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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The city where green is capital

The European Green Capitals Handover Ceremony - from Hamburg (EGC 2011) to Vitoria-Gasteiz (EGC 2012)

Brussels, 15 December 2011

Ms Bresso,

State secretary, Honourable mayor,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is hard to believe that the second year of the European Green Capital has already come to an end, and that it is time to congratulate Hamburg for the impressive work they have done over the last twelve months. For they have truly done an excellent job in promoting sustainability in the urban context.

Let me give you a short overview of their achievements. Hamburg's Green Train of Ideas spread the message of "urban sustainability" to 70.000 visitors in 18 European cities, travelling almost 15.000 kilometres. I hope you managed to catch it in Brussels – I caught it twice and was most impressed.

And they did far more than that. Hamburg organised or participated in some 2000 events, conveying sustainability messages to all types of audience. It can boast an impressive list of activities like study tours, planting trees, information days, cycling days and so on, all in favour of sustainability. The year was also marked by extensive dialogue with the citizens, businesses and youth of Hamburg – dialogue which is key to building a green city of the future.

Hamburg is and will remain a bright ambassador of the European Green Capitals for some time to come. Well done!

So after this packed year, the time has come to pass the baton.

When it comes to green living, all cities, large and small, can play their part in achieving solutions. The widespread interest that the Green Capitals Initiative has generated over the past few years demonstrates the forward-looking ambition to be found in regions and cities of all shapes and sizes. Proof – if we needed it! – of a widespread recognition at grass roots level of the need for action on the pressing problems we face.

It is my pleasure today to hand on the title of European Green Capital to the winner of the 2012 title.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Green Capital for 2012, the Spanish city of Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Vitoria-Gasteiz will share with us the novel solutions they have found for the environmental problems that face mid-sized cities.

If I stress the size, it's because it really does matter. We have relatively few megacities in Europe – only 20 cities with more than one million inhabitants – but we have a huge number of medium-sized cities. Some 400 cities of between 100 000 and half a million inhabitants. So their practices are crucial – for the quality of life of citizens, and for the environment that we all share, wherever we live.

Ladies and gentleman, I'm sure you have noticed that 2011 has been a year for Resource Efficiency and I'm happy to say that Vitoria Gasteiz is tackling some of these resource issues head on. It's a city notable for its ambitious measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It has a high rate of recycling, and has made impressive reductions in waste that goes to landfill. It is also doing well in reducing water consumption per capita, and its land take is considerably reduced by policies to turn brownfield sites back to green.

Competition for the award was very intense, but the jury was particularly impressed by the clear focus on pedestrian and bike lanes in the sustainable mobility plan, and by the city's efforts to bring businesses on board through eco-innovation.

Throughout the year, we will be enjoying a full and varied programme of activities that Vitoria-Gasteiz has prepared to celebrate its success. This is a city with a quest – to become a pleasant, healthy and sustainable. Isn't that exactly the kind of the city we would all like to enjoy? So, good luck Vitoria-Gasteiz, your moment has come. Use it well - for the benefit of all of us, who are among that majority of Europeans, living in the cities.

I am sure your example will inspire numerous other cities throughout Europe. Let me just close by congratulating you on your slogan, which I particularly like: "The city where green is capital".

My congratulations again, and I wish you every success as European Green Capital 2012.

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