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Green Cities Champions League

Posted on 4 April 2009 | 10:04am

I had no idea, until I saw a tiny item in a French newspaper  on the Eurostar back to London yesterday, that there had been a European Commission competition to honour the first ‘green capitals of Europe.’

Congratulations to Bristol on being shortlisted. Commiserations on missing out. And congratulations to Hamburg and Stockholm for having won.

From what I could gather, the main judgement was the extent to which carbon emissions within the cities had been reduced and the figures for these two were impressive. But the whole idea of cities competing in this way strikes me as a good one.

In a relatively short time, measured against the sweep of history, it has become almost universally accepted that the entire planet is at risk without dramatic action.

One of the first stories I ever did as a trainee journalist, on the Tavistock Times almost thirty years ago, was the launch of a group called Tavistock Wastesavers. Recycling was beginning to take off.

Then when I was a journalist on the Daily Mirror, I was given the chance to fill a whole shock issue on the environment. The big issues then were acid rain, hedgerows and waste dumping in water.

The stakes today seem bigger, but the awareness is much higher. We still waste far too much, and you only have to walk along a busy road to know there are still too many ignorami littering and spoiling.

But whether we’re talking about small scale action of individuals, or large scale pollution of cars, planes and industry, the awareness is important. Back in my chain-smoking media days, the idea of everyone accepting that you should not smoke in places of work would have been unthinkable. It has happened. That was change led by slow gradual understanding of a reality.

The same is happening I think in relation to the environment. People are slowly changing behaviour. It requires individual action of course. It requires government action at national and global level, and the Copenhagen Summit later this year will be to the environment as this week’s G20 was to the world economy.

It will require local leadership and a rebirth of genuine civic values too. Funnily enough, at a focus group I attended on the recession recently, I noticed a fair bit of the latter; people saying the recession had re-taught them the value of sharing – up to and including clothes and low cost bulk food options in the supermarkets. One woman said ‘I think it has dawned on me that I don’t actually need a lot of the things I thought I did.’

That needs to be put alongside a drive, town by town, city by city, to reduce emissions, with recognition for those who do best. Stockholm and Hamburg will benefit in all sorts of other ways from the award they have received.

I remember when Liverpool was made City of Culture. ”City of Culture, you’re having a laugh,’ visiting football fans used to sing. But Liverpool used it well, and has changed for the better as a result.

So league tables for carbon emissions? Who knows? Today it is league tables of a different kind that count as the tedium of the international break is left behind and we get down to football that matters.

  • Don Marlowe

    I hope it was not just carbon emissions but also use of green space in the urban environment. Bristol certainly deserves recognition, and I hope they have another go next year

  • Pat Graham

    I’d like to know which other UK cities applied. One of the things the government needs to do more on is to highlight the importance of our regional cities, many of which have been transformed in the past few years. I travel around a lot in my work as a commercial lawyer and whether it is Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birminghsm, Bristol, the big cities are different places to what they were under the Tories. More greening yes. But also more understanding that they have improved hugely already.

  • Alan Quinn

    Good idea but take further. The UK would never qualify for the Euros! We have the largest wind reserves in Europe but we don’t take advantage of it. Liverpool could benefit from off shore wind farms and I know Peel Power have looked at using the tidal flow of the Mersey to generate power but everything seems to get bogged down in committee and bureacracy.
    The largest wind farm in England is just past Bury, but it took ages to get into production, the turbines had to brought in from Germany as we don’t build them. In a recession GB should a UK production facility set up, just like FDR would have done. We have the brains, the skills, the engineers, all we need is the will. Then tackle the red tape and endless meetings by seeting a 4 month guillotine on the planning process.
    You never know GB could turn into Cappello and get us into the World Cup finals!

  • Terry Evans

    The air in Cardiff will certainly not be clean tomorrow for the visit of our most hated rivals. On a serious note, the fact that you found this story as a footnote and it wasn’t a story of note in this country explains why we still have this huge problem. I’m afraid that this issue is still not a high priority for a lot of people. Politicians, though getting better regarding green issues are still way short of the mark.

  • Alan Quinn

    Another point to make. Just think how well Bristol would do if the Severn Barrage became a reality instead of a focus group meeting!

  • Jane A

    I’m often surprised how many people reduce the environmental issues down to trivia and then rail against it – take the reaction to “ugly” wind farms, for example.

    Has anyone ever spotted an *attractive* pylon?

  • Marek

    It’s a pity that you don’t mention the “how many people have you got killed by publishing lies” table. You would be near the top over the last sixty years.

    Isn’t it time that your mendacious personality was removed from the public eye?

  • cate C

    If the criteria was set according to how effciently we generated the energy consumed in our cities we’d have no hope compared with, say Germany, which makes far batter use of its wind resource (which is not as great as ours incidentally).

    Not saying this shouldn’t happen, just that it’d uncover some inconvenient truths. How could the Government really encourage towns to be greener and also build new coal-fire power stations? It’s clear that Britain is not doing enough to harness its green potential.

    In the 80’s, when you were at the Mirror, acid rain wasn’t the only ‘big issue’. Or maybe it was in the press. But Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were telling us about the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ – global warming. They have been saying it for well over 20 years. We weren’t listening then. Perhaps if we had the outlook now would be less dire.

    So, carbon league tables, ok…but can we have something a bit more radical than that too? How about this.

    Obama has pledged to reduce his nuclear capability by a third. So has Russia. In this spirit let’s forget the decision to renew trident and use that money to invest in a much bigger renewables programme and kickstart a new green economy. Now THAT would be dramatic action.

    The G20 Communique was yet another missed opportunity to demonstrate any real commitment to take the ‘dramatic action’ on climate change you acknowledge is needed. It got a cursory mention that meant very little. We don’t have many opportunities left before the ‘tipping point’ is reached. By all means reward towns that do well, but lets have some government investment on a scale that reflects the true magnitude of the problem too.