Cities ‘key’ to solving world’s environmental woes


With 80% of Europeans living in urban areas, cities hold the key to sustainable development, said Commissioner Margot Wallström, outlining her “vision” for sustainable cities at the opening session of Brussels’ Green Week event.

Margot Wallström, Commission vice-president in charge of communications policy, outlined the Commission’s vision for sustainable cities on 12 June 2007.

“The quest for a sustainable future will be lost or won in our urban areas,” Wallström said, outlining three reasons why “a shared vision” on urban policy was needed at EU and global level:

  • With cities expanding rapidly worldwide, urban issues will increasingly monopolise attention from governments, encouraging local participatory democracy.
  • More than half of urban areas that will exist across the world in 2030 are yet to be built. “This means that…the world’s cities are largely a blank canvas that should be painted, planned, designed and built,” Wallström said, adding it is “an amazing chance”.
  • Cities “are economic engines“, accounting for 80% of the world’s economic growth.

Building sustainable cities cannot be done by governments alone, Wallström stressed. But she said that governments needed to mobilise citizens and businesses into new forms of partnerships in order to achieve this aim.

"The 21st century is undoubtedly the urban era," Wallström told the opening session of Green Week in Brussels. "Each year, sixty million people become new city dwellers. By 2050, some six billion people will be living in urban areas," she pointed out, noting that the bulk of this growth is projected to occur in the developing world.

"For the first time in history, half of the world's population live, work, fall in love, consume and pollute in cities. In the European Union, 80% of all citizens already live in urban areas," she said.

"Citizens are responsible for about seventy-five percent of all CO2 emissions and consume about the same percentage of natural resources," Wallström continued. "Just imagine for a second what would happen if all cities in Europe took the decision to go CO2-neutral," she asked.

"In addition, new data show us that in ninety years time, one third of the planet could be desert land. This desertification means that migration of people - many of them environmental refugees in fact – will accelerate and put even more pressure on cities. Again, this is not happening in the distant future: it is already happening in Africa and to a certain degree in Australia and in Southern Europe."

"So the main challenges facing humanity such as public health, economic development, poverty, energy, resource depletion, and environmental quality are urban-based. And these challenges will continue to grow as the world's cities grow."

While the EU does not have direct competence in urban affairs, its sectoral policies in the areas of transport, environment and social affairs can have a significant impact on challenges posed by cities.

EU ministers responsible for urban and spatial development laid the foundations for a European urban policy on 24 May 2007 with the signature of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (EURACTIV 25/05/07).

  • Sept. 2007: Commission expected to present policy options (‘Green Paper’) on urban transport.
  • Autumn 2008: Commission to adopt Action Plan based on Green Paper.


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