European regions are gearing up for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June by drawing up a list of “key ingredients” in a bid to make sustainable urban development a focal point of the Brazil discussions.
In a declaration adopted on 23 March at their fifth annual summit, cities and regions committed to start the transition to a green economy through a bottom-up approach, but asked for a decentralisation of power from the national level as well as financial support from Brussels.
Representatives of regions made a total of eight requests to EU leaders which they claimed would help develop more inclusive, competitive and greener cities, a legacy they hope to leave at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Countries will be asked in Brazil to start making the transition to green economies and sign up to 10 new sustainable development goals at the 20-22 June event.
“This vision of tomorrow’s cities, the role of urban policy and the European social model should be upheld and championed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit and within other sustainable development initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors,” the so-called Copenhagen declaration says.
Cities hold the key
The declaration was signed by over 300 members of the Committee of the Regions, elected representatives of the EU’s local and regional authorities, who committed to promoting sustainable regional development and a carbon-free economy. To achieve this, they asked the EU to strengthen their role in framing and piloting European policies.
National governments should decentralise more power to cities and regions and grant them greater financial autonomy, the declaration says. The EU could also contribute with funds to help reduce disparities between regions, at a time when budgets have been shrinking because of the financial crisis, the statement says.
Members asked in the declaration to make their participation in multi-level governance compulsory. For this, “local task forces" made up of elected representatives, practitioners and civil society players “who are capable of successfully bringing about change” should be created, the statement reads.
Speaking at the summit, Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, called cities “systems of innovations” and said equal, open and free access to public services are the cornerstone of the European social model.
“We need to urgently put in a place a European framework for public services that aims to create legal certainty while guaranteeing local autonomy and security, especially in these times of economic crisis,” Schulz said.
“Cities hold the key to a European genuine renaissance,” added Mercedes Bresso, president of the Committee of the Regions, an EU consultative body. In order to face the current challenges of scarce resources and climate change, cities should be equipped with new laws on housing, renewable energy, waste management, water usage and pollution should be revamped, she said.
A vision for the crisis
“If we want growth, we need to own it. It is not enough to talk about it, it is for all levels of governance, including regional, to make it work,” said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso on the opening of the regions’ summit.
Policies taken at regional and local level are essential for moving to a green economy and making it a practical, daily life reality, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said, calling regions “the front line of sustainable development”.
“In this context of crisis, can Europe really afford the transition towards a green economy? For the people queuing up at job centres, sustainable development may seem a fairly remote goal. But it would be a big mistake to leave it at that,” she said.