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European Commission

José Manuel Barroso

President of the European Commission

"No city is an island"

Speech for the Covenant of Mayors ceremony/ Brussels

24 June 2013

Vice-President Podimata,

President Valcárel,

Governor Schwarzenegger,

Dear Members of the European Parliament,

Members of the Committee of Regions,


Presidents of Regions,

Friends of the Covenant of Mayors,

It is indeed a pleasure to be with you today here.

Cities are an essential part of Europe's history.

From Athens and Rome via the 15th century Italian city states and the Hanze network - spanning some 200 cities from Bruges to Tallinn - vibrant cities have made us what we are in terms of trade, art and society. From 20th century Paris and Lisbon to Warsaw and Prague, cities have always been the drivers of Europe's political evolutions and revolutions, the living history that shapes our world view and blazes the trail of progress. If the European ideal is peaceful cosmopolitanism, then the 'polis' is where it all starts.

Cities are an essential part of Europe's future.

Around 70% of Europe's population now lives in urban agglomerations of more than 5.000 inhabitants, over 50% in large cities of over 50.000. That makes Europe one of the most urbanised continents and although the speed of this urbanization has slowed down, the trend itself continues. As in the past, our future European wealth, ideas will come out of our cities.

If the call of the city is as strong as ever, we must focus our political attention on cities' needs as well, harness their benefits and find solutions for the difficulties they are facing.

And in a world that is more interconnected than ever, we need to do this together, sharing experiences, pooling resources and making investments from which we all stand to benefit.

This is what this great Covenant of Mayors is all about: sharing a vision, a vision of smart sustainability for which cities and city governments play a leading role, and working together to turn this vision into a reality, thus serving the people, protecting our planet, and creating growth and jobs. I would like to applaud you, the mayors and regional leaders who make this possible. Like Governor Schwarzenegger, I believe that the great movement for planet protection can only come from this grass root level. I believe that without the activism of the leaders of cities and regions we will not achieve our common goals.

In 2007 the European Union adopted its Energy for a Changing World proposals, committing itself to ambitious but realistic climate and energy goals, from emission reductions to boosting the share of renewables and energy savings. Your cities are the main building blocks of Europe's economy and society, the main level that unites citizens, and therefore not least a main lever to turn our climate goals into concrete success stories.

We at the European Commission who originally launched the Covenant can only applaud these efforts, admire the commitment and creativity of all of you who meet and exceed our goals. And I assure you that we will support you in any way we possibly can.

Ladies and gentlemen,

City life has always been a mixed blessing.

The Florence that gave us Boccaccio and Leonardo da Vinci was also a breeding ground for extremism and the plague. The London where the ideas of the glorious revolution developed was the same city where disease and the great fire spread beyond control. The Vienna that brought forth Schiele, Wittgenstein and Freud also gave rise to political populism and social and extreme polarisation.

Cities know no boundaries, for better or worse.

Today, Europe's cities also have this ambiguity, many things are happening in our cities.

On the one hand, they are our main sources of wealth, innovation and creativity. Three quarters of Europe's GDP originates in metropolitan areas.

On the other hand, they struggle to meet the demands placed on them by changing economic patterns, social disparities, migration. In some cases, in extremely difficult social situations, namely because of the rising unemployment. And our cities were hit hard by the financial crisis. And at the same time the environmental challenge continues as pollution, traffic congestion and rising costs of infrastructure put pressure on scarce resources.

So the demands on our cities are huge. But their yet unused potential is even greater, if we get our policies right.

Professor Edward Glaeser, the renowned Harvard urban economist, explains why: 'Cities matter', he writes, 'because they magnify mankind's greatest asset: our ability to learn from the people around us.' The Triumph of the City his book is called, with the captivating subtitle: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.

As your enthusiasm for the Covenant proves, this capacity to connect people, to learn from each other and spread ideas is the perfect tool to tackle the challenges we face together, not just to overcome the current economic crisis, but also to speed up our unavoidable energy and environmental transformation.

Let me be clear about one important point here, ladies and gentlemen: 'green' and 'growth' are not contradictory terms. They are two sides of the same coin. In Europe alone, just over the last five years, more than 300 000 new, good jobs were created in the renewables sector. The entire global market for green technologies is estimated to be worth an astonishing 1000 billion Euros per year, and expected to double by 2020.

