Green City Accord: Helping European cities reach the EU's Zero Pollution Ambition
September 19, 2021
Later this year, the European Commission will launch their Zero Pollution Action Plan, which aims to secure healthy ecosystems and living environments for all Europeans. Recognising that pollution damages our health, environments, and ecosystems, the plan aims to, among other things, better prevent and remedy the pollution of air, water, and soil.
But how does the Zero Pollution Action Plan connect with other European environmental initiatives, such as the Green City Accord? And why is it important for cities to tackle environmental pollution? To answer these questions and more, we speak with Alis Daniela Torres, Senior Officer, Sustainable Resources, Climate & Resilience, at ICLEI Europe.
This year the European Commission launches its ‘Zero Pollution Action Plan’; can you explain how this connects with the other recently launched initiative, the ‘Green City Accord’?
Alis Daniela Torres: Pollution remains one of the main environmental challenges that local and regional governments (LRGs) face today. It seriously threatens human physical and mental health as well as ecosystems. LRGs are committed to protecting these.
As the level of government closest to citizens and most directly affected by the pollution of air, soil, noise, light etc., they are really best positioned to engage their communities and implement timely zero pollution actions to support Europe’s effort to become a zero-pollutant continent.
Cities are crucial in this process. They are home to 70 percent of the EU’s population and due to economic, social and industrial activities, their health is directly affected by being exposed to different types of pollution, such as air, water or noise contamination.
In this context, the Green City Accord facilitates other EU urban initiatives and supports the implementation of the European Green Deal and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals on a local level. The aim of this new Accord is to help cities become attractive places to live where all citizens can breathe clean air, have clean water and access to parks and green spaces, while noise pollution will be reduced, and the circular economy will become a reality through the promotion of reuse, repair and recycling practices.
IMAGE: Charley Litchfield
Why is it important that cities tackle environmental pollution?
Alis Daniela Torres: We have to think about pollution in several dimensions: air, water, noise, light, and soil. We also need to think about its direct and indirect impact on citizens’ health, the environment, and industries like tourism, agriculture, commerce, production and others, which are relevant for cities’ prosperity. The effects of pollution on people’s health and well-being can be magnified in cities. This is especially true for those who are most socially vulnerable.
The prevention or elimination the of pollution of environmental resources and ecosystems has always been at the top of the sustainability agendas of sub-national governments. In order to achieve the ambition of zero-pollution in the next decades, deep transformations of local and regional systems are needed. It is important that they have the tools and resources to tackle pollution from the roots, while preserving the city’s natural resources and sustainable growth.
Why are local governments so important in achieving environmental improvements and how does the Green City Accord support them?
Alis Daniela Torres: Cities are essential partners in the transition towards a more sustainable Europe and the implementation of the European Green Deal. On the one hand, they are the places where most Europeans live nowadays, so changes made there have a direct impact on many people’s lives as well as on the aggregate outcome of EU policies. On the other hand, over the years, subnational governments have continuously shown that, given the appropriate framework, mandate and resources they can not only set ambitious targets, but implement them to serve their communities.
The Zero Pollution goal defined in the EU Green Deal requires stronger collaboration and participation of local and regional governments. Cities’ actions are key to advancing the zero-pollution agenda in the coming years and successfully implementing the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan. The Green City Accord facilitates cooperation and supports cities in providing a framework to meet EU environmental directives, while developing innovative projects contributing to local environmental sustainability. It brings together local government leaders from across the European Union, who share a common vision for the future.
Local governments are ideally positioned to support the engagement of all local stakeholders for pollution prevention, management and control. They also provide a fertile ground for experimentation, piloting of new measures and to scale-up technological and financial solutions. In this sense, I believe that the network, the knowledge exchange and capacity building components of the Green City Accord will broaden cities perspective on addressing pollution from different scopes, including technological, scientific, policy and social perspectives.
The Green City Accord also brings back urban sustainability discussions, underlying the importance of a healthy environment to protect human health and ecosystems, especially during this global pandemic that is affecting us all.
Could you briefly summarise some of the benefits of joining an initiative such as the GCA?
Alis Daniela Torres: By signing the Green City Accord, cities enjoy a number of benefits: recognition of their environmental achievements and visibility across Europe is one. They also become part of a community of like-minded cities and will increase the level of transparency, accountability and credibility towards their local communities. At the same time, they gain access to information on EU funding opportunities, are invited to networking and capacity-building activities, and receive tailored guidance and expert support.
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