"Think globally, act locally" is what Barcelona’s Agenda 21 hopes to accomplish by keeping its proposals realistic and its goals attainable. The project aims to enforce new ecologically-friendly measures and to increase awareness of environmental issues for the 21st century. It is the result of four years of hard work and research on the part of the Ajuntament’s Council for the Environment and Sustainability (Consell Municipal de Medi Ambient i Sostenibilitat).
On July 9th, 2002 the Citizens’ Commitment to Sustainability detailing 10 ecological goals to be achieved by 2012, was approved. Agenda 21 has grown steadily over the last five years and now has support from over 420 organisations. Among these are universities, businesses, trade unions, local schools and government organisations. Collective action is the key force behind the project: “The basic principle that is central to Agenda 21 is that of ‘collective responsibility’ (responsabilidad compartida),” explained Marta Cuixart, Technical Secretary of Agenda 21. “We want to encourage a collective approach to confronting environmental issues; a democratic approach to working together.
“As an individual you can make a contribution, as a collective even more so, but ultimately the real change will come from businesses choosing a more ecologically-friendly path.”
Acció 21, the active corporate voice of Agenda 21, was created to rise to this challenge. The Municipal Council for the Environment and Sustainability works together with local and regional businesses to encourage them to adopt more sustainable methods. Urbaser, one of 77 private companies to have joined Acció 21 so far, has invested more than €11,000 in a pilot study to convert from using diesel to biodiesel in its residual waste collection vehicles.
Ana Palau, Manager of Commercial Waste at Urbaser, explained what Agenda 21 has meant for the company and its 1,000 employees. “Externally, it has increased the company’s prestige; internally, it has increased the employees’ awareness of environmental issues.”
Essentially, corporate initiatives will be the most influential factors for change, said Marta Cuixart, who stressed that she was not belittling the importance of individual action. “Every little bit counts; riding your bike to work, planting trees to offset your carbon out-put,” she said, while admitting that the lifestyle of a consumer-driven society can affect individual ecological action.
“We are constantly bombarded with information that goes completely against the principles of sustainability.” This is, she added, why education at all levels is at the core of the debate on sustainability. Agenda 21 Escolar facilitates ecological projects in schools and helps to raise children’s awareness about the local environment and the planet as a whole.
Educational measures do not stop there though. Research centres, free courses, conferences and seminars are being held all over the city in order to educate adults, students and businesses on new technologies or ecological methods that can be adapted to their own circumstances.
Agenda 21 avoids getting caught up in the swarm of media hype, where terms such as ‘climate crisis’ are heard to the point of saturation. By primarily focusing on local action in order to contribute towards a global context, the project reaches out to a more receptive public. “People are keen to tackle local issues and contribute to local initiatives, where they can see the real benefits,” said Cuixart.
So much for the local aspects of the sustainability plan, but 2007 is also projected as the year when Agenda 21’s projects in the city contribute to the health of the planet as a whole. “We have started 2007 with broader aims, that is to place as much importance on global action as on local action.”
That sort of agenda will certainly keep them busy.