Hence, smart sustainability initiatives are also tools to foster economic growth – to make sure that, by averting an environmental crisis, we are also fighting our way out of an economic crisis and seize these opportunities together.

The question then is: how do we use our cities' and regions tremendous assets to accomplish that? Mainly, by doing the groundwork of economic stabilisation, by supporting the reform of national economies and making them more competitive.

If our cities are the powerhouses of Europe's growth, they can only play that role if overall growth prospects improve - No city is an island, entire of itself - and I don't have to tell you, who are so close to citizens' hopes and difficulties, that the social crisis is far from over.

Since the start of the crisis, a lot of work has been done in and by the European Union. Our efforts are starting to bear fruit. But stabilisation is not a recovery. We may have calmed unrest among markets, but we have yet to raise hope among citizens, not least by helping to make growth more inclusive.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The unique characteristics of cities make them invaluable allies in the fight against climate change.

In many ways - even if this might sound contradictory to some - city life is relatively more sustainable than suburban or rural living. Indeed, in Europe, CO2 emission per person is much lower in urban areas compared to non-urban areas. The density of urban living allows for more energy-efficient forms of housing, transport and services. The scarcity of resources is a powerful incentive to use them responsibly. Measures to address climate change are more cost-effective in compact cities than in less densely built space. That is why cities - accounting for 70% of energy consumption in Europe - are the key battleground in our fight to reduce CO2 emissions even further.

The enthusiasm from city governments for the Covenant, in the form of countless initiatives that change the way we think about the environment - is therefore heart-warming. 4.700 governments, representing about 170 million Europeans, are already doing their best to turn ambitious goals into day-to-day projects.

For instance, and I could give many examples, in Binissalem, Spain, where a network of recharging stations for electrical vehicles is being laid out; or in Loures, Portugal, which set up fleet renewal programs to make the transformation to electric cars; or Aachen, Germany, that zoomed in on bicycle safety; or Bristol, UK, which has doubled the number of cyclists over the last few years and is committed to doubling this number again by 2020 - one of the initiatives that earned Bristol the title of European Green Capital 2015.

Projects to improve energy efficiency and make the transformation to green alternatives are also impressive, like in the Province of Barcelona that set up a programme to support low cost energy efficiency measures; or Hersonisos, in Greece, that invests in energy saving light bulbs, in solar panels and campaigns to save electricity. Or the Italian Province of Genova's Condomini intelligenti. Or the Brussels-Capital Region that supports innovative building projects that score high in terms of their energy efficiency and their environmental sustainability. From Astana, Kazakhstan to Salé in Morocco, cities are using their association to the European Covenant to give extra impetus to their efforts to use energy wisely.

I would stress this last point – energy efficiency. The cheapest energy is obviously the one you do not use.

That is why the Commission has successfully pushed for a European Energy Efficiency Directive, which entered into force last fall. And we will continue to pursue this theme in our proposals for a new 2030 climate and energy policy framework.

The need for energy efficiency – but also its economic potential – should be obvious: Let me give you just one salient figure. Even today, 40% of all windows in Europe still have only single glazing. So even when assuming a rather modest renovation turnover of our building stock per year (1 to 2%), we can do something smart for the climate, the economy and our citizens. If we just reach our energy efficiency target for 2020, this would spin off around 4.8 million new jobs in Europe alone.

Better energy efficiency is key not only for the environment and the economy, but also to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable. 90% of Europe's social housing consists of buildings in need of refurbishment – a major investment, but the returns, I believe, are even higher.

The figures are clear: On average, European families could save up to 1.000€ a month by improving the energy efficiency of their homes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Like you, the European Commission believes such investments on the ground can really make a difference.

The European Union and the Commission in particular will continue to make a key contribution to these efforts: One concrete example of European investments is the Smart Cities and Communities Innovation Partnership which, for this year alone, is channelling 365 million euro's worth of funding into urban technology projects.

With this partnership the Commission aims to boost the development of smart technologies in cities by pooling research resources from energy, transport and ICT and by concentrating them on demonstration projects that are implemented in close cooperation with local and regional authorities.

