Speech - Plenary Urbanisation
European Commission - SPEECH/13/956 21/11/2013
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Commissioner to Energy
21 November 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a honour for me to lead an initiative that represents in a very particular way a win-win situation for China and Europe.
The urbanisation challenge that China is facing is thrilling, both because of its huge dimension as of the benefits it can entail.
The strategic dimension of China’s urbanization is immediately apparent: In 2011, China crossed the symbolic threshold of 50% of total population living in cities. This mega-trend is far from over: 1% of the Chinese population will be added the total number of city dwellers every single year. Urbanisation is closely linked with the three objectives of the 12th five-year plan: economic rebalancing, more qualitative growth, and better welfare for the people.
However, high speed Urbanisation also generates a major stress on the carrying capacity of Chinese cities and infrastructures. How to provide energy, housing, water, transportation for these new citizens? Now it is becoming urgent to find intelligent solutions, and marry them with urban planning. Due to the dangers of lock-in effects and path dependency, this dynamic also means that the infrastructure decisions made today will have long-lasting impacts.
But to a large extent, the “Long March” towards genuinely sustainable cities is no less arduous for Europeans!
In its Europe 2020 Strategy, the EU has set for itself the goal of pursuing the path of a Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth. This translates into the quantified “20-20-20” Agenda, which aims at (1) increasing the share of renewable energy to 20% of the mix (2) improving our energy efficiency by 20%, and (3) decreasing GHG emissions by 20%.
As it turns out, cities represent three quarters of the EU energy consumption, and their Mayors are really the ones holding the key to success for this strategy. Many of them have therefore voluntarily enrolled their city into the “EU Covenant of Mayors”, and municipal teams are now implementing detailed low-carbon action plans across Europe.
In addition, a new European Innovation Partnership (EIP) centered on “Smart Cities and Communities” was launched in July 2012 to tap the technological synergies across the areas of energy, transport and ICT. This new initiative focuses on industry-led innovation as a key driver to achieve economic and social change in urban areas, and promotes actions across the innovation cycle. It will support existing and future EU initiatives for urban areas in the field of environment (such as resource efficiency, water, waste, pollution, green infrastructures) and climate policies.
Chinese cities would certainly provide new opportunities to roll-out these innovations. Let me also insist that this should be a two-way street: for instance, the widespread use of e-bikes in Chinese cities could well become tomorrow’s solution in European towns.
In recognition of this mutual interest, Europe and China have made the choice to become strategic partners towards Sustainable Urbanisation. Premier LI Keqiang and President Barroso confirmed this political consensus when signing the Joint Declaration on Urbanisation in Brussels one year ago (3rd May 2012).
As an open political platform, the China-EU Partnership will address the challenges of urbanisation in a holistic fashion. All levels of governance: EU institutions, Member States, provinces and cities will be mobilised. In parallel with governments, other stakeholders are all invited to contribute: researchers and academics such as those gathered in the room today, the business sector, and civil society.
The first key mechanism under the partnership consists in streamlining the theme of urbanisation across our bilateral dialogues. For instance, through the EU-China transport dialogue we agreed to work together on reducing air pollution and tackling traffic congestion. Innovative, holistic solutions should improve local air quality, fight climate change and create seamless transport systems and door-to-door mobility.
Complementing the dialogues, a sizeable portfolio of day-to-day cooperation projects is also taking shape. Let me give three examples.
1- Urban planning: a new cooperation project is already on track with MoHURD to provide capacity building for Chinese local decision-makers. This new EUR10 million programme will help Chinese Mayors to design genuinely sustainable blueprints for their cities. It will also set up an internet platform to capitalise the best practices and facilitate access to European urban solutions.
2- Urban mobility : The transport system research project - Viajeo - supported by the EU, provides cross-modal journey planning and information to benefit travellers, transport planners and system operators. A demonstration took place in Beijing and Shanghai last year.
3- Energy solutions: Under the aegis of NEA and DG Energy, the Europe-China Clean Energy Centre “EC2” is engaged with the local government of Urumqi to set up a “Demo Zone”. A list of concrete needs have been mapped to enhance the urban energy-efficiency and to deploy the best practices of circular economy in Urumqi.
Looking ahead, transfers of technology will be important to ensure genuine sustainable urbanisation. European companies remain willing to transfer it as long as this is under fair conditions, voluntarily and with full respect of IPR. China would also benefit from opening up its services sectors to optimise its access to foreign experience in greening cities. Finally, openness, transparency and fairness is in China’s own interest when public institutions are trying to procure the best urban solutions.
As a “vote of confidence” in China’s further reform and opening-up, the European business community is already engaging with some municipal governments. For instance, the "EU-China Sustainable Urbanisation Park" is currently incubated by the EUCCC in Shenyang. This is the natural prolongation of the political guidance received from our Leaders.
The flagship event under our Partnership: the EU-China Urbanisation Forum and its Mayors Forum, has been designed to offer this “big tent” event once per year for all the stakeholders of the Partnership.
I am particularly honoured to open this event.
I would like to highlight how from the very beginning both parties spotted Mayors as the main players towards better cities. Today we will provide testimony for the signature of a high number of agreements between Chinese and European cities, each one of them developing the partnership in new dimensions. Our capacity to attract and serve cities and provinces in the implementation of direct joint schemes is going to be the most important performance indicator of our partnership.
I’m confident we will achieve our aims, and get together to support our cities become the pillars of our sustainable future.