Action on growth and climate change

It may seem paradoxical, but cities are both the source of the problems facing society and the solution to these problems, says Mercedes Bresso, president of the European Union’s Committee of the Regions

Two decades have passed since the Earth Summit in 1992 when climate change and sustainable development were placed on the political agenda. Since then a lot has changed. Yet still a lot more needs to change.

With such economically turbulent times, we need to find a new model of sustainability. We must place “green growth” and urban sustainable development at its very core while also ensuring that cities and regions are key players in shaping strategies.

In Europe, 75 per cent of the total population live in cities and are responsible for consuming 80 per cent of energy. Yet it is also the towns and cities that generate some 85 per cent of European GDP. And this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, in Europe and around the world.

In many places, decisions are in the hands of national governments. Nonetheless, if a European model exists, it is focused on cities and regions. We need to create a decentralised model that delivers sustainable growth in areas where national governments have failed or refused to commit themselves.

It is this new model of sustainable development that we will voice in Rio de Janeiro at the Rio+20 United Nations conference later this month.

Cities hold the key to changing our lifestyles, stimulating creativity, delivering jobs and building businesses. From green local public procurement to energy efficiency of residential buildings and water management, European cities are developing unique experiences in the field of sustainability.

Together with the European Commission, we launched the Covenant of Mayors, and so far 3,000 European cities and regions have committed themselves to go way beyond the environmental objectives set out by the European Union. Some 3,000 more cities, towns and regions are committed to moving towards a low-carbon society.

Cities and regions are taking up opportunities to share experiences, demonstrating that decisions are being made at a local level. We need to take a genuinely multi-level approach to governance, allowing our cities and regions to action sustainable development policies in their own way, by their own accord. By having greater autonomy in urban policy, we can find a path towards a more sustainable future.

Cities and urban sustainable development, coupled with opportunities to share knowledge and experiences, do have the capacity to help the world become even more beautiful, greener, smarter and more inclusive.