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Alpine Town of the Year Association: “No town can afford to ignore climate change mitigation”

Mar 29, 2011 / CIPRA Internationale Alpenschutzkommission
Hubert Buhl talks about towns that are pioneering climate change mitigation, environmental role models, and an award capable of changing entire communities.
Hubert Buhl
Image caption:
Hubert Buhl © Madeleine Rohrer / CIPRA International
You are the mayor of the German town of Sonthofen, which was voted Alpine Town of the Year in 2005, and now also President of the Association itself – what are your plans?
We want to strengthen co-operation between towns. We also want to improve synergies with other organisations managed by CIPRA, for instance the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities. We want to bring about a situation where every town is able to use the positive and negative experiences of other towns to make better progress.

You want to get towns to implement the Alpine Convention’s objectives. What does that entail?
In some cases the Alpine Convention is virtually unknown in the countries in which it has acquired legal force, let alone a practical reality. To raise the public’s awareness of it, we have already organised two conferences with the Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention, and both were well attended. What I find encouraging is that the Alpine towns in our network are taking on a pioneering role in implementing the Convention. In Sonthofen for instance it is an integral part of the town’s core image.

Homes are responsible for one third of total CO2 emissions. What can towns contribute to climate change mitigation?
A great deal. Most of the population in the Alps now lives in towns and cities. So with more people now living closer together, it is easier to improve energy efficiency, for example by using district heating from renewable sources. Many communities also support energy-saving renovation measures for buildings.

Bolzano, which is also a member of your Association, aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030. How can you persuade other towns to pursue similarly ambitious objectives?
I know of a number of towns that are currently having some very intensive discussions about the idea of a carbon-neutral status. The topic itself is a focal point of the Association’s activities over the next few years. We want to use Bolzano’s important groundwork and adapt its programmes so that other towns are in turn able to adapt them to their own requirements.

You work together with 13 quite dissimilar towns from seven countries involving four languages. That all sounds rather complicated.
When people genuinely want to work together, then obstacles such as these are easily overcome. What’s important is what we have in common, the fact that all these towns are situated in the Alps and face similar problems. What’s more, we have the support of CIPRA, which is our executive office – a precious mediator and bridge builder in every respect.

Why should a community compete for the title of Alpine Town of the Year?
The title clearly signals that the town in question is a forward-thinking one, one that proactively tackles environmental issues. It can certainly be a plus point when it comes to location marketing, highlighting its strengths in terms of business and living environment. Even today my town still benefits from the award. Sonthofen was in a difficult economic situation at the time. The title contributed to a spirit of optimism that helped us out of the trough.


The Alpine towns as the driving force behind energy-efficient construction
Economic, environmental and social demands are not mutually exclusive. Since 1997 towns in the Alpine region that implement all three of these aspects of sustainability in an exemplary manner, in keeping with the Alpine Convention, are awarded the title of Alpine Town of the Year by an international jury. The award-winning towns work together as part of an association whose executive office is managed by CIPRA. As part of a climalp field trip in April 2010, the Alpine Towns visited award-winning energy-efficient buildings in Bolzano, among others, and in so doing exchanged knowledge and experiences.

Source: Annual report 2010 CIPRA International