Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam, Netherlands, since 2009
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Mayor of Rotterdam (Netherlands)
Nominated by Jeroen, outside The Netherlands:
Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has been on the frontline fighting the virus in the city, he even contracted it himself. Rotterdam has a high rate of infected people because it is the main working city in the country and a city with a lot of high buildings forcing people in elevators, however as the second biggest city compaired with others Rotterdam is doing quite well.
Since Aboutaleb has become the mayor Rotterdam has seen a lot of new construction like the Markthal puting the city on the map in the country itself and beond. He managed to make the city safer and strongen and with the new construction also kept an eye on keeping the city green and where possible making it greener.
Ahmed Aboutaleb is on his way to a record. The longest-serving mayor of Rotterdam. He wants it, the city council wants it too. Undisputed, incorruptible, tireless, with a heart for the city and with a clear vision. Under his care, Rotterdam has flourished, crime has fallen and self-confidence has grown. He stood upright in all administrative storms. A great achievement in one of the toughest cities in the Netherlands. Should he say goodbye now, he will receive a statue. But he continues.
Only once before did a mayor in Rotterdam start a third term; Bram Peper. He soon exchanged the chain of office for a ministerial post and the rest is history. Ultimately, the man was rehabilitated for the receipt affair, but the fact remains that the once celebrated Peper made few friends in his last years as mayor and a culture had emerged in the town hall where critical questions were not appreciated.
Ahmed Aboutaleb is also a person who cannot tolerate criticism. He has trouble with views other than his. A conversation with him usually results in a lecture. Whether it concerns crime, the energy transition, urban development, water management, poetry or honey, the mayor understands it and likes to teach about it.
Left and right
In the council chamber he navigates with ease between left and right politicians. He is completely in his element between entrepreneurs, people who know how to tackle things. If he listens, it is to them. He visits employer breakfasts and multinational drinks so often and he likes to lead trade missions so much. His links with fossil multinationals such as Shell and oil states in the Middle East may be very warm for someone determined to bring Rotterdam into the next century.
Aboutaleb is fast becoming a legend, and the only one who can prevent that is Aboutaleb.
Residents are hardly working on it, while the city council has ambitious and expensive plans for the energy transition of Rotterdam. Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb: "If we want to win economically, we have to lead the way."
The jacket is off and he immediately starts talking about his working visit to the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia last month. In the city of Bottrop, people from the municipality go from door to door to explain how residents can provide their homes with solar panels and a heat pump and for what price, including subsidy schemes and payback time. Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has allocated an hour to present his vision on the green future of Rotterdam. As it goes in Bottrop, he also wants to approach it in Rotterdam. "We really need to win the hearts and minds of our citizens." Because, he realizes, the man in the street is hardly involved with the energy transition.
That is a problem, because the consequences for the inhabitants are major. The ambitious plans of the city council hit everyone in the wallet, if politicians and the business community do not help. And everyone has to participate. Aboutaleb himself, an electrical engineer by nature, therefore leaves no opportunity to preach the green future of the city. With the appointment of Arno Bonte, Rotterdam even has an alderman for energy transition since Thursday.
But what exactly does this billion dollar operation mean for the man in the street? Work, says Aboutaleb. "It's about jobs," the mayor summarizes his own argument about what he calls "the most important development for the Rotterdam region in the coming years". Installing solar panels on a massive scale, insulating houses, installing water pumps and installing heat networks "requires a lot of hands". He goes even further. The application of new energy sources attracts new, innovative companies to the city and thus even more employment. "A city with clean air is also the place where people want to live."
A city with clean air is also the place where people want to live
The sooner Rotterdam switches to green energy and embraces the new economy ('telecommunications, internet of things, 3D printing'), the more the city benefits from it, he says. He draws a comparison with another, major economic development: globalization. „Much of the world has benefited from this. On average, this has yielded people 2000 euros. Average! There are also losers. They live in the countries that did not participate. We must participate and lead the way. We have to sit with the winners. ''
At Aboutaleb, the energy transition is about economics. He is emphatically not talking about the climate and the environment. "Of course, energy transition is also about the environment." But the environmental argument, he says, "is not always well understood." The Paris Climate Agreement, which stipulates that emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2 must be halved in twelve years and even reduced by 2050, is 'certainly necessary', he says. „But the whole discussion about CO2 has turned into a matter of faith. Well, of course everyone can think their own way. But if we link the energy transition to the new labor market, we will have a completely different conversation. For a working city like Rotterdam, the energy transition is an enormous source of employment. And all that installation and insulation is not high-tech work, is it? It is just technology, level mbo-3 and mbo-4. I think it was the big boss of the American tech company General Electric, who was here about seven year!
s ago, who said, "Mayor, this is the way. Don't hesitate. Otherwise you will lose the game '. I have remembered his words. ''
And now the man in the street must have solar panels on his roof, purchase a solar water heater and a connection to the industrial heating network. Otherwise he will be one of the losers. "Everyone has to participate."
