When Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the mayor of Warsaw, introduced bus lanes on one of the city’s main arteries to cut travel times by public transport and to encourage more people to use it, not everybody in the Polish capital was impressed.
“There was a lot of opposition,” Gronkiewicz-Waltz said.
“It’s not easy to convince people to use public transport if driving a car is still quite an entrenched habit.”
Eight years later, Warsaw’s residents — or Varsovians — have not only got used to bus lanes but thanks to the city’s growing network of bike lanes they can now also cycle around town using one of the 4,500 municipal bicycles available for hire.
Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who took office in 2006 as the first woman to hold the position, says she wants to tackle Warsaw’s pollution and make Poland’s capital and largest city climate-friendly as a legacy for future generations.
“Everybody wants to live in a healthy environment,” Gronkiewicz-Waltz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in Polish. “In my case it’s also about my daughter and grandchildren – they are an additional motivation.”
Around the world, cities are increasingly at the forefront of action to curb climate change. Some have set ambitious emissions reduction goals, while others have pushed ahead with policies despite national-level foot dragging.
And increasingly, many of the cities leading on climate change – Paris, Washington, Sydney, Cape Town – are run by women.
In two years, the number of women leading large cities that are at the forefront of climate action has risen from four to 16, according to the C40 Cities network of more than 80 cities committed to addressing climate change.
But while Gronkiewicz-Waltz sometimes has to tell her husband off for not sorting rubbish properly, she doesn’t think women are better climate defenders than men.
“I don’t want to sound sexist,” she said. “Perhaps women pay more attention to green areas and cleanliness but men are sensitive, too.”
Changes happening in Warsaw are perhaps most visible on the banks of the Vistula, Poland’s biggest river.
One of its shores has been returned to its natural state, allowing Varsovians to relax on a sandy beach, cycle, walk along its leafy banks and even enjoy cross-country skiing in the winter.