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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Sharing good ideas and practices is vital if we want our cities to change for the better

Official opening of the "Train of Ideas – Visions for Future Cities" in Brussels

Brussels, 7 September 2011

Senator Blankau,

Minister Huytebroeck

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last April in Hamburg I promised I would be waiting on the platform when the Train of Ideas stopped in Brussels. And HERE WE ARE! Not exactly on the platform but still just a few minutes from the train station…

It really is an honour for me to welcome the Train of Ideas to Brussels – the city where I have been living and working for the past 7 years and that has become my second home. And it is also a privilege to inaugurate the Exhibition organized by the Brussels Capital Region.

This is exactly the kind of synergies we were hoping to create through the Green Capital Idea and of innovation we were looking for!

As the train of Ideas goes through the cities of Europe it opens the way for new ideas and projects to flourish.

We were hoping to find an engine for ideas that could be exchanged and spread throughout Europe's cities so that we can all learn from one another and find the best and simplest solutions to the – AT TIMES - very complex urban problems. Bad air, waste water treatment or urban sprawl to name at least few.

It looks as if with the Train of Ideas, we have succeeded! It is wonderful to hear that its first 13 stops attracted 32 000 visitors and lead to so many initiatives.

Sharing good ideas and practices is vital if we want our cities to change for the better. Cities are where most European people live and see environment policy in action. They are increasingly the places where environmental decisions matter the most. Cities face similar problems so why not share the solutions?

Hamburg, the European Green Capital of 2011, is a great starting point and has set the "green bar" very high: nearly all Hamburg's residents are less than 300 metres from public transport. As much as 17% of the city is made up of parks, forests and fields. Not bad when you think that Hamburg is the third largest port in Europe and the eighth largest port in the world!

Hamburg has put forward plans for emission cuts, urban mobility and on overall greening, showing how economic growth and environmental protection can live together in one city.

And I am very pleased that Brussels tries doing that too!

This beautiful tower next to us will unveil the actions and projects already put in place in the Brussels Capital Region to improve the quality of life of its people, while reducing the burden on the environment. I am mainly interested about initiatives for households such as insulation or greener energy – households are the difficult nuts to crack. But Brussels shows it is possible.

The exhibition will unfold all these steps taken by Brussels in moving towards becoming a European model of sustainable development.

If we want to prosper we must LEARN to cherish what our urban environment gives us: The resources that underpin our growth and our quality of life.

I am certain that the Brussels exhibition will reach out to hundreds of people and encourage visitors to learn from the good practices the city has to offer.

This is exactly the kind of message we need to give in a world that in the 20th Century increased its fossil fuel use 16 times or its water use 9 times whereas the population grew only 4 times.

We CANNOT continue like this! Our growth has to be based on the use of fewer resources and greater respect for the environment: We need to produce more with less!

This is the concept of resource efficiency and one of my priorities - we need to integrate this concept into our daily lives. The GOAL is to ensure that jobs, growth and the environment are developed together, not in isolation.

Resource efficiency also means making better use of our "natural capital". Without biodiversity, clean air, water and soil, the economic growth and jobs we depend on are simply not sustainable.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Green Capital Award is a powerful instrument that can help convince local authorities by real life examples that developing greener cities is both needed and very much possible.

BUT NOT ONLY. It is also recognition of the hard work to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities.

Because we also believe that those who are taking the lead, who are showing others the way forward, deserve to be rewarded.

Indeed, the European Green Capital Award is a celebration of a city's holistic vision for better living. The prize is the reward itself.

Vitoria-Gasteiz will take over from Hamburg next year as European Green Capital for 2012 - and Nantes will have the honour in 2013.

We have already opened the call for applications to select the city which will hold the European Green Capital title in 2014.

Achieving an economy based on more efficient use of the planet's limited resources will remain key in the selection process.

But, with the Award now well-established, we want to expand the way we choose the winners, by taking into account factors such as greater economic growth, innovation and job creation.

The successful cities should strike a balance between quality of life, economic growth and environmental protection. That sounds like a perfect city to me…

The Train of Ideas is an excellent means to transport the European Green Capital message across Europe and give it voice and form through initiatives like the exhibition organised today in Brussels.

Allow me then to welcome the Train of Ideas and its precious cargo – The European Green Capital message - and wish the Exhibition "Brussels, A sustainable city" the great success it deserves.

I look forward to visiting both, even if I have already had the pleasure to visit the Train of Ideas few months ago in Hamburg. It is worth seeing it twice!

Thank you for your attention.

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