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Only with courageous decisions can we improve our climate footprint

Mayor of San Sebastian Eneko Goia on the climate strategy of the city, the Basque culture, talent retention and sustainable tourism
  • November 28, 2019 11:30
  • Author Aseniya Dimitrova
Medium eneko goia 06
Source: San Sebastian Local Council

San Sebastian or Donostia is a city and municipality in Spain, in the Basque autonomous community. It is a centre of the Basque language Euskara. Eneko Goia has been the mayor of the city since 2015. He has a degree in Law and Diploma in European Community Law.

Mr Goia, how would you describe your city of Donostia or San Sebastian to our audience?

San Sebastian is a city of human scale. Its 187,000 inhabitants make it a medium-sized city, so its geographical and physical configuration, in addition to its high quality of life and environment make it a truly pleasant city to live in. It has a per capita income of € 41,000, and an unemployment rate of 8%, the lowest in the Basque provincial capitals.

San Sebastian is a city that faces the sea, with a bay and internationally known urban beaches, which has made it a preferred tourist destination in spring and especially in summer.

The city's gastronomic offer attracts many foodies, but to this we must add a great quality of life and a really interesting cultural proposal: in 2016 San Sebastian was the European Capital of Culture. Last year, the Council of Europe awarded us the Europe Prize for the dissemination of European values.

San Sebastian Aerial
Aerial view over the beautiful Basque city San Sebastian. Source: Eneko Goia

You want to encourage the use of Basque language in the local administration and provide opportunities to the residents to learn and get familiar with the culture. What specific measures are previewed in this direction?

San Sebastian is the city of the Basque language, Euskara. It is the city where a greater number of people who speak the Basque language reside. Approximately two-thirds of the population speak or are able to understand Basque. Our commitment in the promotion of the language is total: all communications from the City Council to citizens are in two languages - Basque language and Spanish. In this sense, the freedom of citizens to use any of the two official languages is guaranteed. The challenge now is to extend not only knowledge, but also encourage the daily use.

Would you elaborate on the main measures to develop new talent and retain young people in the city, such as the Talent Return Program? How do you intend to mobilize the ageing population?

For years, San Sebastian has been making strategic bets for research-related activities and high-skilled sectors. It is the best policy to retain existing talent in the city and attract new values. Around 5,000 people currently work in knowledge activities. We have a technology park with advanced companies and four university campuses. In addition, there is an experience that we are very proud of: the Talent House, a residence for foreign researchers, which has been a resounding success. Many people choose San Sebastian in their professional development to find comfortable living conditions and a specific service to stay for a while in our city.

The economic development of San Sebastian is a major pillar of your governance program. Would you explain more about the Digital Trade program aimed to support the digitization of the business sector?

The digital revolution is what our industrial revolution meant at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. We are committed to creating the conditions so that all sectors do not miss this train and can take advantage of the opportunities that open up. Recently, we have promoted alongside the regional government of Gipuzkoa the creation of a Cybersecurity Center in San Sebastian which will offer advanced security services for the private sector.

Another initiative promoted jointly by the institutions is the creation of a digitalization laboratory for the gastronomic sector, a thriving area in San Sebastian where we want to be pioneers, be at the forefront of the world.

A main task for the years to come is to stimulate the start-up culture and encourage innovative business projects. How do you intend to do this and what are the priority areas you target?

Gastronomy, electromobility and culture are three of the emerging sectors in which San Sebastian can play a leading role.

Our city boasts the Basque Culinary Centre, the first university in the world linked to the gastronomic sector.

Similarly, our strategic bets focus on the biosanitary sector, electromobility and nanosciences. San Sebastián has a very advanced research environment, with concrete business projects such as Graphenea, a company that produces graphene and is a world leader in this area.

San Sebastian is particularly active in the implementation of Smart City projects. Could you share what smart city initiatives are to be seen in the near future?

We will promote a smart electric bus line with advanced traffic management systems.

We also have experiences of Smart success in street lighting, with an adaptation of this lighting to the flow of people, which saves many costs.

We are also promoting the installation of digital water meters throughout the city, in order to reduce water consumption.

What does the new tourism governance model that you are trying to promote consist of? What aspects of the tourism potential of the city would you like to emphasize? 

Recently, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has recognized San Sebastián's tourism strategy with the Sustainable Tourism Award. For years, we are committed to a strategy that prioritizes the quality of the destination over the number of people.

We believe that the boom experienced by tourism is economically beneficial, but we believe that it also has risks because it can harm the quality of life of citizens. Therefore, it is necessary to regulate some aspects so that growth does not harm the local way of life.

Therefore, San Sebastian decided to regulate tourist apartments in the city, establish a series of limits and prevent the opening of new flats in saturated areas, such as the Old City. We have also introduced legislation that prevents the acquisition of entire buildings to be converted to hotels.

The key is to combine the wealth of tourism with the quality of life of the destination, maintaining a balance, although it is not always easy.

Finally, you are aiming to develop a climate strategy until 2050. What main challenges justify this document and when should it be completed?

Our Klima 2050 strategy seeks to prepare the city for the challenges of Climate Change, and at the same time make decisions for the consequences that this may have on the city.

Being a coastal city, San Sebastian suffers a lot from maritime storms, which sometimes have a serious fallout on our city.

A clear objective is to put the means to reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, and that goes through a reduction in the use of private vehicles. We want to improve the underground train line through San Sebastian, right now under construction, to reduce the arrival of cars to the city centre.

We are also working on the design of traffic reduction measures in the city centre, and the improvement of the public transport system, including the introduction of electric buses. We also aim to  increase  bicycle use, which in San Sebastian is very high.

Only with courageous decisions can we improve our climate footprint.

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