Firstly, may I say how pleased I am to be speaking here today. I would like to apologise on behalf of Mr Willy Borsus for his absence, due a prior engagement. I know you know him well as he has regularly represented the Congress at your meetings.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Responding to climate change and halting biodiversity loss are at the heart of the work of the Congress Committee on Sustainable Development. We too believe that the dual focus of this Group of Experts is an important step towards developing coherent policies which will improve life on our planet for humans, for flora and for fauna.
Europe has so far taken the world lead on tackling climate change and we are seeing local and regional authorities in the forefront when it comes to finding innovative and effective responses to the challenge. This should come as no surprise as territorial authorities are also on the frontline when dealing with the effects of climate change such as storms, floods, heat-waves and drought.
It is also the local and regional levels that are best placed to build partnerships with civil society. Many interesting projects and activities which try to reduce energy use, change our behavior, and raise awareness about climate change have started out at grassroots level with individuals or groups of citizens getting together. We need to encourage these bottom-up initiatives as well as initiate top down ones.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our Committee realises that we need both adaptation and mitigation strategies to tackle climate change.
We call on territorial authorities to prioritise vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategies in order to guarantee the protection of people, resources and property. We need to anticipate future climate change and protect risk-prone areas and sectors.
So far territorial authorities have shown a tendency to react to extreme events rather than put in place integrated adaptation plans which improve planning and remedy potential problems. For example, construction on flood-prone zones is continuing and in some areas homes are re-built in the same place after flooding without also putting in place additional protection measures.
The Congress invites territorial authorities to review their spatial planning policies, link adaptation strategies and biodiversity protection and integrate these into all their major infrastructure projects. Take heat waves for example; smart planning approaches and concrete actions such as ‘greening’ our cities offer a way of reducing their impact. Such solutions can be rapidly and cheaply introduced into towns and cities in order to reinforce citizens’ protection, make their environment more agreeable and raise awareness of the issues.
Our committee also calls for a new energy culture. Energy issues are high on the political agenda today for two principal reasons: the need to mitigate climate change and the need to access a secure supply of energy at affordable prices.
Never before in the history of mankind has the link between people’s energy use and its impact on the environment and on world peace been so obvious. The Congress believes that if we are to rise to the challenge, the industrialised countries need to massively reduce their use of fossil fuels and make greater use of renewable energy sources.
Local and regional authorities must act as a catalyst for change as they are close to public and economic operators. Indeed with over 75% of energy consumed in towns and cities, territorial authorities can play a major role in setting policies which facilitate energy efficiency, energy savings and use of renewable energy. They can also offer new models of responsible consumption which respect our limited natural resources.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For the first time in human history, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. It is with this in mind that the Congress recently adopted the new European Urban Charter, a Manifesto for a new urbanity. This text is the follow-up to the 1992 Charter and aims to place citizens at the heart of decision-making processes. It sends an ambitious and demanding message inviting all actors to build sustainable cities through ethical governance, sustainable development and greater solidarity in their policies and activities.
Regarding biodiversity, we know that our cities are major contributors to accelerating biodiversity loss. They are part of the problem, but they should also be a part of the solution. The Congress has taken a pioneering role in recognising the importance of urban biodiversity, for example through its recommendations adopted last March which were presented to you at your previous meeting.
Until recently, protecting biodiversity has been viewed as something to be done through national parks, preserved areas and large-scale programmes. But we are now realizing that in fact biodiversity is all around us, it is a part of our daily lives, not only in the countryside, but also in urban areas. And it needs our help.
The Congress has supported the Mayors Conference, held in May this year in parallel to the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Bonn Call for Action. We are pleased that the CBD has recognised the fundamental role local governments are playing in strengthening and implementing the Convention and that they plan to involve local authorities further in the implementation of national and international strategies.
We are convinced that efforts to preserve and promote biodiversity in towns and cities offer a three-fold benefit: it is essential to the health and vitality of our cities, it contributes to the effort to conserve biodiversity, and it provides some protection from the impacts of climate change.
We recommend that biodiversity concerns should be integrated into all stages of policy-making; not just in urban planning and development, but also into other areas including education, transport, waste management, forestry and agriculture. Public procurement policies should also support biodiversity-friendly products.
Fostering biodiversity offers a wonderful opportunity for local and regional authorities to create new connections with their citizens, to raise awareness and to redefine inhabitants’ relationship to their locality. All generations feel concerned by this issue and many different organizations and bodies are keen to participate in relevant activities. Territorial authorities should build upon this enthusiasm and interest.
With this in mind, we have been actively encouraging European local and regional authorities to participate fully in the European biodiversity 2010 targets.
Finally, on behalf of the Congress I would like to welcome the draft Recommendation being examined at this meeting. We are pleased that the Congress has been able to provide useful input to this text through its recent work programme.
This draft text is very important; it calls for wide-ranging European adaptation strategies as well as offering extensive guidance for their implementation. I would like to suggest that it makes clearer the role that local and regional authorities are playing in the protection and management of biodiversity in both rural and urban areas. I have suggested some amendments in this direction to the Secretariat.
I would like to conclude by inviting us to take our inspiration from our flora and fauna; biodiversity does not understand or respect administrative and political boundaries and I suggest we do likewise and ensure that all levels of government work together to build integrated, cross-sectorial and cross-frontier strategies which fully respond to the challenge.