Interview with Francisco de la Torre, Mayor of Malaga, Spain
21 May 2019
Francisco de la Torre has been Mayor of Malaga since 2000. Under his mandate, the Andalusian city has gained international attention for its cultural assets, sending tourist figures skyrocketing and Malaga’s commitment to sustainability over the past 20 years has placed the city at the cutting edge of the global effort to tackle climate change.
As a leading proponent of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it has become a pioneer in adapting a series of indicators for the city, making them locally relevant, to measure its progress towards the 17 SDGs.
For more than 20 years you have been the Mayor of the city of Malaga. But your career in public life goes back much further. How did you become a city leader?
At the end of the 1960s in Malaga, the Association of Friends of the University of Malaga was created. At that time in Spain, three new universities were created: the Autonomous University of Madrid and the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Bilbao. It was the largest city in Europe that did not have a university and there was a great citizen movement in relation to this issue. The Association of Friends of the University invited me to be part of the Association. This was a leadership exercise shared with the Association’s Board of Directors.
Thanks to the public projection that the Association of Friends of the University gave me, they invited me to enter the political life of that time, to help form the institutions of that period which led to the creation of the university, and to facilitate the arrival of the University to Malaga.
How would you describe an urban leader?
I have never felt, how would we say, called to be a leader of the masses or of large groups, but rather, I believe that there is intercommunication. You try to influence others, they also influence you, and that’s a collective leadership that’s shared by everyone. I try to do what I think is most workable at any given moment.
Where have you got inspiration from? Who inspires you?
In the 1960s, in the years in which I was studying agricultural engineering and sociology in Madrid, I learned a lot, and I identified very much with the idea of the common good as a service that – from the public sphere of politics, we must have.
How should an urban leader act? What is their role in city governance?
I think the first thing is to be clear about the idea that you are in politics to serve the general interest, the common good, not the particular interest of any specific group or even the interest of your political party. You have to be loyal to the party to which you are affiliated, as is logical, but if there is an opposition of interests, the general interest and the common good must come first.
Why tackle climate change with a systemic approach?
I deeply believe that an ambitious action, such as climate action, must be very holistic, and must be based on all the mechanisms we have to reduce the contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere. It is the key element. When we try to be sensitive in terms of climate, to stop climate change, it is what we have to do. From the reduction of electricity consumption to the promotion of public transport, cycle tracks and savings in water consumption. There are a thousand ways to do it.
What do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for the city?
We have to feel the responsibility and satisfaction that by working at the local level we can contribute to the solution of global problems, and the best way to solve global problems is by working at the local level. Especially when at the local level, cities are going to have more and more inhabitants. The objectives are very ambitious and there are 11 years left before the goal in 2030. If we do not hurry, and if we do not measure how we are doing, we will not achieve it.
What do small and medium-sized cities need to do to improve their resilience?
In each of the 17 SGDs there is a place for our proactive action. Apart from being a resilient city, we have to be able to resolve, respond well when there is a crisis. For instance, when there is a problem of heavy rains, which is an issue we have to deal with in Malaga, we must tackle this so that the city isn’t so fragile in some areas. There is still a long way ahead in this area.
And we have to be resilient, especially on the social and economic level, where education is key, which is another SGD. Quality education for all. The more quality education there is for all, the more resilient society becomes, the more responsive it will be both in crisis and in non-crisis times. Of all the objectives, the most important is education because that gives you an answer to everything.
Do you think that the threat of climate change can be approached as an opportunity to transform economic and social systems?
I believe that there is a source of opportunities, new opportunities are created. Circular economy is a very clear opportunity from the point of view of business models, including business opportunities. A thousand aspects that arise, how to eliminate plastics from life or substantially reduce the use of plastics, promote another way of transporting products, and so on.
How can EIT Climate-KIC help cities in this transition?
And I am very excited about how Climate-KIC can help us because we can share many experiences. We can develop models inspired by those experiences based on the University of Malaga and the European Research Centres linked to the KIC and the experience of other cities. We can also do concrete things in Malaga, some of it is already being worked in that direction.