Barcelona (Spain)

Nestled between the mountains and sea, Barcelona is a dense and spirited metropolis.

Spanning 101.4 km2, it is home to more than 1,650,000 residents. It is the capital of the region of Catalonia, and is known throughout the world as a city with a rich artistic and architectural history.

The density and geographic positioning of Barcelona are the primary sources of its sustainability challenges. The city has long occupied all available flat space, therefore leading it to experience spatial constraints. Other challenges include noise pollution, air quality, and waste generation.

Barcelona is tackling these via its Climate Plan 2018-2030. An important element of the plan is its emphasis on social cohesion and participation. More than 1150 organisations have already signed the Citizen Commitment to Sustainability.

Sustainability focus: Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Acknowledging the severity of the climate crisis, the Barcelona City Council introduced its Climate Plan 2018-2030 in October 2018, in collaborative partnership with local organisations. The Plan considers all sectors in the city and their relationships to climate change, including mobility, housing, food, water, health, energy, and biodiversity. This holistic approach is a centrepiece of Barcelona’s climate strategy, as well as a focus on adaptation and resilience. 

Aiming to strengthen and accelerate the Plan further, the city declared a Climate Emergency in January 2020 and introduced a Climate Emergency Declaration. The primary goal of both the Plan and Declaration is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent between 1992 and 2030.

To achieve this goal, the city has committed to investing €563 million over the next five years. These funds will support the implementation of 103 different measures, including the creation of low-emissions zones that are off-limits to polluting vehicles, expanding pedestrian-only zones, and installing additional solar panels on public and private buildings.

The city recognises that citizens must also contribute to achieve the needed change. Measures that focus on responsible water consumption, waste management, the installation of green roofs, and the ‘Right to Housing’ are also outlined in the Plan.

One of the cornerstone measures of the Plan is Barcelona’s famous Superblock initiative, which redesigns residential areas into more compact and connected neighbourhoods. This facilitates increased public space and the conversion of 70 percent of city streets to give pedestrians and cyclists priority.

The need to knows

  • Committed to city-wide carbon neutrality by 2050
  • 111,872 km of bicycle lanes
  • 95 km2 of low emission zones, in which cars without anti-pollution labels cannot circulate – a rule that is expected to affect 50,000 vehicles per day and lead to a 15 percent reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions in the city
  • Bans diesel-powered cars registered before 2006 from most city streets daily between 7:00 and 20:00
  • More than 90 percent of food served in municipal nursery schools from ecological agriculture
  • Support persons aged 65+ to apply for an urban garden plot where an organic farming model must be followed
  • “Sustainable Schools Programme”, which seeks to contribute to sustainability via education and recognises schools as agents of change in the city; more than 460 schools have taken part over its 20 years of existence
  • 10+ environmental education facilities expand the culture of sustainability in the city
  • More than 80 new fauna structures (insect hotels, dry stone spirals with aromatic plans, piles of wood, nest boxes for bats, nests for hedgehogs, etc.) and 392 birds’ nests have been set up to provide refuge, food and facilitate the reproduction of urban fauna
  • The "+ Sustainable City Council Programme", which integrates sustainability criteria into public contracts and daily practices, encouraging change by setting an example


  • Winner: 2018 Covenant City in the Spotlight

    • The Barcelona Climate Plan received the award by the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy for the best initiative by a large European city. This award valued the integrity and efficiency of the plan and its cross-cutting focus, combining mitigation, adaptation, climate justice and social co-responsibility.

  • Winner: World Smart City Award in 2017 for the initiative ‘Easy Urban Mobility: Towards the Digital World’
  • Winner: 2018 Procura+ Award in the category ‘Procurement Initiative of the Year’ for the "+ Sustainable City Council Programme"
  • Finalist: European Green Capital in 2012/2013
  • Basque Declaration signatory since 2016
  • Milan Urban Food Policy Pact member since 2015
  • European Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy signatory since 2015
  • Global Covenant of Mayors signatory since 2008
  • Ranked 15th in Europe and 21st internationally in the Sustainable Mobility Index in 2017

What the city has to say


“Reclaiming space for people and raising awareness of the importance of sustainable living is vital in the fight against climate change. My advice to other mayors would be to listen and engage with citizens and communities. Do not be afraid of trying new things in the city. It is time to apply a paradigm shift in our cities towards a people-centred approach.”

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona

ICLEI and Barcelona

Barcelona has been an ICLEI Member since 1995, has been member of the European Regional Executive Committee, and was a founding member of the Procura+ Campaign (now Procura+ Network) and has acted as its Vice Chair. Barcelona was also a pioneer city in the Local Action for Biodiversity Programme and is an active current member of the CitiesWithNature initiative.

Other relevant links:

    All body images courtesy of the City of Barcelona, downloaded with permission from Header image purchased: "Barcelona Port", iStock/Nikada, © 2011