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FEATURE: Quito – a local government at work to achieve climate compatible urban development

Alice Reil, ICLEI European Secretariat, reports from a learning exchange organised by CDKN and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability in Quito, Ecuador in late July. The gathering kicked off a new learning endeavour among the organisations and their partners to understand the success factors for delivering and scaling up climate compatible development from the local level.

Over recent years, the municipality of Quito – the capital of Ecuador – has been very active in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change in the city. The local government has issued a climate change strategy and initiated numerous projects to protect and improve the quality of life of its 2.2 million citizens (of which 38% still live in poverty). Yet, the municipality of Quito is modest and as Veronica Arias, the Council of Quito’s Environment Secretary, remarked: “We are [still an] ‘average city’ in our environmental development. We want to be better [more sustainable] and improve our marks.” With Habitat III on the doorstep, the municipality and citizens of Quito are joining hands and putting even more effort into developing their city in a more climate compatible way.

On a visit to the city last month, participants from the CDKN-ICLEI sub-national learning programme from all around the world were able to witness the diversity of projects the municipality has taken up in close cooperation with citizens, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

Tackling the increased risk of flooding as Quito’s climate changes

As so many cities in emerging countries, Quito has been growing rapidly over the past decades. Many of those who have not been able to catch on to the economic upsurge, live on the outskirts of the city up the steep slopes and ravines. Come strong rainfalls, the ravines turn into fast running, dangerous waterfalls that flush away anything that’s in their way – including settlements. Increasingly erratic down pours – only one side to climate change – will only intensify the risk.

Aware that they should have implemented building restrictions far earlier and more strictly, the municipality is now taking action: clearing ravines of any forms of housing (and supporting families to resettle) is only one strategy. As it is difficult to persuade families to seek safer places for living, those ravines still clear of any sort of obstruction are fenced off, the flanks strengthened and a basin at its foot formed to slow down the amounts of water before they are channelled into the drainage system. As the waste water of the surrounding neighbourhoods also drains into the ravines, the sludge has to be removed regularly. Going about containing the risks posed by the city’s ravines and restoring them is the low-cost way of doing it – and far from perfect as the local technicians will readily acknowledge. Yet, while the city is still working on a system of properly draining and treating its storm and waste water, the people populating the slopes of Quito have to live with this recurring threat.

Linking up green spots across the city for better climate adaptation and mitigation

The municipality has put great efforts into linking up the diverse green spaces across the city and establishing an urban green space network. The network consists of four elements: the green corridors, urban agriculture, sustainable green roofs and buildings as well as the Pichincha volcanic route.

The Rumipampa Archaeological Park, which is smack in the middle of the city, is part of a green corridor. Decades ago this spot was designated to be a major development project. But while assessing the area, remnants of an ancient settlement were discovered. The development project came to a halt and today, Rumipampa is one of eleven heritage parks in Quito.

Not only is the park an excellent example for recovering some of Quito’s natural vegetation (which has been protecting the city’s people from landslides coming down from the very steep hill slopes at whose feet Quito lies). The park is also a public green space with a high biodiversity. But even here climate change is contributing to a change in the vegetation according to one of the caretakers. Invasive grass varieties, for example, are on the increase and may suppress the local species. This is a problem whose implications the park managers will have to consider in the years to come.

Feeding the growing population from within the city

Urban agriculture is another element of the urban green network. The municipality of Quito has been promoting urban agriculture since 2002 – not only as a vehicle for economic development, but also to improve Quito’s food security and quality of nutrition (still more than 46% of children under 5 years of age suffer from malnutrition) and make the food chain more resilient and diverse. Such initiatives also contribute to climate compatible development as they reduce ‘food miles’ by growing and providing food locally – and thus help mitigate effects of a changing climate. In addition, urban agriculture projects indirectly aid climate adaptation by securing green space and minimising the food delivery problems that climate change induced disruption could compound.

Today, there are more than 1,000 urban agriculture projects spread across the city, from small family plots to larger scale neighbourhood and schools gardens. One of these gardens lies in a village at the southern outskirts of Quito. The women have been gardening here for over four years. Not only have they taken part in training courses sponsored and organised by the municipality, local technicians who come every 15 days support them – from giving advice on building green houses, to the right seeds as well as gardening techniques. The technicians also make sure that the farmers adhere to the requirements necessary to obtain the organic certification (DCS) all of the participating projects have. In addition to more and better quality food supplies, the idea behind the municipality’s efforts is also to teach and train the local people in gardening, the preservation of food as well as Strengthening the farmers’ marketing and selling skills

On average over 130,000 tonnes of organic products are harvested each year. As the products are only slightly more expensive than conventional vegetables, but cheaper than organic produce in supermarkets, the farmers are experiencing a growing demand for their vegetables and fruit

Lighting up the old city the energy efficient way

Many tourists come to Quito’s historic city centre to enjoy its renowned architecture, public plazas, hidden away churches and monasteries. To enable the visitors to enjoy Quito’s gems also after darkness – and to help the municipality save energy – the local administration exchanged the conventional street lighting for LED lighting in 2013. Since then they have saved over 1,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. While this turns out to make up for only 1% of Quito’s carbon footprint, it will save the city up to US$ 50 million over the coming years based on the way the investment scheme was designed. Amongst practitioners this is called ‘low hanging fruits’ as the savings from a more energy efficient lighting system can be re-invested into other projects.

The visit to these sites was organised by the Municipality of Quito. It took place during a week-long workshop organised by CDKN, FFLA and ICLEI as part of the second phase of CDKN’s sub-national learning programme on climate compatible development. The participants were practitioners from different CDKN sponsored projects from Latin America, the Caribbean as well as South and Southeast Asia, who came together to exchange experiences on the enablers of climate compatible development across the regions.


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