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Meeting with Sébastien Maire, Chief Officer for Ecological Transition and Resilience at the Paris City Hall

This edition of Urban Chronicles™ focuses on the resilience strategy of the Paris City Hall. We interviewed Sébastien Maire, General Delegate for Ecological Transition and Resilience at the Paris City Hall. With Sébastien Maire, we discussed how does the City of Paris addresses climate risk and what are the objectives that the City of Paris wishes to achieve in terms of climate resilience.Green Soluce: What is your mission as General Delegate for Ecological Transition and Resilience at the Paris City Hall?

Sébastien Maire: My role at the Paris City Hall is to coordinate, at the level of the General Secretariat of the City, the implementation of the resilience strategy, the Territorial Climate-Air-Energy Plan (PCAET) and the Circular Economy Plan. I coordinate as well the policies related to air quality, and a long-term program, “Volunteers of Paris”, to further engage the citizens to act on the ecological and social transition topics.

My role is transversal and aims to strengthen the coordination between municipal departments and external partners, in order to go further than the traditional administrative processes on such topics (the environment, social issues, urban planning, transport, etc.)
The ecological transition should not be considered as just another policy, but should guide the activity of all sectors. In this regard, the City of Paris, which is well ahead of the curve on these subjects, by changing its administrative organisation accordingly.

Green Soluce: How do you define resilience?

Sébastien Maire: Resilience is defined as the ability of the entire territory in its plurality of actors to continue to function and develop independently of the major shocks it may face (pandemic, terrorist attacks, floods, heat waves…) and by reducing chronic stresses that prevent the proper functioning of the territory (pollution, social inequality, air quality…).

Resilience must therefore address these two issues at the same time (shocks and stress) by developing a holistic and systemic approach to territorial policies. This is not new in Paris, since the Paris motto used since the 16th century “Fluctuat nec mergitur” is a perfect definition of resilience. This notion, which is once again becoming topical, illustrates the reawakening of awareness of our vulnerabilities after half a century of technological euphoria.

Green Soluce: What are the priority issues for the City of Paris in the face of climate risk and how do you address them?

Sébastien Maire: The interest of resilience is not only about the climate and its connection to other issues, but if we focus closely there are two imperatives: mitigation and adaptation. As far as mitigation is concerned, the City of Paris has been very committed for a long time and it is constantly reducing its own emissions while encouraging residents and economic actors to do the same. The municipality can only influence 20% of the emissions of the Parisian territory, the rest being the responsibility of other public actors, thus the civil society and the private sphere must urgently take up on these issues.

But today, reducing carbon emissions remains essential, and we know that we will face the effects of climate change, therefore it is urgent to prepare for and adapt.

One of the major challenges for a city like Paris is heat waves. The figures speak for themselves: when, today, there are only 1 to 2 days of heat waves in Paris per year, there will be more than 30 days of heat waves in 2100, with temperatures that will reach 55 degrees in the shade by 2050. Under these conditions, a summer like the one in 2003 will be considered a “cool” summer, with the consequences we know on the most fragile populations, and on the quality of life.

It is therefore necessary to rethink, in-depth, the development of the city to make it fresher by creating islands of freshness, by greening it, by rethinking the place of water, by changing our modes and building materials, by flowering, etc…

Green Soluce: Do you think that resilience can become a new indicator to guide financing for ecological and social transition, in the same way that we talk about green, social or sustainable investment?

Sébastien Maire: The resilient approach is not a new layer in the stacking of transversal plans of organisations, it aims on the contrary to better articulate them, in a search for efficiency, because they are all interdependent. Resilience is no longer a matter of planning, but rather a process that makes ecological and social transition possible in a more systemic way of seeing the issues, building and implementing public or territorial policies.

Over the past few years, local authorities have been developing numerous plans and thematic strategies in the field of ecological and social transition, each with its own specific set of actions: climate plan, fight against exclusion, circular economy, sustainable food, biodiversity, etc. The remaining step is to move beyond the specific actions attached to each plan so that all community actions of any kind systematically meet the objectives of all these plans. We must get the climate out of the climate domain, for example! The resilient approach allows for a new way of designing public policies. The City of Paris is a pioneer on this issue and has just been selected as the winner of a European LIFE program to develop a roadmap for Paris’ adaptation to climate change by setting up indicators to integrate resilience into 100% of projects, particularly in terms of budgetary procedures, calls for tenders and public procurement, etc.

Green Soluce: The City of Paris is part of the international network 100 Resilient Cities. Which cities have inspired you particularly in terms of adaptation and resilience to climate risk?

Sébastien Maire: This international network is very rich and inspires us a lot for our projects.

Rotterdam has inspired us with its development of “water squares” which are public places, places of life, debate, culture and sport all year round, except in the event of heavy rains: they then become rainwater retention basins that relieve the sewerage network, it is very efficient low tech and it avoids spending a lot of money to create specific infrastructures!

Wellington and Christchurch in New Zealand, like Japanese cities, believe that the first response to crises must come from the people, because governments will not be able to do everything, and that we must therefore train and involve the people in these issues. This is a vision that is at the opposite end of the French administrative culture, particularly the state, which considers it too “anxious”. We drew a lot of inspiration from it to create the “Volontaires de Paris” program.

Green Soluce: What are the objectives that the City of Paris wishes to achieve by the end of the year in terms of climate resilience?

Sébastien Maire: The prism of resilience implies thinking both in the very short term (the heat waves of the coming summer) and in the medium and long term. For example, the City’s new Climate Plan provides for two stages: first objectives, very ambitious, for 2030; and a trajectory that will have to be even more ambitious between 2030 and 2050 if we want to respect the Paris agreements.

I could mention a project that covers the 3 time-scales: the transformation of Paris’ school and college grounds into an oasis of freshness and social cohesion.

They represent more than 70 hectares and are distributed in a dense and homogeneous way over the territory. However, these asphalted and impermeable spaces contribute massively to the urban heat island effect, do nothing to help us better manage rainwater, and are closed to the public, even outside school hours or periods. While schoolyard renovation has so far consisted solely of depositing and resurfacing asphalt, it has become a lever to meet many public policy objectives at the same time. Replacement of asphalted surfaces with innovative, light and permeable materials, creation of open ground areas, reinforcement of vegetation (trees, walls and roofs, gardens and educational vegetable gardens), shade creation, installation of fountains and water games.

The projects are co-designed with the educational communities and in particular with children who benefit from workshops to raise awareness of the climate issue. While the primary objective is to offer them better educational conditions, this project also aims to create in the long term hundreds of islands of ultra-proximity freshness, which can welcome vulnerable people outside school hours during heat waves, and more generally be open to associations and local residents at weekends and during the holidays to offer new places to meet and socialize, in a very dense city that is sorely lacking. A single project, a single process, a single budget, a single deadline, and multiple objectives pursued, where we have gone out of the usual “silos design process”. This is the whole point of this integrated approach.

First OASIS course for the Charles Hermite nursery school in the 18th arrondissement of Paris (Credits: Henri Garat/Paris City Hall)

After the first 3 courses delivered in 2018, 30 new OASIS school and college courses will be delivered next academic year, with the objective of having converted all of them by 2040. In 2019, we will also deliver a first “resilient street”, designed according to the same logic, which can be applied to all infrastructures.

Interview by Constance Flachaire and Pierre Rostan for Urban Chronicles™

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Green SoluceMeeting with Sébastien Maire, Chief Officer for Ecological Transition and Resilience at the Paris City Hall
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