by Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action
It is not easy to think of anything that is more specifically European than our towns and cities. Whether it’s Berlin with its broad avenues and new buildings in the east, Brussels with its blend of art nouveau gems and ugly concrete shoeboxes, or Barcelona with its Rambla, alleyways and Gaudi architecture. Each city holds a piece of our history – just think of Rome and Athens – and tells the story of our society today - our values, choices and priorities.
However, Europe’s towns and cities are not just witnesses to our past and present. They also have a crucial part to play in the switch to a climate-friendly society that we will be making over the coming decades. Nowadays three in four Europeans live in or just outside a city, and cities account for around 70% of energy consumption in Europe.
Making this switch will require major investments and the courage to make far-sighted decisions. But if we choose intelligent solutions, we can both improve the quality of life of those living in our cities and create a wealth of business opportunities for European enterprises – not least Danish ones. As you know, Danes have expertise in a range of areas, including windows, thermostats and insulation.
The potential within, say, energy efficiency, is known to be enormous. Whether it’s housing complexes in East Berlin or classic buildings by Horta in Brussels, you can generally be certain that energy is seeping out in large quantities from cracks, door frames and window frames. Forty per cent of all windows in Europe still only have single glazing! The growth market for energy efficient building components is therefore immense, and could provide vast opportunities for work for architects, building constructors and craftsmen, provided of course that we dare to make the necessary demands.
It is true that investments costs money. But energy upgrading pays for itself, unlike new kitchens. Commission figures show that on average European families could save EUR 1000 each year by the next decade by improving the energy efficiency of their Startseites. Intelligent solutions also mean we can get this task going even if the necessary capital may not exist, for example in the public sector. In Berlin, ‘Energy Service Companies’, or ESCOs, have made a business out of redeveloping 1 300 public buildings. The energy firms supply tangible energy saving solutions, financed by the surplus the energy savings provide to the inhabitants, which is passed on to the firms.
Sustainable city development is about physical changes – about infrastructure and buildings. But it’s also about people and how they think. About values and choices. Because even if there are many good reasons to invest in sustainability, we nonetheless have to agree that this is what we want to do and take a positive decision to build new buildings which are energy-neutral, to create environmentally friendly heating and energy systems and to develop sustainable transport systems when we redevelop our cities. But if we do that, there is no doubt that Brussels, Berlin and Barcelona will be better cities in the future.