BRUSSELS – Brexit and the new US Administration of President Donald Trump should not get in the way of the European Union’s efforts to build a coalition of smart cities and fight climate change, European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told New Europe.
“We’re waiting for the announcement of the British Prime Minister (Theresa May) about the parameters of the Brexit and about her proposal how to open the negotiations,” he said in Brussels on February 7 on the sidelines of an event by the European Committee of the Regions on building a coalition of smart cities and regions by investing in Europe.
“Speaking about the smart cities, I have quite intense contacts with the British cities with Mayor Sadiq Khan of London, Mayor of Birmingham and other cities who are very active in developing the smart city agenda. And I think that’s something, which Europe brought to world attention, especially in Paris where we presented this EU Covenant of Mayors,” Šefčovič said, highlighting the mayors’ ambitious sustainability goals, which are often higher that the national governments’ targets.
Šefčovič represented the European Commission at the launch of the EU Covenant of Mayors Board in Brussels on February 10.
“There is also strong presence of UK cities in the Covenant of Mayors and I presume that they would continue to cooperate with us, that this agenda is very interesting for them because we’re making sure this experience we gathered in Europe, we’re now taking to the global level,” the European Commission Vice President told New Europe in an interview on February 7.
“We’re just putting into the real motion this year the world of the Global Covenant of Mayors. We have the first meeting of this board of global mayors in June and what we’re promoting there is the low carbon transition. It’s a concept of smart mobility, the ways how to tackle air pollution, how to adjust our educational systems to be prepared for the future, how to deal with energy poverty and social housing,” Šefčovič said, adding that these are issues which are “common for every mayor in Europe, in the UK and in the world and therefore I presume that the UK cities will be interested in continuing cooperation with their European partners on this very important project”.
“We see this very high energy coming from the cities, that they want to be part of this overall modernisation of the European economy, which I think is underpinned by our Energy Union efforts and that is a new development which is becoming extremely dynamic over the last two years. We definitely want to build on this positive energy coming from the local authorities to energise and modernise Europe,” Šefčovič said.
Turning across the Atlantic and the election of Donald Trump, the Commissioner said American cities are investing heavily in the modernisation and transition to a low carbon economy “because they are faced with the same challenges as in Europe, some times ever more – air pollution, traffic congestions, problems with the local jobs. So I believe that the cities would stay on the course of modernising and low carbon transition”.
Šefčovič said he plans to visit the US in a couple of weeks to insist the Washington sticks to the Paris climate agreement. “I’m still looking for the best way to communicate our message and to whom to talk. And, of course, our message would be quite clear: That Paris Agreement is a international binding treaty that we negotiated together with great collaboration with our American partners which was approved by most of, almost all of the countries on this planet, which entered into force and for us is a legally binding document,” the Commissioner said.
He stressed that Europe’s experience in low carbon transition has a very strong business sense, creates jobs, brings in investment and modernises the whole economy. “It would be pity if the Americans would decide to change the course. So I believe that Americans are traditionally known for being very pro-business, very pragmatic,” he said. “I believe that in the end this appreciation of the facts on the ground and the business opportunities would prevail and they would join us in what today is really a global fight against climate change.”
Meanwhile, European Committee of Regions President Markku Markkula from Finland told New Europe on February 8 that he is working with Šefčovič to find a way to fill the investment gaps. “How to combine the use of different funding instruments,” he said. He noted that despite the Juncker Plan investments are below compared to the period before the financial crisis. “It’s easy to understand that without those investments we don’t have the sustainable growth. Now with Šefčovič’ especially we can target much more of those investors,” Markkula said, adding that this way cities and regions can meet their sustainability targets.
“It’s the Global Covenant of Mayors, and climate and energy that we can now – especially with the Trump, the US, the UK situation because both are slowing down, different way, different reasons – get the Chinese and other Asians doing much more with Europe because we have the knowledge, we have the experience, but we don’t have the kind of management structures to get those investments fast enough,” Markkula said.