OECD “Mayor of the Moment” interview with Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga, Portugal
Q. In recent summers, Portugal has suffered severe wildfires and heatwaves. At the same time, many cities anticipate a rise in energy prices that could become a cost burden on households and businesses in winter. You signed the Green City Accord as a pledge to make Braga cleaner and healthier. What specific actions have you taken to improve sustainability in Braga, and how will this reduce inequality in the city?
A. In Braga, we see sustainable development as a transversal theme to any activity in our programme. The institutionalisation of the 2030 Agenda and the respective Sustainable Development Goals have led the city of Braga to increase its environmental performance in every aspect. The Green City Accord is part of this global vision where in an integrated strategy we can envision the future, act and monitor its impacts.
For example, the intersection between the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Green City Accord can be seen in the city’s decarbonisation process. Following our inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, we learned that 65% of our territory’s emissions come from mobility. To face this challenge, we implemented significant decarbonisation projects. The renewal of the Transportes Urbanos de Braga fleet is one of the great examples in which I would also highlight the implementation of Bicification, a project that rewards bicycle users for the distances cycled in the city and allows them to accumulate money to spend in local shops. For the future and to meet our decarbonisation goals, I highlight the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transport in Braga, a project with an investment of 150 million euros to promote sustainable public transport. We are also investing a lot of resources in creating new bike lanes in the city.
Q. Braga has a significant youth population, with 40% of residents under 30 years old. Can you tell us what actions you are taking to ensure Braga attracts young people and helps disadvantaged youth develop bright futures, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis?
A. During a time when Portugal’s population was reducing between 2011-21, the number of people living in Braga increased by 6.5%. This was possible because in the last decade we invested a huge amount of public and private resources to increase the quality of life in the city, but, at the same time, created a very friendly business environment to attract investment and talent to the city. With the dynamics of the University of Minho and other higher education facilities, the city attracted and retained people.
Additionally, we have a strategy to help youth to surpass difficulties, especially in the first years of adult life. Through ‘Invest Braga,’ we developed projects such as ‘Work in Braga,’ which is a project developed between the city and the main private companies, and which helps people find work. This has been very helpful, to our local youth but also to help people who want to come to Braga to get their first job in the city. Another program we pioneered in Portugal was the launch of a programme with the University of Minho and the Public Institute for the Employed to help young people reskill to improve their qualifications, mainly in the IT sector, helping them to get a job and also to foster the labor market in this field. We are always trying to develop new programmes to foster youth, mainly the underprivileged. For instance, we were one of the first cities in Portugal to implement a program to help low-income families have access to dental care (in Portugal, the National Health Service doesn’t pay for dental care) – Braga a Sorrir. This was important to a lot of people to improve their looks and also self-esteem.
Q. In 2022, Braga hosted the Humanity on the Move conference and you signed the Lampedusa Charter, a document guiding human mobility and migrant reception. Can you share some of the actions you have taken to welcome migrants to Braga, and explain how you ensure they are treated equitably and given opportunities to thrive?
A. Braga is a very friendly city to migrants and we have more than 100 different nationalities in the city, which is a big number considering we are only 193,000 people. Using a comprehensive approach across society, we are now one of the most multicultural cities in Portugal.
For instance, when Ukraine was invaded by the Russian army, we put in place a plan to receive refugees (Ukrainians were already one the biggest migrant communities in Braga), but we were humbled by the efforts of civil society, who implemented a plan to send goods to Ukraine and welcome refugees. In recent years, we also received a lot of Brazilians and now roughly 7% of our population comes from Brazil. Our public institutions are prepared to receive all these migrants, and we run a programme to welcome new migrants. We have hired intercultural intermediaries to help migrants to integrate and settle in our city.
Ricardo Rio is the Mayor of Braga since 2013, the third largest city of Portugal. Besides being a proud member of the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative, is an Executive Committee Member of EUROCITIES, Member of board of the Global Parliament of Mayors and a member of the European Committee of the Regions (where he is the Vice-Chairman of SEDEC Commission). He was the winner of the World Mayor Prize for Sustainability 2021, attributed by The City Mayors Foundation. Under Mayor Rio’s leadership, Braga is a founder member of the Global StartUp Cities initiative, member of the EUROCITIES Green City Accord and member of the European Commission and European Committee of the Regions’ Chamber of National Ambassadors of the Covenant of Mayors for Portugal.