Today’s Green Week session on the role of cities and regions for climate change policies and sustainability turned out to be a huge disappointment. This is all the more unfortunate if one agrees (like I do) with Margot Wallström’s remark made yesterday that the “fight for sustainability will be lost or won in the cities”.
The session was announced with the excellent title “Regions and cities as motors for environmental sustainability” but the actual contributions consisted of three speeches trying to justify the transfer of billions of European taxpayers’ money (the so-called cohesion funds) to the member states and how great this “cohesion policy” is for the environment. And, “for combating climate change” as the Commission official who was bombarded to be moderator added self-assuredly.
In reality, a lot of these huge “EU support bribes” have been used in the past to build roads and infrastructure, destroying natural capital and environmental value along the way.
So when Commissioner Danuta Hübner tried to convince the audience that the new generation of cohesion programmes will have environment as one of the main priorities, allow me to be a bit sceptical. After her intervention, the Polish commissioner got backup from her country man and undersecretary of state for regional development Jerzy Kwiecinski, who came to explain how the Polish government will make very good use of the 68 billion euros (imagine what some cities could do with this in terms of sustainable transport) that have been set aside for his country for the next seven years. When one considers some of the recent conflicts between Poland and the European Commission on Natura 2000 sites and the country’s emission allocation plan, there is not much reason to be optimistic.
Luckily, the organisers had also invited London’s deputy-mayor Nicky Gavron whose contribution might teach the Eurocrats what political leadership means. London (together with New York) is defining the sustainable city of the 21st century with real and practical policies instead of the climate rhetoric we hear at G8 and unfortunately also EU summits. Mrs Gavron sketched a brilliant picture of all innovative measures put in place (and planned for the future) in the City. Just before her presentation, I had the opportunity to interview Nicky Gavron and I must say I was really impressed by the passion and the intelligence of her vision. The interview will be published on the EurActiv website within the next few days.
Finally, when you want to read a more “EU-positive” view of this and other sessions held this Wednesday, the Green Week website carries daily updates.Willy De Backer