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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The importance of green cities

European Green Capital Award 2015 – workshop

Nantes, 14 June 2013

Monsieur le President,

Mayors, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Let me start my intervention by a big "thank you" – "MERCI" –to all those involved in implementing the impressive programme of activities for Nantes' year as the European Green Capital. It is a great pleasure to be here in person to witness your success.

Green Capital is a platform of interaction between the European and local levels… between the decision-makers and the rest of society… between confirmed and candidate Green Capitals, and between inhabitants of the Green Capitals themselves – in a nutshell Green Capital is "une histoire de rencontres" as you would say in French. And this is why it is so special.

I believe one of the best ways to foster people's participation is to actively involve them in the urban planning. To give them a "say" on the city they wish. And, here in Nantes, you have done this by giving your community a chance to put forward their ideas and views on what they want their city to look like in the future through your project “My City Tomorrow".

I welcome the activities you have planned to help raise awareness of the European Green Capital Award, notably the international events organised during 2013 – for example, the fifth World Forum on Human Rights, that you hosted a few weeks ago and which created the clear link between human rights and sustainable development; and also the 10th Ecocity Conference foreseen for September. The "Aéroflorale II" plant expedition has also generated great interest (so far) during its visits to Italy and Belgium.

In my view, one of the most important achievements of the European Green Capital Award is this annual workshop where previous winners, future Green Capitals and shortlisted cities have the opportunity to share experiences and thoughts on urban sustainability. I found this collaboration to be most enlightening each year. I can see new ideas and innovations emerging as the day progresses and people learn from each other’s experiences. I look forward with anticipation to this morning’s session and I hope that each of you will gain useful and inspiring insights.

The Green Capital Award is about excellence: it is about rewarding and supporting those cities that show best how social, economic and environmental interests can support each other in safeguarding our common heritage and ensuring a better future for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the current economic climate we are all focusing on creating jobs and improving Europe’s economy. This is our top priority. But it doesn't mean it has to be done at the expense of the environment. Rather, there are opportunities for businesses to grow thanks to their environmental commitments and sustainable practices. Greening our production processes, innovations and consumption patterns and making them more resource efficient will undoubtedly result in cost savings and create new markets.

Two of the many benefits of being a European Green Capital are the positive impacts on the city’s economy from additional tourism, as well as the positive international media coverage –all worth millions of euros.  When listening to European Green Capital winners over the years, it is clear that the long-term rewards are even greater – European Green Capitals keep on winning long after their designation. European Green Capital becomes a brand. These long term benefits include:

  • networking opportunities that lead to new business alliances;

  • new jobs, as the Green Capitals title helps businesses to export their green products, processes and services successfully;

  • sponsorship and grants for environmental projects;

  • last but not least, increased pride among citizens motivating them to participate more flly in improving the cities' environment.

As we will shortly hear, Vitoria-Gasteiz, for instance, created new business development opportunities in China and Latin America. Hamburg has increased the number of jobs in the renewable energy sector by 57% since 2008.  Stockholm hosted hundreds of delegations when it was Green Capital, and continues to do so.

I would also like to invite our 2015 finalists, Bristol, Brussels, Glasgow and Ljubljana, to share with us how they benefited and intend to benefit from the European Green Capital process before we find out at tonight's ceremony who is the winner that will hold the torch of the European Green Capital 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To build an inclusive sustainable urban policy, we need everyone to play an active role - citizens, businesses and academic partners among others. It is the people who live and work in our cities who are the key actors in greening them –by opting to use public transport, by recycling, separating and reducing waste, by protecting water resources, and by buying green products.

Returning to Nantes, I am pleased by your commitment to greening your transport system over the last ten years. Your tram system, as well as the bus schemes, bike rental and car-sharing facilities all show that managing transport in a sustainable way can increase its effectiveness, while bringing many benefits to citizens.  

These are only some of the concrete ways in which citizens can contribute to making our economies and our cities more sustainable and resource efficient as well as more attractive places to live and work.  

I also look forward to hearing from the citizens and actors involved in presenting projects in the context of Nantes’ Green Capital initiatives. I understand you had a remarkable number of responses to your call for proposals. This is particularly timely as 2013 is the European Year of Citizens.

As Commissioner for the Environment, I am focusing my priority this year on improving Air Quality. Last week, we organised a very successful annual conference – Green Week –around this theme and the level of interest proved that air quality is a major source of concern for citizens, in particular in urban areas. The plan is to highlight the importance of clean air for all and to focus on actions to improve air quality across the EU. As local actors, you are in the front line for taking action in this field, for example, through better traffic management, low-emission zones and awareness-raising initiatives to educate your citizens about the importance of air quality. Air quality is an area by excellence where cooperation is essential. Without cooperation, it is difficult to make meaningful progress.

I want to thank you all in advance for your participation and look forward to our constructive debates.

Thank you for your attention.

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