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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

"Our cities can combine economic growth and environmental protection"

Opening of the "Train of Ideas – Visions for Future Cities" (Altona, Train station)

Hamburg, 15 April 2011

Vice Mayor Stapelfeldt

Senator Blankau

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great privilege to be here in Hamburg, the European Green Capital of 2011.

It is also a great honour for me to inaugurate the Train of Ideas - a wonderful expression of European values and ideals, and also an added bonus to the European Green Capital idea. This is the kind of innovation we hoped to find through the Green Capital idea.

And when we launched the European Green Capital Award we also wanted it to reward local efforts in improving the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities. We wanted it to provide an engine for ideas and opportunities that could be exchanged. So, that people – and cities – could learn from one another and come up with the solutions to city problems.

This is what we wanted - Hamburg has delivered it. It is an exceptional role-model and has set the 'green bar' really high.

I remember clearly how impressed the jury were with Hamburg's entry to the Green Capital competition. And there is a lot to be impressed about:

  • It is already working hard towards meeting climate goals – the city wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40 % by 2020 and by 80 % by 2050.

  • Nearly all Hamburg's residents are no more than 300 meters from public transport.

  • It is a really green city, with green areas and trees lining many streets. In fact, some 17 % of the city is made up of parks, forests and fields, half of which are nature reserves.

These are just three examples, but if you bear in mind that Hamburg is the third largest port in Europe – and the eighth largest port in the World – this City has proved that economic growth and environmental protection can live together in one city.

And we need this kind of inspiration when many of the world's greatest cities are cracking under the strain of persistent environmental problems.

Stress on water supplies and waste disposal, air pollution and traffic congestion are common culprits.

And add to that the fact that cities are growing very quickly and spreading out and you have a recipe for more city problems, even greater pressure on our precious resources and already fragile infrastructures.

Then there is the additional problem of transport.

With cities sprawling, people often have to travel more, meaning greater expense, more fuel and more pollution.

This is only one illustration of the complexity of the transport picture one area that is greatly in need of help from new technology. It is also a crucial part of the mobility issue – where mobility is not just about cars, but how we move around impacts on our environment and on the health and wellbeing of Europeans. Better public transport is often seen as something cities should have more of but unfortunately it is not always happening.

This is what the new Transport White Paper attempts to deal with, because today's transport systems in growing cities are simply not sustainable.

What we have to do is to think about the city of tomorrow in a very different way. Back in the 50s, science fiction showed us the city of the future as a mass of flying cars, a super clean environment with endless skyscrapers and spotless citizens.

Today we need to keep our feet a little more on the ground. And we need to start work today – because today's transport policy won't have the impact we want today – it will be happening in 10 to 20 years. Halving the use of conventional vehicles in cities by 2030 is an ambitious goal and we must start working on it today.

As city planners, you know this. You have the know-how to help make the changes needed and – at the same time benefit from the improved economic performance and investment that these changes will bring.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Green Capital Award is a celebration of a city's holistic vision for sustainable urban living.

It is a prestigious award, but it's also means to an end. It's a way of convincing cities and their leaders that they won't have a successful future unless they build in the concepts of sustainable urban development into their plans now. And not just through better and smarter transport but also by learning and valuing the natural resources that underpin their growth.

By default – because the majority of Europeans live in cities – they are the places where EU environment policy is put into practice. And we have an obligation that we take on willingly, to ensure the best for Europeans and for the European environment. We also believe that those who are taking the lead, who are showing others the way forward, deserve to be rewarded.

Hamburg… you clearly deserve your reward. Well done. But don't forget we are planning ahead.

In June we will be launching the next call for applications to select the city which will hold the European Green Capital title in 2014.

With the Award now well-established, we want to expand the way we choose the winners, by taking into account elements of our EU2020 strategy…including factors such as greater economic growth, innovation and job creation. Achieving an economy based on "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" and more efficient use of the planet's limited resources will of course be of great importance.

I am looking forward to the new applications from all over Europe. Applications that will show, I hope, how cities can be sustainability role models. The most successful ones – and the ones with a chance of 'going for gold' will strike a balance between economic growth, environmental protection and quality of life. That sounds like a perfect city to me….

I started by talking about how much pleasure I will get from being here today, with you and the Train of Ideas.

The train is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport. Not only that, it is carrying a precious cargo, the European Green Capital message that it will spread throughout Europe. This is a great symbol and way of getting our message across. It is a great idea.

And not only will it showcase Hamburg. It will be taking and showing a range of environmental best practice projects from other European cities

  • Oslo, for example, will teach Europe how to illuminate streets intelligently. 

  • The City of Vienna will teach Europe to encourage environmentally friendly consumption habits among their citizens through its ÖkoKauf program. 

  • And Copenhagen will present Nordhavnen, a model district for sustainable building practices and for cyclists.

This Train will reach out to thousands of people all over Europe.

I wish it a safe and successful journey….I for one will be waiting on the platform when it stops in Brussels.

Thank you for your attention

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