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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Stockholm, European Green Capital 2010 – Role Model for Europe

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Seminar on sustainable urban development (Committee of the Regions)

Brussels, 4 May 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Someone once said that when you look at a city, you can read the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.

And thinking about Stockholm, a city I have visited several times and the first official "Green Capital", it is clear that there is much to be proud of...just as there is in Hamburg – the city which will become the European Green Capital in 2011.

The European Green Capital award – which by the way isn't only given to Capitals – is given to those cities, which are able to show us the best way to "do" environmentally friendly urban living.

The award recognises and rewards local efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities; the places where more and more of us live. The winners are green role models, who enhance the implementation of EU environment policy and who share their vision with other stakeholders.

This is important because – and this is one of the reasons that makes cities so interesting and fascinating – each of them is so different. And because each one is unique, we need a mechanism which helps cities share, discuss and analyse the ways in which they can become "greener". There isn't one model, just like there isn't any one city, but there is one aim: the aim of improving our environment.

The Award is also a policy tool and an incentive to help convince local governments and authorities that the successful cities of the future will have sustainable urban development built into their future plans.

We have a responsibility to make our cities and towns healthy places for Europeans to live in. This means doing two things (they are inextricably linked): improving the quality of life for people living in the cities; and helping them to reduce their impact on the environment.

And now that four out of five Europeans live in towns or cities, they have become the place where – inevitably – a large portion of our environmental policies will have to be played out.

This movement towards urban living also means that cities are the places where jobs are created and green growth is generated. They can be real motors for our economy. And, as such, they are an important part of the solution to the problem of economic stagnation and unsustainability, which have plagued our World economy for far too long.

Urban revitalisation is now more important than ever, just as is the challenge of prosperous and fast-growing cities to safeguard and nurture the natural resources that underpin and enable their economies.

Nurturing economies and valuing resources are also both key objectives of the EU's "EU 2020" strategy for the next decade. It is about delivering sustainable growth and jobs, while at the same time managing the environment and our resources. One of the flagship initiatives of the strategy concerns resource efficiency. This is essentially a way of making sure we use our natural, material and energy resources efficiently. It is, put simply, a way of getting more out of our resources, while using fewer of them.

The concept of resource efficiency has particular resonance in cities where resources are precious and space is at a premium. Urban planners have an enormous responsibility – because they are effectively shaping the lives of more than half the world's population. EU 2020 also focuses on promoting "industrial policy for the globalisation era" initiative, which includes support for the transition of manufacturing sectors to greater energy and resource efficiency; and promotes technologies and production methods that reduce natural resource use.

Where should we learn how to put these ideas into practice in the most effective way? Certainly not in the corridors of the Commission – even though Brussels is a unique and vibrant city – we have to listen to the locals.

We want to use the dynamic of the Green City initiative to help in our transition to a green economy. And although the words "green economy" and "green growth" are frequently heard, in practice, they are often misunderstood. Many people believe that green growth means building more parks in cities…others think that it only means supporting companies making solar panels. In truth it is both of those things and more, because it is about greening our lives and it is about supporting companies developing eco-innovative products (like in Stockholm, where there are apparently some 2,700 clean-tech companies already), but it is also about new green business models, like helping companies turn waste into profit in new ways.

It is about creating new versions of Hammarby Sjöstad – the district in Stockholm where environmental concerns are hard-wired into the very fabric of the city, from new building regulations to the design of its heating systems and to the environmentally responsibilities of its residents.

The challenge, of course, is taking all of these great examples and turning them into a wider European reality. One way for us to do that will be to ensure that Environment policy works hand in hand with Europe's cohesion policy. Before the summer, the Commission will be giving some pointers here, with a communication on the contribution that cohesion policy can make to sustainable development. We will also be developing a number of new ideas on how to address the problems of urban areas and cities, giving shape to the new "territorial cohesion principle" to be found in the Lisbon Treaty.

I said that we have to listen to the locals. We also have to make sure they are getting our messages. European citizens have to be informed about and be involved in the development of the environmental policies which will in the end define their daily lives. This is where we will rely on you. You know more than us what people need and want – and you know better how sustainability can be achieved at local level. This is how it starts…you share, you learn, you improve and begin to shape the policies that can be implemented on a wider level.

Let me share an example which could be an inspiration to us all. In April this year, a quarter of a million Slovenian volunteers, about 12 % of the whole population, took part in their first country-wide illegal dump clean-up. About 70000 cubic meters of rubbish was collected. Remember that all of those people chose to help. This shows that the simplest ideas are the best and also that when the people are given the chance to do something about THEIR environment, they will jump at the chance.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have a lot to be proud of in Europe. Our rivers and our beaches are cleaner all the time, stringent air quality requirements are now the norm and we now have climate and energy policies that will change the shape of our cities for generations to come and make them better places to live in.

But we can always do better and Stockholm and Hamburg are the inspiration for other cities who want to grow, prosper and protect the environment at the same time.

The European Green Capital Award is all about sharing: sharing experiences, sharing best practices, and sharing a vision of the future. I would encourage you all to share the networks that are now emerging, to be proud of successes – but also to allow others to learn from your mistakes.

I will leave you with a simple thought. Policies are a bit like leaves…they grow and they fall downwards. And it's only when they reach the ground that we have to deal with them practically. This is where you come in.

You have the vision to use those polices and make them your own. So let's work together on these urban initiatives – and build the cities that people really want.

Thank you for your attention!

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