites from specific institutions, such as the European Union, The Development Bank, and also YouthClimateLeaders (YCL).

The last one to speak is Gisela Provasi from C40 Cities, a network of the world’s megacities to address climate change. Gisela was one of the first YCL fellows, she participated in the immersion that took place in 2018, which started in Paris and ended in Kenya. At that time, Gisela was living in Paris and just finished her Master’s and her contract at the city hall. She went through the ‘application burn out’, she knew that she wanted to work in the climate sector, but she was not quite sure where and how to find a job in this sector. The YCL Immersion proved to be really helpful because she came in touch with people from different backgrounds and different careers, which made her look inside her own mind to find out what kind of job she would like to do. Around the same time, Gisela got the opportunity to work for C40 Cities as a Project Officer for Sustainable Waste Systems and quickly grew into the position of Programme Officer of Climate Action Implementation. The goal of C40 Cities is to connect cities, to exchange knowledge and provide project development support (with all actions based on facts and research). C40 Cities has an extensive knowledge hub (‘The C40 Knowledge Hub’), with cutting-edge insights and practical resources from leading climate cities. The knowledge hub shows the important role of cities in fighting climate change and how they are leading the way in climate action through committing themselves to ambitious goals. Examples of things you can find in the knowledge hub are case studies, tools for emission inventories and calculations of co-benefits. These last ones are especially important, since we are trying to find a way to not only adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, but also to create more jobs, improve our economy, and reduce emissions. The knowledge hub is accessible after registration, you can find the hub HERE.

See the record of the talk here:


About the Day of the Climate Professional:

The Day of the Climate Professional (DCP), celebrated on November 24, is an annual date to celebrate and catalyse the professionals accelerating solutions to the climate crisis. The 2020 inaugural edition was marked by an all-day virtual summit—networking activities, workshops, keynote presentations, interactive Q&As, and more—fostering reflections and actions on the interdisciplinary of climate change, its urgency, and the importance of working to tackle it through varied professions and sectors of society. Learn More.



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