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Speech: Green capitals – spreading the green message

European Commission - SPEECH/14/498   24/06/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Green capitals – spreading the green message

European Green Capital Award ceremony

Copenhagen, 24 June 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with you and to have the opportunity to announce the winner of 2016 today.

I know that Copenhagen has already done a lot during these past months to promote its green activities as European Green Capital and I hope that in the future these will give tourists an additional reason – of course in addition to your Little Mermaid - to visit your beautiful city. 

Copenhagen and all previous Green Capitals serve as an excellent example for all of us and I am happy to see so many familiar faces also from the other cities.

This has become a yearly appointment for many of us, a yearly appointment that has taken us around Europe, from city to city, to discover not only the beauty and uniqueness of Europe’s greenest capitals, but also the creativity and sense of innovation of Europe’s citizens.

But this year’s ceremony is a bit more special than the others for me personally… as it is the last ceremony I attend as EU Environment Commissioner. So allow me a few minutes to thank all of you for transforming what started as a simple project full of hope and optimism six years ago into a mosaic of ambitious ideas that are slowly paving the way to a greener, healthier and more sustainable future.

The green capital award initiative has been very important in spreading green messages across Europe, but it has been a lot more than a communication initiative. It has been a catalyst in many cities, pushing forward changes and transformations that would have maybe taken a few years longer … pushing forward initiatives that will also contribute to accelerating the transition towards a greener and more sustainable economy throughout the EU. 

***

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, with the 7th EAP, our mid-term strategic document, we have decided to put special attention to cities. In the Commission, we are thus intensively working on developing sustainability criteria for cities through which we could recognise the achievements and stimulate the work that cities, including smaller ones, are investing in becoming greener, healthier, more human and environmentally friendly. So, in the not so far future, you can expect some proposals from the Commission, which will build on the success of the Green Capital Award initiative and exploit the potential of the implementation of the sustainability criteria in practice.

In a few days the European Commission will present a package of measures that will support your efforts even further. We wish to develop an enabling framework for the circular economy in the EU, with measures that combine smart regulation, research and innovation, encouraging investment and attracting financing.

Circular Economy is a concept that is becoming more and more relevant as we strive to find innovative ways to manage better the limited resources on which we all depend. Cities play a crucial role as engines for the economy, generating connectivity, creativity and innovation. The fact that there are so many people in one place means there is huge potential to use resources more efficiently, generating the transition towards a more circular economy.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before revealing the name of the European Green Capital 2016, let me just briefly touch on some background information.

This year the jury (made of a panel of 12 independent experts) had the very difficult task, as always, of choosing the five finalists among 12 excellent applicants. The five cities shortlisted, Essen, Ljubljana, Nijmegen, Oslo and Umea, presented their cases directly to the Jury yesterday. 

I would like to thank the Jury, and the representatives from the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, the European Environment Agency, ICLEI, the Covenant of Mayors Office and the European Environmental Bureau, for all their good work.

And now I have the pleasure to introduce the five finalists and to summarise for you what impressed the Jury about each city – in alphabetical order.

Essen in Germany for:

  1. protecting and enhancing nature and biodiversity,

  2. managing its acoustic environment and

  3. reducing water consumption.

Essen has also participated in a variety of initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The Jury acknowledged Essen’s plans to improve the city's acoustic environment and citizens were actively involved in the development of strategic noise plans.

Ljubljana in Slovenia for:

  1. raising environmental awareness amongst its citizens,

  2. its sustainability strategy “Vision 2025”,

  3. implementation of several urban green measures, and

  4. its remarkable transportation network.

The Environmental Protection Programme, the Sustainable Mobility Plan, the Sustainable Energy Action Plan and the Electro Mobility Strategy all work together towards an integrated vision for the city.  Ljubljana has also made significant progress in green public procurement, which has been implemented for 70% of all city purchases.

Furthermore, eco-friendly transportation alternatives such as public transport, pedestrian and cycling networks are becoming more and more popular.

Nijmegen in the Netherlands for: 

  1. reduction of CO2 emissions within the city,

  2. its ambitious goal to become energy neutral by 2045, and

  3. its comprehensive wastewater treatment system.

The Jury valued in particular Nijmegen’s exceptional recycling performance, the highest in the Netherlands. The city is also working to connect its waste incinerator, which currently produces electricity, to a district heating system by 2015.

Citizen participation is also encouraged through the Water Service point and initiatives such as “Disconnecting private buildings” and “Green roofs”.

Oslo in Norway for:

  1. its leading work in eco-innovation and sustainable employment,

  2. its comprehensive air quality monitoring network, and

  3. its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The “Leading by Example” initiative was viewed as an exemplary way to share environmental best practices with citizens as well as with other cities. Oslo has implemented specific measures to encourage eco-innovation and sustainable employment, and it has demonstrated strong commitment to environmental awareness initiatives.

The Jury also noted Oslo’s ambitious targets to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Umeå in Sweden for:

  1. its comprehensive waste management system,

  2. strong energy efficiency measures,

  3. citizen engagement,

  4. green infrastructure, and

  5. the Umeå Master Plan – its vision for continued sustainable growth.

Umeå aims to maintain energy consumption at current levels through strong energy efficiency measures. The city's administration has decreased energy use in municipal buildings by 20% over the last twelve years. The energy which is owned by the municipality company offers 100% renewable electricity to its customers and almost all municipal buildings have co-generation.

So, I'm sure you will agree that all of the finalists have very impressive profiles!

Before I reveal the winner, my sincere congratulations to each of you on your inspiring achievements and I wish you all the very best in continuing your remarkable efforts so far as well as in implementing your future plans.


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