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How Slovenia is assuming the lead on environmental action in Europe

Ljubljana, the country’s capital city, has been car-free for well over a decade. Given the initiative’s success, will it be long before other nations follow suit?

With COP 26 just days away, heads of state, diplomats, and activists are gearing up to discuss how we’re going to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

During this crucial moment for efforts to address the threats of climate change – as scientists say nations must make an immediate, sharp pivot away from fossil fuels if we seek to avoid the most catastrophic of consequences – a range of ambitious targets are expected to be laid out.

One being UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that governments should abandon the use of internal combustion engines and transition to electric vehicles.

But what if we took a leaf out of Slovenia’s book and prohibited them altogether? At least that’s what its capital city Ljubljana did in 2008, a car-free zone for well over a decade now.

Sustainable tourism in Ljubljana » Visit Ljubljana

Part of an exceedingly thorough set of proposals (dubbed Vision 2025) for a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable metropolis, the aim was to give more space to pedestrians and safeguard our planet’s future in the process.

So far, results have included a 70% drop in CO2 emissions, the development of more than 542 square metres of natural land and revitalisation of river banks, numerous trees planted, as well as the title of Europe’s green capital.

‘It’s been a decade now and none of us can really imagine cars ever staging a comeback to the city centre,’ says Saša Poljak Istenič, an academic who’s written several papers on the impact of pedestrianisation on Ljubljana.

‘In short, it has drastically improved the standard of living.’

Yet has this impressive outcome been emulated across the continent, as was the initial hope going forward? To an extent.

In 2011, the Spanish city of Pontevedra published a schematic map showing tourists and residents alike the distance between points of interest on foot, encouraging them to walk rather than drive. This was swiftly adopted by Poznan, Toulouse, and Zaragoza.

Pre-pandemic, Oslo replaced 700 parking spots with bike lanes, plants, and small playgrounds.

And in September, Parisians took to the street to celebrate the seventh iteration of ‘Paris Breathes Without Cars,’ a scheme that transforms both the Place de L’Etoile and Avenue des Champs-Elysées into no-go areas for vehicles from 11am-6pm one Sunday every month.

Paris introduces once a month ban on cars in bid to tackle air pollution | The Independent | The Independent

‘Transport is the fastest growing source of fossil fuel CO2 emissions, the largest contributor to climate change,’ says head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit, Rob de Jong.

‘Most cities have been designed around mobility for cars, and it is high time we change this and start designing cities around human mobility.’

While it remains to be seen whether or not car-owning city dwellers around the world will take note and start reassessing the necessity of their automobiles, Ljubljana’s example would certainly be worth following if we’re to reach net-zero by 2050.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that everyone attending COP26 will bear this in mind because our Earth, quite frankly, depends on it.


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