European Commissioner for Development
At the 1st EU-China Mayors' Forum / Brussels
20 September 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, representing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
I am pleased to see for the first time Chinese and European policy makers at local and regional levels talking and acting together about a major challenge of common concern: urbanisation.
As you know better than anyone, sustainable urban development is an issue of international importance. The ways in which we choose to address it will determine whether our economies and our societies become stronger or weaker.
Because there is no doubt that the 21st century will be increasingly urban.
In China, the urban population now exceeds that of rural areas and 1% of the Chinese population is projected to move to the cities every year.
In Europe, cities now account for 75% of our population, 80% of energy use and 85% of our GDP. And by 2020, four in every five Europeans may well be living in urban areas.
In China as in Europe, some of our major problems are indeed concentrated in our cities. They are economic, social, environmental and demographic problems that are interrelated and in some cases may have a severe impact on urban sustainability.
At the very same time, however, it is clear that some of the best solutions can be found in cities. Cities have a unique opportunity to address problems in a coherent and holistic way, and in the process strengthen all aspects of society.
I know this from first-hand experience. When I was European Energy Commissioner, I had to face the challenge of achieving EU objectives to mitigate climate change. In order to do so, I knew we had to tackle final energy demand in buildings and transport as well as distributed energy. I also knew that we needed to do this while keeping European companies competitive and at as little cost as possible to the EU.
It was clear that top-down measures, such as laws or market measures, were necessary but insufficient. So I decided to try bottom-up solutions as well.
We invited the cities of Europe to contribute to the overall effort, by committing to exceed European objectives on lowering carbon emissions. To the surprise of many, we got an enthusiastic response. Today more than 4 200 cities and towns in Europe and beyond, home to more than 165 million people, have signed to the Covenant of Mayors. More than 1 700 Action Plans are already approved and being implemented.
Naturally, the cities which have signed the Covenant have a sense of responsibility for the environment. But there is more to it than that. Their strongest motivation is to spark sustainable economic activity and create towns and regions worth living in. This motivation is proving unstoppable and inventive. Even in the present economic hardship in Europe, investments worth several billion euro are being mobilised, often involving innovative financial schemes.
While climate change mitigation might be considered a cost by a national government, it is a unique opportunity for a city. It means better local infrastructures, higher quality buildings, less polluting mobility schemes – in all, a friendlier and cleaner city which is at the same time more attractive for residents and visitors and more interesting for investors.
Moreover, it is a solution adapted to the 21st century. In the era of increasingly complex problems, local solutions within a global vision are often the best way to tackle global challenges.
These kinds of solutions have found great allies in the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee and the European Parliament. I would like to thank them personally for their active involvement and also for their presence here today.
As I have said, sustainable urban development is not only a European issue – it is very much an international issue, which thus calls for cooperation and exchange of best practices at an international level.
Together we can find new and forward-looking approaches to turn these challenges into opportunities.
Together we can contribute towards developing partnerships between urban and rural areas for their mutual benefit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the last EU-China Summit we set up an EU-China Urbanisation Partnership precisely because we understood that "we are mutually becoming part of the solution to each other's challenges."
And today's Forum highlights the strength of our ties as partners and – may I also add – as friends.
If we can build strong partnerships, we can improve the life of billions of Chinese and Europeans by getting the most and the best from all our efforts to stimulate sustainable urban development.
I am fully confident in the capacity of Chinese and European cities to work on win-win cooperation schemes and embrace innovative approaches that will turn new ideas into growth, prosperity, jobs, fairness and well-being and, in doing so, change our cities' future for the better.
So let me express my deep appreciation to the China Association of Mayors and the EU Covenant of Mayors for their firm commitment and their instrumental role in the success of today's event. Let me also salute the efforts to create a Charter that both Chinese and European Mayors can sign up to.
Today I am happy to confirm the European Commission's full support for these collective actions. We have approved funding to support networking of the EU-China Mayors' Forum through the EC-Link project. The Covenant of Mayors will also receive a boost. Today I signed a financing agreement for low-carbon urbanisation and environmental sustainability. The European Union will provide 25 million Euro over 4 years to China in order to help us tackle these global problems together.
Such partnerships are indeed an essential means by which China and the European Union can translate their ambitions into reality.
Let me conclude by thanking you all again for the successful organisation of the first EU-China Mayors' Forum. I look forward to seeing your continued partnership bear fruit in the form of tangible results that help our cities and those who live and work in them to thrive.