Florence has a project underway to plant 20,000 new trees, Porto will double the roughly 455 acres of green and biodiverse space currently available to its residents, and Freiburg is currently planning a new district for around 16,000 people which will be emissions-neutral – one of the first in Europe. And, as Juan Espadas Cejas, Mayor of Seville, explained, much of his city’s centre has been closed to cars.
Clearly cities are leaders when it comes to innovative policy making to protect our environment.
We know that the European Union is facing up to a series of challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, moving more quickly towards a zero-pollution and more resource-efficient economy, to name a few. It’s also clear that a consensus is emerging across levels of government that responding to these challenges means working together and empowering the local level.
Just last week, for instance, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, tweeted that:
Regions and cities will be at the core of the €1.8 trillion #NextGenerationEU plan for a green, digital and resilient recovery. Its success will depend on each of the one million local administrators in Europe. This is their moment, their opportunity, and their responsibility. pic.twitter.com/8yzv4AJJEQ
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 12, 2020
And, on Thursday 22 October, representatives from local, regional, national and European authorities came together with NGOs, businesses, citizens and others to launch the Green City Accord.
What is the Green City Accord?
Speaking at the launch event, Joanna Drake, Deputy Director General of DG Environment, European Commission, said that “achieving a better and healthier environment needs action at a local level. The Commission recognises the valuable role cities play.”
One hope for the Green City Accord is that it will speed up Europe’s transition to a sustainable Europe by getting different levels of government to work together and by getting more citizens to take environmental action. In this sense, it is part and parcel of the much touted European green Deal. But, more specifically, as Claudia Fusco, DG Environment, European Commission, explained, “the GCA will be a movement of European cities committed to safeguarding the environment.”
Moreover, it will work in five core areas by providing support to cities that are ready to make headway towards the following goals by 2030:
|Significant improvement in air quality, moving closer to respecting the World Health Organisation’s Air Quality Guidelines and ending exceedances of EU air quality standards as soon as possible
|Important progress in improving the quality of water bodies and the efficiency of water use
|Considerable progress in conserving and enhancing urban biodiversity, including through an increase in the extent and quality of green areas in cities, and by halting the loss of and restoring urban ecosystems
|Advance towards the circular economy by securing a significant improvement in the management of household municipal waste, an important reduction in waste generation and landfilling, and a substantial increase in re-use, repair and recycling
|Significant reduction in noise pollution, moving closer to the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation
Within each of these areas, cities will define a series of actions, such as making public transport more attractive; addressing micro pollutants and plastics in water bodies; expanding urban green areas or improving their quality; reducing consumption of single-use plastics; identifying and protecting quiet areas from increases in noise.
And how will this be possible? A city mayor or council leader will have to sign the freshly minted Accord’s political commitment document. They will then determine baseline levels and local targets in each area for 2030, which will be monitored over the coming years.
A set of indicators will be developed to help benchmark progress. Participating cities will have access to an online helpdesk and opportunities to exchange know-how, expertise and good practices among each other, for example through workshops and peer-learning visits.
What are cities doing?
As Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence and Vice President of Eurocities, explained, the EU’s ambitious goals can only be achieved through the actions of city leaders on the ground. While, at the same time, city leaders rely on a strong, clear and robust framework from the EU.
Aside from the urban forest project, Florence is also concentrating on its public transport network, by laying new tramways, moving private vehicles off the roads and encouraging the use of bicycles around projects such as the PON metro.
Speaking from Porto, Filipe Araújo, Vice Mayor of Porto and Chair of Eurocities Environment Forum, outlined similar initiatives that have been underway for many years. This includes taking “full responsibility for the urban water cycle”, including rehabilitating a lot of natural water courses.
Read more on Porto’s efforts here.
And in Lille, which was one of the earliest signatories of the Covenant of Mayors, Audrey Linkenheld, Lille Metropole Vice President and Lille Deputy Mayor in charge of climate transition and energy, said huge efforts have already been made to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. This includes biodiversity plans that offer greening licenses to local people and a climate budget that will begin in 2021.
Martin Horn, Mayor of Freiburg and European President of ICLEI, shared the amazing example that bicycles are the number one means of transport within the city, and only around 20% of all travel in Freiburg involves cars.
As the above examples illustrate, the Green City Accord is open to any city located in the European Union, of any size, it encourages a new, multilevel, way to deliver the green transformation, and it recognises cities as the best allies of the European Green Deal.
The first step for signing up is to download the political commitment here.
Get in touch here and why not check out the dedicated Green City Accord website to find out more.
You can find the recording for this event here.