According to the well-known saying, where there is a will, there should also be a way. But for the city of Solingen, with 165,000 inhabitants and a link between the Rhine and the mountains, the hurdles to sustainability are greater than willingness. Framed by wealthy Düsseldorf, the circular economy center of Wuppertal and the former fair trade town of Remscheid, the municipality is looking for its access to climate neutrality and biodiversity protection. And receives applause from experts in the subject.

Eco-commitment for a long time

Philip Krohn

Editor in business, responsible for “People and Business”.

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    In Solingen, the commitment to ecology goes back a long way. When the motto “Think globally, act locally” was announced in the 1990s after the UN Environmental Summit in Rio de Janeiro, one of the local Agenda 21 groups was formed here to bring it to life. The city, church and civil society cooperated. In the following decade, the city created its own position in the town hall. And when the United Nations defined the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015, the people of Solingen wanted to be the first to implement them locally.

    This is one of the tasks of Ariane Bischoff, who heads the mayor's sustainability and climate protection department with a dozen employees. “The SDGs are a good starting point. “But the goal of becoming a climate-neutral municipality challenges us,” says Bischoff. Currently, inner-city traffic is broken down like this: 60 percent cars, public transport 15 percent, the rest 25 percent. “We want to double the use of public transport, so we have to expand capacity. But even if the offer is kept, the budget is already exhausted. At some point the creativity comes to an end,” she says.

    Chamberlain in need: The money is missing

    Solingen has been in the household security business for decades. The municipal supervisory authority checks the budget; there is a lack of funds for voluntary tasks - if they are not supported by federal or state programs. But they also often require co-financing, which is difficult to raise. The Blade City, as it has been calling itself for two decades, has not only become a transformation community with the change to sustainability; industrial jobs have been lost and have not yet been replaced by services. The chamberlain senses this.

    These are not good conditions for a huge task. We hear again and again that the fight for climate protection will be won in the municipalities. Conflicting interests collide here: with regard to mobility based on fossil fuels, energy and heat production, which is also dependent on coal, oil and gas, and eating habits. Cities and municipalities, co-owners of public utilities, manage real estate portfolios and can plan transport routes sustainably – if money is available.

    “Municipalities have a high potential to contribute to climate protection,” says Lizzi Sieck, research associate at the Federal Environment Agency. She quantified the potential for a study. There are no official statistics on achieved and planned greenhouse gas reductions because climate protection in municipalities is voluntary. There is a reporting standard for municipal accounting systems. But only a fraction of the up to 12,000 municipalities in the country account for emissions.

    The emission leverage is large

    That's why Sieck's team from the Federal Environment Agency identified 38 typical climate protection measures. They then acted as if municipalities were implementing them. This resulted in a static potential of 100 million tons of greenhouse gas equivalents, which municipalities can influence. One seventh of all emissions in the country. If you add the emissions that occur there but fall under the influence of the federal and state governments, the proportion is even larger.