One example is a project Alginet, a town near Valencia whose 13.000 inhabitants are the owners of the energy distribution cooperative. They have installed 5.700 Smart Meters in the village - everybody has one – to monitor energy needs and communicate them directly to producers, who can then optimise production and distribution. Transparent information about energy use was also made available through an on-line app, making it easier for consumers to make the right choices and save energy.

And the results? After 6 months energy savings for citizens were 12% on average, and for big consumers it was up to 58% savings. The public lighting system of Alginet saved 34%.

We plan to do more in the future. As you know, we have made the commitment to spend 20% of the European budget for the years up to 2020 on climate related activities, both within the European Union and in our partner countries abroad – the so-called 'green mainstreaming'. I can tell you – that was not an easy discussion in the talks on our Multi-Annual Financial Framework, which are now in their final phase. But we succeeded and can now use all instruments in the European Union toolbox to achieve energy and climate goals even more effectively.

We also pushed for a stronger focus of regional aid and cohesion funds on smart cities. Our Horizon 2020 research framework will provide extra funding opportunities for innovation projects related to energy and climate policies, resource efficiency and raw materials. Our aim is to enhance cooperation between actors at all levels of government, with the private sector and across borders. And there, I want to underline all levels of government. Only then can we trigger a maximum of private investment with a limited amount of public funding, and create well-functioning markets in these areas.

And beyond our new budget, we are preparing for our European policy after 2020 – the next vital step on the road to a low-carbon economy which is our European vision. By the end of this year, the European Commission will table strategic proposals including targets for our energy and climate framework up to 2030, building on our current 2020 policy.

We will again strike the right balance between sustainability, security of supply and economic competitiveness, the latter being of course a key consideration. And we start from a realistic scenario based on increased energy efficiency, an even higher share of renewables, smarter energy infrastructure, and a more integrated European energy market.

We now have more experience, knowledge and technology to tackle the sustainability challenge than we did a few years ago – and our ambition is undiminished. I invite those of you who have not contributed yet to participate in the still on-going public consultation on the 2030 policy, launched by our Green Paper last March.

In the same vein, we will try to turn that European ambition into a new, legally binding global climate change agreement by 2015, a global deal that must cover all emitting nations – because Europe itself, thanks to its efforts, stands for only 11% of global emissions. When the decision to launch these post-Kyoto negotiations was reached, in Durban in 2011, the European Union was the driving force behind it. And when United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon convenes a climate change Summit of world leaders in the autumn of next year, we will be there to add to the momentum as best we can, hopefully together with our friends and partners like Governor Schwarzenegger and the R20 Initiative.

And this R20 Initiative is indeed a good example of what we can do together. Because as we have discussed today, Governor Schwarzenegger, and I want to share with our friends around here, we believe that we have to do something strong at the sub-national level. Of course we have to work with our governments at the national level but we believe that with your support, with the role of the regions and cities in Europe we can much better activate our citizens. I think this is critically important, because this is where the decisions closer to the citizens can be found and we can in fact set an example that can be communicated to others. This is why I personally attach the highest importance to this Covenant of Mayors and I am happy to see that this idea has been in fact developing, in Europe and even beyond Europe.

In the United States, too – to an important extent, because of your leadership Governor Schwarzenegger, as governor of California and your undiminished efforts since then – the most affected cities, the most inventive regional economies and the most pro-active state governments are at the forefront of the fight against climate change. So it is not a dream, it is not a dream to think that we can link these cities, these regions across the world, supporting what can be done and decided by the governments in international conferences, but going beyond the political and diplomatic, trying to achieve, in fact, at grass roots level this movement because we need the support also of the public opinion to keep this climate agenda at the top of the world's priorities. This is what I wish for this Covenant of Mayors. This is why I believe we should keep these ambitions even higher.

The excitement is tangible, not least in this impressive room today; the excitement I find when I go all over Europe, of achieving something together, something that is concrete , that is good for our citizens, good for each of them, for the families, for their health, good for the economy also, but also good for our planet and for our environment.

And you are the people who help to turn our climate and energy policies into concrete action, bringing together the citizens, the private sector and other stakeholders.

And together, I am sure we will make this policy into an even bigger success.

I thank you for your attention.

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