Heavy floods in Bonn were what inspired the prize (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images).

Regional Signal

Bonn Climate Prize recognizes local heroes for environmental innovations


Bonn, Germany

In the wake of the devastating 2021 floods that swept through German towns, Monika Hallstein found a renewed purpose.

An interesting piece from the Eurocities network tells of how Hallstein, inspired by the urgency of climate change, joined Bonn’s Local Administration to contribute her expertise in urban planning to the city’s evolving climate-conscious policies.

Reflecting on her decision, Hallstein explains, “That’s the reason why I want to engage now in the theme of climate.”

While unconventional, Hallstein’s move aligns with Bonn’s long-standing commitment to climate-conscious governance.

Since the city council declared a climate emergency in 2019, Bonn has been on a mission to achieve climate neutrality by 2035. A pivotal step in this journey has been the formulation of the Bonn Climate Plan, defining crucial activities to be implemented over the next three years.

Speaking about the plan, Hallstein, now working in the Climate Neutral Bonn Programme Office, emphasizes the importance of involving local residents.

“We’ve known for years that the global climate crisis can only be answered locally,” she asserts. This belief spurred two key strategies: ‘Bonn for Future’ and the ‘Bonn Climate Prize.’

Bonn for Future: Inclusive Climate Action

Underlining the necessity of local action, Hallstein champions the ‘Bonn for Future’ initiative, which provided a platform for residents to voice their ideas and concerns between 2020 and 2022.

“Climate protection affects everyone. That’s why it’s particularly important to leave no one behind – the participation of citizens and their ideas are an essential element for transformation,” Hallstein states.

Recognizing the risk of certain demographics dominating environmental initiatives, the city adopted a proactive approach to engage diverse communities.

Particularly targeting those less likely to participate in climate discourse, such as migrants and residents from less affluent areas, Bonn conducted direct outreach using resident registers.

Hallstein explains, “It’s very important to reach especially the people who don’t talk about the climate crisis at home.”

Bonn Climate Prize: Celebrating Local Initiatives

A pivotal component of Bonn’s climate action strategy, the Bonn Climate Prize, was initiated to celebrate and reward local efforts in sustainability.

Hallstein remarks, “It was a proposal from us as the local government to make this Climate Prize.” The prize aims to showcase exemplary practices in climate action, emphasizing tangible results and potential for replication.

In its inaugural year, the Climate Prize attracted a diverse range of applicants and ideas, reflecting the city’s commitment to engaging all sectors of society.

Notably, the civil society organization Vilich-Müldorf secured the first prize for their ‘Climate Day and Climate Pot’ project, blending information dissemination, educational programs, and direct community actions.

The second prize was awarded to students promoting a ‘Car-Free Friday,’ an initiative aiming to reduce car traffic around schools and create a more sustainable and safe environment for students.

Despite the difficulty in selecting the winners due to the high quality of submissions, Hallstein notes, “The climate prize was a very great success… Everybody talked about it.”

The overwhelming positive response has prompted the City of Bonn to continue the initiative annually, with increased prize money, reinforcing the belief that community involvement is indispensable in creating sustainable urban environments.

As Bonn looks to the future, Hallstein emphasizes the city’s commitment to building on the momentum generated by the Climate Prize and other participatory initiatives.

“We can only achieve climate neutrality if everyone helps to reduce greenhouse gases,” she states, “and it can only be done together.”