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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Opening speech

European Green Capital Handover 2012 to 2013 / Brussels

29 November 2012

Mayor Maroto,

Mayor Rimbert,

President Retière,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure for me to be with you this afternoon. Allow me to start by welcoming all of you and in particular our outgoing European Green Capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and our incoming title holder – the French city of Nantes.

2013 will be the European year of citizens. And citizens are the reason we are here today. Promoting actions to safeguard the environment in the EU and in each of your cities, is about promoting a better life for all citizens a better life for all of us!

Cities are not defined by their streets, parks and buildings. They are defined by the people and for the people. It is the creativity, actions, ambitions, behaviour, ideas and views of the people who live in, and visit our cities that make them such vibrant and attractive places to be in. This is why it is so important to involve citizens in the day-to-day decisions that affect their cities. And it will become even more important as urban population continues to increase together with pressures on housing, transport, waste disposal, energy, water and other limited resources.

Delivering the right services and facilities to meet these growing challenges will be very important, but it will not be sufficient. In a world where resources are more and more limited, if cities want to prosper, they must learn to safeguard the natural resources that underpin both their economies and the quality of life of their growing urban populations. What we really need is change! Change in our behaviour, in the way we think and in the way we live. In this, citizens can and should play a key role. If we want to manage our cities sustainably into the future, citizens need to be closely involved in the projects and decisions that impact on all aspects of sustainability. It is the actions of citizens – the choices they make and the changes in their daily behaviour – that will allow us to meet present and future challenges, and obtain tangible and long-lasting results.

I strongly believe in the power of innovation that people living in cities can generate. Cities are where change happens and has the greatest impact. Many of you are already working to bring about change. Many of you have already developed innovative ideas to take up the challenge of combining economic growth and better quality of life with sustainable urban development. But we need to think bigger. We can use education to empower and involve as many as possible and support grass-root initiatives. Cleaner streets should not be a reflection of the cleaning services’ speed, but of citizens' culture and commitment to a healthier environment. Lower water consumption should not be the result of technology alone, but of a better awareness that this is a precious resource. During my visit to Vitoria-Gasteiz I saw how the city organised, in one of its squares, educational games for children to learn in practice about waste management. I was positively impressed and pleased. This is just one example of what we could do.

We need more people on board, and we need to imagine a future where every European city engages in ambitious environmental challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Green Capital Award provides a platform for sharing experiences and best practices between cities. The cities that have held the title so far, Stockholm, Hamburg, Vitoria-Gasteiz and the next one, Nantes, are inspiring examples of how to involve and motivate citizens in driving environmental change.

I look forward to hearing from Javier Maroto, Mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz and I congratulate him and his city for the extensive work they are already doing. Vitoria-Gasteiz is a perfect example of how easily municipalities can involve and include citizens in all aspects of environmental sustainability, from the early planning stages, through to decision-making and implementation. When I visited Vitoria-Gasteiz this year, I met many of the volunteers helping to promote the city as a European Green Capital. Each person I met was filled with an enormous sense of pride in their city and in what it was achieving. That's the enthusiasm we need to spread!

Nantes, European Green Capital in 2013, is another good example of a city that brings people together to help manage and protect the environment. I look forward to visiting Nantes next year, and I hope to meet some of the 150 families that participated in the city’s inspiring Climate Citizens Workshop. This was a project that involved 600,000 residents, urging them to turn awareness about climate change into real and tangible actions as part of Nantes’ Climate Action Plan. This is the kind of impressive outreach we will need for successful policies in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sustainable urban development requires the participation of all citizens to become a reality. I believe that we are making good progress; and I trust that the European Green Capital Award is a very useful vehicle that can help increase awareness and motivate citizens to see that each and every one of them can make a very important difference in the lives of present and future generations.

This award is our way of thanking the most proactive cities, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Nantes today, for the important contribution their citizens are making. Our award is only a stepping-stone to a better future – let's make sure we continue moving in the right direction. We should never forget that, as Plato stated, “this city is what it is because our citizens are what they are”.

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