Ricardo Rio - Mayor of Europe - July 2022Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga, image: Municipality of Braga

In 2021, Braga had already achieved
70% of the 2030 Agenda

Ricardo Rio was born in 1972 in Braga. He graduated in Economics from the Faculty of Economics of Porto. He also completed the Advanced Course in Political Studies at the Institute of Political Studies at the Catholic University of Lisbon.

Ricardo Rio is the Mayor of Braga since 2013. Before that, he was an alderman at the Braga City Council and a member of the Braga Municipal Assembly. He is a member of the Executive Committee of EUROCITIES and of the Global Parliament of Mayors, a member of the Committee of the Regions, among others. He is one of the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth.

Sustainability in Braga

Mr Rio, you’re one of the prominent advocates of sustainable development in Portugal. How has Braga changed in this regard since you’ve stepped in as a mayor?

The city of Braga has been a pioneer in the implementation of the United Nations Agenda 2030, but also in the engagement with other national and international organizations. Since the launch of the SDG in 2015, the Municipality has aligned its activities and viewed this agenda as an opportunity for the city. These solutions can be observed with several sectoral action plans implemented that corresponded to a specific SDG.

Braga was among the first Portuguese cities to cooperate with Catholic University of Portugal (CESOP-LOCAL unit) to implement the Municipal Sustainability Index in 2018. This index, pioneering in Portugal and Europe, allowed the identification of 97 indicators related to 61 SDG targets, the degree of implementation and the evaluation of the performance of its policies. In 2021, this project demonstrated that Braga had already achieved 70% of the 2030 Agenda.

Can you describe the model for sustainable development of Braga in more detail?

It soon became apparent that for the SDGs to be successful, the actions must be holistic, transversal and inclusive to all sectors of municipal activity.

In this way, the holistic and integrated model for Sustainable Development of Braga was created being defined in 3 important steps:

  • Stakeholder Engagement: This process is related to listening to the thematic priorities and SDGs in view of the strategy defined by the Municipality. This engagement involved most citizens, associations, representatives of local governments, business sectors, institutions of higher education and education. In this way, the stakeholder engagement process is intended to be a multi-stakeholder methodology, continuous over time and collaborative;
  • Annual Sustainability Report: Reference document for the performance and the direction that the Municipality is following in the achievement of the SDGs. This document is also intended to be a reflection of the control systems aligned with the strategy that the Municipality has defined for the municipality;
  • Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development 2030: in collaboration with the University of Minho, a set of multidisciplinary and intersectoral teams is being developed that will define strategic initiatives to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that in 2021 we had two important recognitions regarding the implementation of policies related to the SDGs.

Firstly, at the national level, where in addition to the Municipality having been awarded the Green Flag, an award from the Associação Bandeira Azuis Europa, it was identified as one of the top three municipalities in the country in the category of Sustainable Development.

Secondly, internationally, with the inclusion of the Carbon Disclocure Project - list A, ranking the city of Braga in the best cities in the world with regard to the implementation of sustainability policies, namely policies to adaptation to climate change.

And, with humility, I would like to mention that I was awarded the ‘World Mayor for Sustainability’ attributed by the City Mayors Foundation in 2021.

You’ve said that ‘transformation’ is a keyword when it comes to European sustainability. How has Braga integrated the SDGs from a policy point of view?

As I said previously, it soon became apparent that for the SDGs to be successful, action must be holistic, transversal and inclusive to all sectors of municipal activity.

The efforts of local government, the private sector, universities, civil society and ordinary citizens should be coordinated and engaging. Bringing diverse groups together on sectoral plans for a global agenda was a difficult task, especially when they work in isolation. Even so, Braga, as a local government, has responsibility and is well placed to help guide public understanding of the complex sustainability challenges presented in the SDGs.

Thus, in 2019 the Municipality decides to put in practice the respective political framework in the planning of policies that support the achievement of the SDGs in the municipality based on the design, implementation, monitoring and review of the strategic initiatives for this achievement. To this end, this approach can be divided into 3 arms, namely:

  • Creation of the Sustainable Development Political Field: placing the SDGs achievement at the top of decision level;
  • Creation of a Strategy, Innovation and Sustainability Unit: a body within the municipal structure, under the responsibility of the presidency, with exclusive obligations in the coordination of policies for the implementation of the SDGs and the respective performance evaluation;
  • Signing of a Protocol with the University of Minho to support the creation of the strategy for Sustainable Development 2030

What is the state of the circular economy in Braga? What exciting news do you have on this transformational front in 2022?

Waste management in the city is under the umbrella of the municipal company AGERE, which has been joining efforts to expand its activities in this area. For example, it was central to extending the life cycle of bio-waste through the development of an integrated and circular approach for its sustainable management.

In the more global context of the Circular Economy, we intend, in partnership with the other local stakeholders, to assess the level of circularity of the flow of waste produced in the municipality. For the development of projects of this kind, the Municipality tries to apply the general principles to any plan or project, that is, articulating together with the other sectors and specialists in the area by involving technicians from the areas of the sectors.

We believe that circular metrics are an asset to capitalize on the circular economy and, at the same time, accelerate the transition. Therefore, the development of circularity through the sharing of new strategies and the search for more effective solutions is our top priority.

We envision that a common language is adopted, mainly for comparative terms, but also as a way of measuring progress between sectors with completely different activities.

Braga recently hosted Greenfest – the largest sustainability event in Portugal. What are your main takeaways from this year’s edition?

Greenfest is a long-standing partnership with the private sector to promote sustainability. This is very important for us because it puts people and projects in contact and it creates synergies, partnerships, collaboration possibilities and even new projects are born.

I would say that the Greenfest is an inclusive and plural forum where good practices are shared and an attempt is made, through example, to inspire more people, companies and the municipality to act and change their behaviours.

This year was marked by the return of the event to its natural form being once again possible to carry out in-person activities in the post-pandemic period. This alone would be the best takeaway.

What’s more, in this edition, a very important topic for the cities of the future was discussed: Natured-Based Solutions. I believe these solutions can help cities, and in this case the city of Braga, to face urgent and fundamental environmental challenges, bringing ecosystem services back to the urban environment and rebalancing the relationship between cities and the surrounding areas.

You’re an energetic participant in national and international events promoting sustainability. Can you tell us more about the goals of the newest format, which the City of Braga co-founded on 20 May – the ‘Adapt.local Association – Network of Municipalities for Local Adaptation to Climate Change’?

As a response to the pressing challenges that the world faces, Braga has made the most diverse efforts to devise strategies for adapting to climate change. This is an issue that we regard as an absolute priority and it is essential to act quickly and effectively to avoid, in the near future, serious problems that put communities at risk.

This is especially so because Portugal is a country that will have to prepare to face the consequences of climate change, especially due to excessive precipitation and higher temperatures. The planning, identification and prevention of inherent risks is, therefore, a work that assumes special importance in order to safeguard and be prepared to face this type of scenario.

The Municipality of Braga has been a partner of this national network since 2016, having already implemented a large part of its Strategy for adapting to climate change. With this new format, I believe that the conditions will be met to reinforce the objective of boosting local adaptation to climate change in Portugal.

It will help promoting continuous planning processes that accompany the increase in the capacity of Portuguese municipalities and other entities - public or private - to incorporate this matter in their action policies and planning instruments.

Time is extremely valuable and it is necessary to act in a concrete and effective way as quickly as possible, defining policies that contribute to better being able to deal with the current course at the environmental level.

Thank you very much!

More sustsinability projects from Braga: