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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Speech: Moving in the right direction – cleaner transport for improved health and sustainable economic growth

European Mobility Week Award Ceremony

Brussels, 6 March 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the European Mobility Week awards ceremony.

Since its launch in 2002, the European Mobility Week has been very successful in encouraging change in the way we move. This is exactly what we aim at.

We are all more and more aware of the impact that transport has on our lives. The benefits of cleaner transport are endless from improved health and a cleaner environment, to increased resource efficiency, strengthened competitiveness and also more sustainable economic growth.

And the Award aims to raise our awareness on the role we can all together play in this change.

In 2012 we encouraged participants to "Move in the right direction" by promoting an integrated approach to mobility planning that puts people at the forefront. 2,158 cities participated. We can certainly call it a success!

Three quarters of Europe's population lives in cities. It is only natural that citizens should be at the centre of decisions and actions when it comes to urban mobility. Without their support and active participation, mobility initiatives cannot see the light of the day or be effective. The European Mobility Week campaign provides a perfect opportunity for citizens to explain the challenges their cities and towns face, and identify the right solutions together. Please, take advantage of this opportunity!

There is still a lot to be done. A recent report by the European Environment Agency suggests that improvements in transport are mainly due more to increased efficiencies than a shift towards sustainability or avoidance of non-essential journeys.

Sustainable urban development is crucial in tackling air pollution, congestion and other traffic-related problems, which have serious impacts on our health and well-being. Improved planning can help cities take advantage of greater mobility, better air quality, less noise, and a healthier environment. It can support the transition towards a resource-efficient transport system by promoting clean fuel-efficient and human-powered modes of transport. It can, and should, encourage cities to be innovative and to be forward-looking.

I am pleased to see that so many already recognise the need to develop a vision for an urban transport system that meets mobility demands, protects the environment and makes the city a better and safer place to live.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year, as you all know, I have declared 2013 as the "Year of Air" for environment policy. European Mobility Week will focus on the ‘air quality’ to raise awareness among the general public about this important environmental challenge, and promote effective solutions.

Air pollution seems invisible unless you live in other parts of the world such as Beijing or Mexico City where you can actually see the smog and feel like a kind of human vacuum cleaner. But let's not be fooled by the lack of visibility – it is still a major cause of illness and death. Despite a lot of progress has made to date, we estimate that about 400,000 people in Europe die prematurely every year. In addition, a very large number of people suffer daily from respiratory diseases and allergies linked to air pollution, which prevent them from living normal healthy lives, with associated costs for hospitalisation and absence from the daily workplace.

Unfortunately – despite all the conclusive information we have - the main cause of air pollution still remains traffic. This clearly gives a critical pinch to the life-styles we have developed. I will pay specific attention to this sector in the upcoming air policy review, to make sure that transport emissions continue to decrease. In many cases, however, it is clear that measures at EU level will not be sufficient to achieve lower levels of air pollution. For hot-spot areas such as large cities, national and local action will have to complement initiatives developed at EU level, if we want to obtain lasting results.

It is very encouraging to see so many creative solutions developed locally. The excellent work done by the three finalist cities of Gävle, Östersund and Zagreb serve as great examples of how to make it real on the ground. Today we celebrate their excellent results, but I would also like to congratulate all the other participants for their outstanding achievements. In 2012 a record of 7,717 permanent measures were launched. Impressive outcome for which all participants deserve a true applause!

I look forward to learning more about how these changes will contribute to concrete results.

I will also try to make a more personal and modest contribution to improving the quality of air we breathe by participating at the Earth Hour ‘I will if you will’ challenge. I challenged a thousand people to leave their cars at home for one week. So far we have tested free-car Sundays but free-car working days are certainly more demanding! I invite you all to join me. In exchange I promised I would sing in front of an audience of a thousand people. I know it’s just small steps, but if enough of us take those small steps, then it makes a giant leap forward… But if you are here today, you already know this.

And now let's honour the achievements of 2012 and celebrate these very important big, small steps.

Thank you for your attention.

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