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Malmö was declared Sweden’s best environmental municipality for 2021

54 European cities commit to cleaner and healthier urban environments as part of the Green City Accord

54 European cities commit to cleaner and healthier urban environments as part of the Green City Accord

Cities lead Europe’s transition to a greener future

Over 70% of Europeans - and counting - live in cities. The expansion of urban areas impacts residents’ quality of life as well as urban environments’ ability to flourish.

Approximately 90% of people living in Europe’s cities are exposed to harmful air pollutants. Meanwhile, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters remain under considerable pressure. Access to urban green spaces requires significant improvement as does the protection of at least 179 species linked to urban ecosystems. Inefficient waste management systems threaten local environments and 6.5 million Europeans suffer chronic sleep disturbance as a consequence of noise pollution.

So how can a city successfully safeguard the environment and improve citizens’ well-being at the same time?

54 cities across Europe have taken a decisive step toward achieving this objective by joining the Green City Accord. As part of the Accord, mayors and local government leaders are committing ambitious efforts to improve citizens’ quality of life by making progress in five key areas: air, water, urban biodiversity and nature, waste and circular economy, and noise. In return, they receive access to seasoned experts, peer-learning workshops, and best practice exchanges with municipal counterparts.

One of the biggest challenges that city representatives face in achieving a cleaner and healthier future is that environmental initiatives - at the local, national, and international levels - are often treated as silos. The Green City Accord, on the other hand, offers an integrated approach to tackling these issues. It also seeks to help European cities address challenges related to citizens’ well-being, such as improving access to green spaces and lowering noise levels, by framing quality of life in terms of a healthy environment.

A common vision

Myriads of environmental initiatives exist across the EU, but the Green City Accord has separated itself from the fold by inspiring a common vision – a cleaner and healthier urban future – that puts citizens’ quality of life at the heart of environmental action.

Speaking about the importance of this work, Pekka Timonen, Mayor of Lahti (Finland), European Green Capital 2021, said that “a cleaner and more diverse urban environment will directly improve the daily life and well-being of our citizens.” Indeed, Lahti's strategic approach emphasises the development of a sustainable future for city dwellers. The city aims to be waste-free and to transition to a circular economy by 2050. Meanwhile, Lahti is on track to become the first carbon-neutral city in Finland by 2025, ten years ahead of the national target.

Integrating policy to accelerate action

While it is clear that Green City Accord signatory cities are eager to mitigate environmental risks that also affect citizens’ health, transforming this ambition into action is quite a challenge. With so many areas to cover, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Patrycja Długosz-Stroetges, a Sustainable Resources, Climate and Resilience Officer at ICLEI Europe and core member of the Green City Accord secretariat, explained one of the ways that the Accord can help cities translate planning into practice: “We realise that cities are working hard to address the pressing environmental challenges they are facing. In order to avoid too much extra burden being put on cities, while at the same time allowing for monitoring of their progress toward specific locally-defined targets, we have developed a mandatory set of indicators. 

The set will help cities define a baseline for their future progress that can also be shared with peers. It is limited in number and is not meant to cover the full breadth of each Green City Accord area, but rather to help accelerate holistic progress across all five domains: air, water, nature & biodiversity, waste & circular economy, and noise”.

Going above and beyond

In signing the Green City Accord, cities from every corner of Europe also make a concerted effort to go above and beyond existing national and EU legislation.

Audrey Linkenheld, First Deputy Mayor of Lille, acknowledged that “the city of Lille and the European Metropolis of Lille have decided to join the Green City Accord... because this [Accord] is completely consistent with the commitments we have previously made at the European level.” Lille has pursued ambitious efforts to improve citizens’ well-being by reducing air pollution and emissions – a noteworthy achievement as its emission levels are currently well below national averages.

In fact, for many city leaders, the initiative is a clear complement to their existing commitments (such as delivering the Zero Pollution Ambition and European Green Deal) and to achieving global goals, like those enshrined in the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.

Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, Mayor of Malmö, highlighted that the Accord “fits so well with how we work to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We know that if the world is to deliver on these goals, cities have to do the job and we see that there is a very clear point in raising the profile of local work”. Malmö’s reputation as a leader in sustainability is underscored by its ability to integrate local, regional and European policies on issues such as air and noise pollution. The Green City Accord will prove a useful asset in furthering its plans to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Meanwhile, Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga, intends to “position [that city] at the forefront of innovation and knowledge creation to develop impactful solutions for our environment over the next decade, in line with the new Cohesion Policy objectives and the United Nations 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development” as part of the Green City Accord community. Braga is putting its ambitions into action by making large investments in greening and cleaning up pedestrian areas. It is also one of the leading cities worldwide in reducing carbon emissions.

Two challenges: one solution

Integrating policy, taking further strides to achieve excellent results, and framing urban environmental issues in terms of citizens’ well-being are all critical parts of achieving meaningful change.

As Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku (Finland), attested, a greener future means leaving no stone unturned: “Turku’s ambitious climate action goes hand in hand with environmental protection and the promotion of circular economy. We are currently drawing up a programme to protect biodiversity, implementing a progressive forest strategy and working to conserve the Baltic Sea.” In addition, Turku already monitors air quality and noise pollution and is ready to take the next step toward a zero-waste future by transitioning the entire region to a circular economy.

The Green City Accord and its signatory cities clearly show that safeguarding the environment and improving the quality of life in cities are not two separate challenges - they are one and the same. As more and more European cities begin to realize this, the Accord community will continue to grow.

ICLEI Europe, Eurocities and CEMR are supporting the European Commission in developing and implementing the Accord.  

To learn more about the Green City Accord, please visit www.greencityaccord.eu or email: contact@greencityaccord.eu 

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