President von der Leyen at the “Urban Future with a Purpose” Webinar

President von der Leyen at the “Urban Future with a Purpose” Webinar

Dear Lídia,

Distinguished guests,

Thank you for the opportunity to address the first in this series of webinars.

And thank you, Lídia, for raising the attention to the role of cities.

This pandemic has profoundly changed the way we experience our cities. We have all realised how much we need nature to be part of our urban landscapes.

We have started to measure the distance between our homes and the closest park. We have changed the way we move. And the demand for bike lanes has increased exponentially. We have spent much more time at home. We have all become more aware of how much waste we produce. An increasing number of people understand that we can definitely live without single-use plastics. When we buy online, and get our food delivered at home, we expect the packaging to be sustainable and reduced to the bare minimum. Our life has changed in so many ways.

So we have started to challenge our own habits and the old way of doing things. This change in attitudes is happening inside our families and households. And I want our policies to reflect it, and encourage it in all possible ways, at all levels of governance.

The core idea of the European Green Deal has always been to rethink our growth model.

For decades, the world economy has grown by eating natural resources and pumping CO2 in the atmosphere. This is unsustainable for the planet. And today we know it is also unnecessary. We know that we can decouple economic growth from CO2 and from resource use.

We know this because it is already happening, right here in Europe.

A great example comes from Lappeenranta, a Finnish city that was just awarded the European Green Leaf prize for 2021.

The city is turning millions of tons of waste from its local industries into innovative construction materials. These are fit for the extreme weather conditions in the Arctic, and low on carbon. By doing so, the city will bring its waste to zero. And cut its CO2 emissions by 80% already in 2030. All of this, while generating new jobs and revenues for the local industry.

Our European Green Deal is an agenda for systemic transformation towards a clean, circular, nature-friendly economy. It is already transforming our growth model and the way we produce and consume.

But the pace of change is still too slow.

Because the global production of waste is set to increase by 70% by mid-century. Half of this waste is produced within cities. We need to change our culture. And we need investment to support the transition.

The good news is: we now have the opportunity to invest in the circular economy like never before. Here is why.
Over the next two years, governments around the world will seek to spend around 10 trillion euros to finance the economic recovery. At the end of last year, after months of negotiations, we, in the European Union, put together a recovery package worth almost 2 trillion euros. This comes on top of national funding by our Member States.

It is the largest stimulus package in our history. And it will finance a green recovery, built on the principles of the circular economy.

Massive resources will soon be available to foster a green recovery inside our cities. Part of them will come from Cohesion funds – that is, the money Europe invests to reduce disparities among the different parts of our Union. Almost one third of Cohesion funds in our next budget will finance green projects. This means over 100 billion euros, with a special focus on the regions and cities that need to take a bigger leap to achieve climate neutrality and zero waste.

More resources will come from NextGenerationEU, our recovery fund. Around 250 billion euros will be targeted specifically to finance a green recovery.

Our core idea is simple. No administration should have to choose between responding to a crisis and investing in the future.

NextGenerationEU will help to mend our social fabric and repair balance sheets across Europe.

We want to use these investments, not only to restart the economy, but also to improve the air we breathe in our cities. To improve our waste management. To support companies and researchers who are developing the circular solutions of tomorrow. For all this, local administrations will and must be in the driving seat. It is up to national governments to draw their national recovery plans and decide how to invest the resources that Europe is giving them.

But cities have to be involved. They can offer projects that meet our European goals of the green and digital transition. Cities must contribute. Because the city is where all the challenges are coming together. Cities are the places where new solutions can be tried and tested in ways that make a difference to people. Cities will bring projects to life in their local reality. And solutions that work in cities can be scaled up across Europe. This gives local administrations a great responsibility. Thus, the success of NextGenerationEU will also depend on each one of them, the one million local administrators in Europe.

The European Union has plenty of EU policies, programmes and initiatives that reach out to cities. Let me mention another one I am particularly keen on.

A week ago we launched the New European Bauhaus. This project connects all the dots I have been mentioning before: innovation and urban planning, eco-friendly building materials and circular economy. But it also brings a new and important dimension to the table: culture. If we want to make the European Green Deal a success, if we want to transform our cities into sustainable places, we need to bring our ideas closer to the people. We need to make it tangible. We need to give to the concepts of sustainability and circularity their distinctive “look and feel”. This is what the New European Bauhaus is about. Combining technology and culture. Connecting artists, architects and scientists. Matching sustainability with style.
We are only at the beginning. We launched the design phase of the project, because we want to shape the concept together with all of you. Based on your experience, challenges and ideas.

I want to invite you to participate in this huge co-creation process that reflects on how we want to live together after the pandemic. And because climate change doesn’t stop at national borders, we want this to be a global project reaching out to all creative minds, also on the other side of the Atlantic.

The New European Bauhaus needs you.

Just as the European Green Deal needs you.

We are part of a global movement for climate action and for a circular economy. Our cities have already contributed to creating global networks of like-minded local governments, working together for climate action. I think of course of the Covenant of Mayors – a European initiative that has morphed into a global coalition. This is the right path.

In the years ahead we plan on working even more with our international partners – including of course the new US administration. We want to deepen our partnership on emissions trading and carbon pricing. We want to develop the circular technologies that will drive us to climate neutrality. We want to design together a regulatory framework for sustainable finance. 30% of NextGenerationEU will be raised on capital markets through green bonds. International investors will know that, if they invest in Europe, they invest in our planet’s health.

If Europe and the US joined forces on green finance, we could set new standards for the whole world, and reach the level of green investment we so urgently need. It is a global movement, and we are all called to do our part.

A climate neutral, zero-waste and, above all, healthy future requires everyone’s commitment. It requires guidance and funding from the European institutions, yes. But it also requires vision and engagement from local administrators and the private sector.

A circular economy can change the face of our cities and, at the same time, be the engine of our recovery. What we need is a cultural change. And this cannot come from Brussels only.

This is your moment.

It is your opportunity,

and your responsibility.

I wish you a successful webinar!

Thank you for your attention!

Source: “Not Checked against delivery” Keynote by the President at “Urban Future with a Purpose” (europa.eu)

Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/photos/bicycle-building-city-1851497/

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