Sassoli: Local initiatives will ensure concrete results for Europe

Speech by the President of the European Parliament at the opening of the Covenant of Mayors – Towards a fairer, climate neutral Europe for all

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Parliament, the home of European democracy, has hosted the Covenant of Mayors ceremony for climate and energy for over ten years, welcoming mayors and local leaders to Brussels. Last year the event could not take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but today I am delighted to be able to meet. We see before our eyes the increasingly visible and dramatic signs of climate change, and the time has come for action. We are working on concrete legislative acts to implement the Green Deal. Therefore, this event could not be timelier.

Let me first congratulate you on the success of the Pact: over 10,000 cities have signed up, representing more than 325 million inhabitants from 53 countries. These are impressive figures. As you know, we share similar objectives: to accelerate decarbonisation, strengthen the ability to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change, and allow citizens to access secure, sustainable and affordable energy.

Energy poverty is a problem for all Europeans, in all Member States. As we approach winter, we are seeing a rise in energy prices, and citizens and businesses are understandably concerned. As with COVID-19, we need to join forces and provide a coordinated European response. Our exposure to volatility in global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong domestic renewable energy sector. We need to act on energy efficiency, which can really provide a breakthrough. Cities manage large portfolios of buildings, from schools to libraries to housing units. The energy transition represents an opportunity to improve access to better quality housing.

The European Parliament is determined to work towards achieving a climate-neutral society by 2050, and is fully committed to transforming the Union into a healthier, more sustainable, fair, just and prosperous society.

The ecological transition will involve all EU policies and affect all regions of the EU in various ways. Therefore, only a holistic and inclusive approach to implementing the Green Deal will enable us to realise our ambitions. It is for this reason that the European Parliament is in favour of enhanced cooperation with European cities and regions in its work. It is crucial that EU institutions, MEPs, national governments and local politicians join forces to ensure that the energy and climate transition leaves no one behind and improves the quality of life for all European citizens, creating new opportunities and strengthening social cohesion.

Last year, the European Commission launched a climate pact. The pact provides an opportunity to bring together national governments, local communities, civil society, schools, businesses and individuals to share information, create spaces to express innovative ideas, both collectively and individually, and build capacity to facilitate grassroots initiatives on climate change and environmental protection.

The European Parliament is a staunch promoter of the work of the Covenant of Mayors. Your work and local initiatives, providing concrete results, will ensure that the EU and its Member States respect their international commitments and the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Local and bottom-up initiatives are also key to encouraging behavioural change, ensuring a profound transformation of society.

It will be necessary to mobilize substantial public and private investments, across all policies, to help the communities most affected by decarbonisation, while encouraging proactive projects and initiatives.

European cities also have an important role to play in accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility. The European Parliament has called for a broader urban mobility plan in order to reduce traffic and improve liveability in cities, for example by supporting zero-emission public transport, as well as cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. European cities, with their practical experience and expertise, should be involved in the discussion on the implementation of future mobility policies at EU level.

In addition, the development of green spaces in urban areas, rich in biodiversity, will be important to help tackle air pollution, noise, heat waves, floods and public health problems in European cities.

The EU must continue to act as a leader in climate action and is called upon to play, through its diplomacy, a leading role in convincing other global players, such as China and India, to raise their ambitions at COP26 in Glasgow – transforming commitments into concrete policy measures. Time is of the essence and global action is crucial for the success in the fight against climate change. In this context, your role will be essential, both through the twinning programme and Pact offices outside of Europe. Cities need to be on the frontline of world leadership in the fight against climate change.

I would like to assure you that the European Parliament, in defining the European Green Deal, will ensure that European cities are involved and able to do their part, not only as important allies, but also as active partners.

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