LOCAL AGENDA 21 THE RIO+10 INTERVIEW EMILIO D'ALESSIO
At the time of this video interview, Emilio D'Alessio was Deputy Mayor of Ancona, an Italian seaport on the Adriatic coast which had analysed its own ecological footprint as part of its Local Agenda 21 process, and which formed an international bio-regional Local Agenda 21 network of cities around the Adriatic sea. (For more on Agenda 21, see our interview with Kaarin Taipale.)
Emilio d'Alessio subsequently became President of Local Agenda 21 Italian Association, and a supporter of Place on Earth, and a member of the UNEP-MAP Group of Experts which produced the Mediterranean Sustainable Development Strategy 2016-2025. He describes himself as an Italian architect, sustainable development expert, farmer, networker, music lover and airport lounge addict because he devotes his time to sharing his knowledge and influencing public realm professionals around the world. See his Facebook page and SostenibilItalia blog.
EMILIO D'ALESSIO: Local Agenda 21 is becoming more and more popular among Italian local administrations, as well as in my town, Ancona, which is is a central eastern Italian town of about 100,000 people. The step forward has probably been the National Local Agenda 21 Association which was founded three years ago. We were about 40 local authorities, cities, or provinces, and now we are more than 300. They are all working on Local Agenda 21, they are exchanging experiences, they are trying to find a common way to address the problems of implementation of Local Agenda 21 which are I think the main issue: how can we really have an impact on politics and governance?
And how did this translate locally in Ancona?
Ancona started with its environmental report, and the subsequent and final step of the report was the ecological footprint of the city. And now we have the [stakeholders] forum open. This is going quite well; we have about 150 stakeholders constantly present which I think is quite a success. And we have major stakeholders taking part. The forum is divided in five thematic sessions working in parallel, and we hope to end this discussion phase by the beginning of next year, and then having the chance of writing down our action plan to be adopted by the city council.
How easy was it to get the commitment of stakeholder groups to really become involved?
Well the stakeholders probably got involved more than we thought, they had a genuinely enthusiastic approach, probably because, especially in Southern Europe, governance is still very far from reality and there is still what we call the DAD syndrome - which is Decide, Announce and Defend - which is the normal approach to public administration! So when you give people the chance to be part of the process and to be involved from the beginning, it's quite a new thing for us, so we had a very good response!
How many stakeholder groups did you say you have on board?
About 150, which is good because we invited about 400, so this was a very good result!
How did you decide which indicators to measure?
The Agenda 21 process is being led by internal personnel of the city administration. We worked on them, we wanted people to be commited and to follow the process from the beginning. So after completing the initial environmental report, we used the resulting information to choose the indicators from a number of different categories, ending up with a set of about 70 - 80 indicators that we think is a proper amount, not too many, not too little. At the same time we are also involved in the European Common Indicators Project led by the European Union DG Environment, which has adopted a set of 10 basic indicators to be compared among all European cities.
Give me an example of some of the most interesting indicators, the ones which were most useful - which gave you the most surprising information.
Well the set of indicators we use in Ancona is quite different from the norm. We are a medium small town, but we are also the capital of our region, so we have a role which is probably higher and bigger than the dimensions of the city would lead one to expect. Plus we have a very big commerical port, and that led us to include a set of indicators about water quality, marine water quality, and all the problems about the freight ships coming and going from the harbour, so this is quite a peculiar set that we had to work on. Also, quite a large portion of the city territory is a National Park - we have a promontory by the sea which is a National Park - so we are taking care of wildlife and biodiversity as well. So we have a really wide range of indicators.
Now tell me about the ecological footprint analysis you did for Ancona.
The footprint study is still quite rarely found in Italy, very few administrations are working on it. But we felt it was a natural step for our envronmental report. Through the report and the results of the report, we deceded to study our ecological footprint which gives an average European result. Of course, we think we can improve the the footprint. But as I often say, Agenda 21 and the ecological footprint are really a self-teaching process: you learn through your errors, you learn by your approximations, and step by step, you can only do better!
What are the most important stakeholder groups you got involved?
Our stakeholders representing many important parts of society. We have for instance the trade unions who are involved, we have the industrial unions who are involved, then of course all the more concerned ecological groups,. and we are tying to push it very much into the public instruction sector - the schools! So we have a plan in effect that we will push forward next school year, trying to get all the levels of public schools more involved. We already have many teachers and directors and school district people on it, but we want to have more. Actually our next step will be a sectorial project devoted to the youth, that we are going to call Local Agenda Under 21!
What about the business community, the construction firms, architects, real estate developers and so on? Was it difficult to get them interested? Did they see this as a threat?
Professional bodies like architects, engineers, geological bodies and building entrepreneurs or industry see this as a very good opportunity, because through our good tradition of urban planning they have a chance to be a part of the choices of the administration in this sector, which I think are crucial for sustainable development! And so, good governance on urban plan and land use are something new. So these professional bodies and private sector stakeholders are very glad to be part of the process and to decide with us about the future choices for the city.
Do you have any comments you want to share with the world about sustainability, 10 years after Rio?
Yes. We really feel, as we said in our Local Governance section here in Johannesburg, that we have to move from agenda to action! This is the mandate of local authorities, this is the priority for the cities. And we know that the action is important and can be carried out best if the city, if the local authorities act together, if they have an alliance, if they have networks, if they work exchanging their experiences. This has been a major help for us and we really do believe in this! And being a city facing the Adriatic sea and having on the other side many countries that just recently got a democratic approach, we are trying to put up a network of cities of both sides of the Adriatic, together with the states of the former Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece, to help them build up an Adriatic Agenda 21.