LONDON, April 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Hanna
Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the mayor of Warsaw, introduced bus lanes on
one of the city's main arteries to cut travel times by public
transport and to encourage more people to use it, not everybody
in the Polish capital was impressed.
"There was a lot of opposition," Gronkiewicz-Waltz said.
"It's not easy to convince people to use public transport if
driving a car is still quite an entrenched habit."
Eight years later, Warsaw's residents - or Varsovians - have
not only got used to bus lanes but thanks to the city's growing
network of bike lanes they can now also cycle around town using
one of the 4,500 municipal bicycles available for hire.
Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who took office in 2006 as the first
woman to hold the position, says she wants to tackle Warsaw's
pollution and make Poland's capital and largest city
climate-friendly as a legacy for future generations.
"Everybody wants to live in a healthy environment,"
Gronkiewicz-Waltz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an
interview in Polish. "In my case it's also about my daughter and
grandchildren - they are an additional motivation."
Around the world, cities are increasingly at the forefront
of action to curb climate change. Some have set ambitious
emissions reduction goals, while others have pushed ahead with
policies despite national-level foot dragging.
And increasingly, many of the cities leading on climate
change – Paris, Washington, Sydney, Cape Town – are run by
In two years, the number of women leading large cities that
are at the forefront of climate action has risen from four to
16, according to the C40 Cities network of more than 80 cities
committed to addressing climate change.
But while Gronkiewicz-Waltz sometimes has to tell her
husband off for not sorting rubbish properly, she doesn't think
women are better climate defenders than men.
"I don't want to sound sexist," she said. "Perhaps women pay
more attention to green areas and cleanliness but men are
REVOLUTION OF THE MINDSETS
Changes happening in Warsaw are perhaps most visible on the
banks of the Vistula, Poland's biggest river.
One of is shores has been returned back to its natural
state, allowing Varsovians to relax on a sandy beach, cycle,
walk along its leafy banks and even enjoy cross-country skiing
in the winter.
"It's like being on holiday," said Gronkiewicz-Waltz.
Following upgrading work, the city's wastewater plant now
generates nearly 50 percent of its power onsite, while later
this year Varsovians will be able to test a new car sharing
scheme - another initiative aimed at making the capital's air
Gronkiewicz-Waltz said many investments towards a greener
environment in Warsaw have been possible thanks to funding from
the European Union.
"Modernising old trams, SKM (rapid city trains) would
certainly have been impossible without EU funds," said
Gronkiewicz-Waltz, a former central bank head.
She said while changing mindsets and cutting planet-warming
emissions in coal-dependent Poland was a struggle, the country
had emerged as a pioneer in the battle against climate change,
in part thanks to support from young people.
"The difficulties were in changing some attitudes such as
that a car is cool or that smog is not really all that harmful.
Even the health minister was surprised that we should be
fighting smog," Gronkiewicz-Waltz said in a phone interview.
"But now I think we are pioneers and climate conscience in
Poland is maybe even stronger than in some Western countries,"
"All this was perhaps a bit of a revolution in our
civilisation, and maybe because of that it wasn't easy, but
we've done it."
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis @magdalenamis1; Editing by Ros
Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)