“For a city, sustainable development should always be subject to the test of whether key aspects of our daily lives and the urban systems within which they play out can be continued indefinitely into the future from a social, environmental and economic perspective”

(Pearson, Newton and Roberts, 2014. Resilient Sustainable Cities. A future. Routledge. p.3)

Urban Development & the Environment

In 2007, for the first time in history, a majority of the world’s population lived in cities. The United Nations has estimated that urban populations will almost double by 2050. The world’s cities already consume between 60% and 80% of energy production worldwide and account for approximately two thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions. 

If cities are to continue to grow and thrive then they need to tackle water and energy use, waste management, traffic congestion and air quality. Adopting sustainability practices is central to urban vitality and to making cities desirable places for both businesses and residents. 

Many sustainability initiatives provide health benefits, economic benefits and improve quality of life. For example, provision of better pedestrian walkways, cycle lanes and improved public transport can reduce noise and air pollution and provide opportunities for exercise and social interaction. Investment in green spaces can reduce the heat island effect, improve air and water quality and provide a safe and welcoming environment for residents and visitors to enjoy, providing social and mental health benefits. 

Clean air and water, green spaces and infrastructure, and the resiliency to deal with climate impacts are now considered central features of attractive, economically viable cities.

Planning for Biodiversity

Protecting and restoring wildlife habitat in cities is a vital component of wildlife conservation and there are lots of reasons to support urban biodiversity. On a purely practical level, these plants and animals provide valuable ecosystem services such as control of pests and the processing of air and water pollution. They also provide recreational, aesthetic and spiritual value to the city’s residents and visitors. 

Much of the world lives in cities or on the fringes of development.  In these heavily modified landscapes, it can be challenging for people to experience more pristine ecosystems. Public parks and open spaces not only support habitat connectivity within ecological landscapes and serve as a refuge for species impacted by urbanisation, but also expose people to nature in their own backyards, potentially broadening support for conservation on a much larger scale.

The Department of the Environment & Climate Change has been encouraging greater planning for biodiversity through development and planning process. Conditions for inclusion of swift and bird boxes, bat boxes and green roofs where appropriate are now practically standard for new developments and major refurbishments. 

The Urban Wildlife Conservation Guide provides detailed guidance and advice to those looking to improve the biodiversity of their urban developments.

These fast moving, sickle-shaped birds, signal the start of the spring and are a characteristic feature of the spring and summer skies of Gibraltar. Swifts fly all the way down to tropical Africa and back every single year, and once they leave the nest as youngsters are known to spend several years continuously on the wing. Two species of swifts have historically nested in built-up areas in Gibraltar; the Common swift characterised by its dark, almost black colour and the Pallid swift, which is paler brown. Older buildings in Gibraltar were constructed using traditional methods, leaving gaps under the eaves and gables. These have long been used by swifts for nesting. However, modern building styles and techniques have had an adverse effect on the local swift population by decreasing the habitat that these birds use for nesting. Government is placing nests around Gibraltar and it is the policy of the Development and Planning Commission to require the installation of swift nests in all new construction. There is a third species, the larger and much rarer Alpine swift, which nests in crags on the east side of the Rock.

Planning for Sustainable Mobility

Traffic is generally acknowledged to be one of Gibraltar’s longest standing problems, with levels affected on a daily basis by the large influx of commuter, tourist and commercial vehicles crossing the frontier. As a result, like many other urban areas, Gibraltar suffers from regular traffic congestion and the adverse effects this has on the economy, the environment and the city’s overall image. Local air quality is a particular cause for concern.

Historically, traffic problems in Gibraltar have been tackled by building more infrastructure for cars – more roads and more parking spaces. Experience shows us that in the long term these ‘solutions’ are in fact temporary reprieves as road users eventually modify their behavior to fill all the available space.

Tackling Gibraltar’s traffic problems requires thinking about our transport system in a more holistic manner. The real purpose of ‘transportation’ or ‘mobility’ is to gain access to destinations, activities, services and goods. 

HM Government of Gibraltar published its Sustainable Traffic, Transport and Parking Plan in February 2017.

Gibraltar’s future transport system will be one in which users are able to
move around in a safe, reliable and sustainable manner increasing its
attractiveness as a place to live, work, visit and do business.
There will be a real choice to meet travel needs with good access to
employment, health, education, retail and leisure. This will encourage more
sustainable travel behaviour.
Sustainable modes of travel will be developed in order to minimise adverse
impacts on the environment and promote healthier lifestyles.

STTPP, 2017

Key initiatives include:

  • Launch of the Bus Tracker Web App and real time information at bus stops
  • Launch of the Redibike Scheme
  • Roll out of residential parking schemes
  • Introduction of pay parking in key locations
  • Creation of cycle networks
  • Improved pedestrian walkways
  • Roll out of electric vehicle charging points
  • Electric Vehicles
    • Electric vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions, reduce our dependency on oil and are cheaper to operate. In terms of upfront costs, electric cars are still clearly more expensive than conventional ones but you can take advantage of the cash-back scheme which gives purchasers of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles £1000 upon registration. 
      Some drivers worry about the battery running out but most mass market electric cars today have a range of 160 – 240 km before the battery runs flat. Some of the top end cars, such as Tesla’s electric sports cars, can run for over 500km before needing a plug socket. It might not sound like much compared to the mileage that a petrol or diesel car can manage before refilling but it is ample for all journeys in Gibraltar and even nearby Spain. If you do need to go further, then a plug-in hybrid might be the solution – these use a petrol engine to run the electric motor after the battery runs out.

You can find the full STTPP and supporting documents below:

Sustainable Traffic, Transport and Parking Plan – Main Document

STTPP Appendices

STTPP Implementation Concepts

STTPP Implementation Concepts Appendices

Sustainable Buildings

Construction can impact the environment in numerous ways, including emissions to air, land contamination, noise pollution, waste disposal and discharges to water.  Buildings are responsible for more than 40% of global energy use and 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Our built environment and its interactions with the natural environment are complex and have a huge impact on the world around us.  

Buildings are long-lived, and cities have even longer lives. A large part of building sustainably is concerned with addressing emissions that are driving climate change, using energy conservation and techniques such as life-cycle assessment to maintain a balance between capital cost and long-term asset value.  It is also about enhancing biodiversity, creating spaces that are healthy, economically viable and sensitive to social needs.

Reducing the energy demand from buildings has been a key focus of the Department’s work since the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates in 2012. All buildings now require an EPC upon sale or rental and new buildings as well as major refurbishments have to meet minimum energy performance standards in order to obtain their Certificate of Fitness. This is resulting in an increase in the installation of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels on rooftops across Gibraltar. You can find out more about these technologies here.