He knows what he is asking. „After I bought my house in Rotterdam, I had to insulate the roof, insulate the floor, adjust the windows, et cetera. I noticed that immediately in my utility bill. ‰„ He's easy to talk to about his mayor's salary, he says. „The energy transition is also a social issue because of the costs it entails. One person is willing to pay 11,000 euros, which is generally the cost of making a house energy neutral. Others will say 'I just don't have it'. We will have to make agreements about this. Energy transition should not only depend on those who can afford it.
His solution: "Equalization mechanisms." Anyone who cannot bear the costs should get help. „That can be done with taxes or subsidies, of course, as we now know them. I give up for every better idea. In any case, the bill for the energy transition may not be deposited with the Rotterdammer. ''
The largest home owners are the housing corporations in the city. They want to convert their stock, but will have to borrow a lot of money to do so, which means that rents have to be increased considerably. Aboutaleb does not want that, because 'for many Rotterdam residents a ten euro rent increase is already too much'. "I can imagine that we will meet with corporations, looking for ways of financing so that rents do not rise."
I can imagine that we, with corporations, are looking for ways of financing so that rents do not rise
He draws a comparison with the large construction projects in Rotterdam in times of crisis. These were only possible because the municipality helped financially. „The city council was critical, but all those houses have been sold. Nieuw-Crooswijk and the Calypso building. Together with the LSI plan at Central Station, these were the three major projects that the then alderman Hamit Karakus put his shoulders under. Nieuw-Crooswijk turned out well, Calypso too. LSI not. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I think it is very good to consider on a case-by-case basis what is sensible to do. With today's knowledge, a lot more should have been built. ''
The government must take a leading role in the energy transition, he says. „You can expect that with such a large and complicated issue. But 'leading' does not mean 'acting alone'. That's what I like about the approach in Bottrop, where the people of the municipality go from door to door. They tell you that if you participate, what the costs are, the benefits and how quickly the investment is recouped. In addition to their own money and subsidies, the banks can also play a role, for example by co-financing in the mortgage construction. Maybe even with a discount on the mortgage interest. ''
According to studies by the DRIFT institute affiliated with Erasmus University, the conversion of Rotterdam will cost around 11 billion euros until 2050. A lot is already happening, says Aboutaleb. Besides the massive installation of solar panels and the further insulation of houses, he mentions disconnecting the gas connections and smarter use of water. „Everything is bubbling on many fronts. More permits are being issued for locations in the North Sea to generate wind energy. '' The Rotterdam dredging company Van Oord is now not only working on the deepening of waterways, but also on installing those windmills. It is not without merit. ''
The port city of Rotterdam as an environmental oasis, which is driving along the Botlek and Europoort, but difficult to imagine. What about industry, the port of Rotterdam with its five oil refineries and dozens of chemical factories? "If the coal-fired power stations on the Maasvlakte close in twelve years, as the cabinet has decided, there must be another power cable in front of them with alternative energy."
The Rotterdam mayor does not see heavy industry in his city as a problem in the transition plans, but rather as 'part of the solution'. The enormous amount of heat that the factories produce, together with geothermal energy, is, according to him, the alternative to gas from Groningen. Houses whose heating currently runs on Groningen gas will soon be just as comfortable thanks to industrial heat from Rotterdam. "The construction of a heat pipeline from the port into the country is a matter of national importance." He is lobbying Minister Eric Wiebes for it. „He now has his hands full with the handling of Groningen, but I may hope that in The Hague, at the level of the civil service, this heat story will be drawn a little more, so that the minister will work with us and with the energy companies and the port make a decision about the construction.
But in the meantime, large companies such as the Shell and ExxonMobil refineries in the port of Rotterdam continue to run on fossil fuels. Will they ever go along with the new, green economy? „I can only answer that question for Shell, because I have a lot of conversations with Shell. I think Shell is making good steps, but there is still much, much better. The mindset is good. Shell is willing to supply heat to the network for heating residential areas, and is willing to cooperate in the plans to capture CO2. It's not that the heels go in the sand, certainly not. But in the end, the end result counts. And yes, we are not that far yet. Ideally, but that is not tomorrow, the company will derive its income from renewable energy. The question is how long will it take to get there? 40, 50 years. China is still building coal-fired power plants, and the world's largest refineries are now being built in Asia. If you look at the level of the world, there are different relationships !
than if you look at Western Europe. Well, of course we want to be the frontrunner and Shell has explicitly indicated in the last conversation with me that the focus is on Rotterdam to transform the refinery here into a green factory. If an important player like Shell takes that step, it will be the first sheep to cross the dam. Then more will follow.
Challenges: I think a great way to make cities greener is by planting parks on rooftops