Most Europeans live in cities and cities are Europe’s economic, cultural, and political hubs. Cities face environmental and climate challenges but also hold keys to realise Europe’s sustainability ambitions. Two new assessments on urban sustainability, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today, combine several environment and climate themes, calling for better integration of policies to address the complex and interlinked challenges through win-win solutions.
Cities play pivotal roles in Europe’s sustainability transition
Cities are centers of innovation and economic activity but they also affected by social challenges such as segregation, poverty and inequality. Environmental challenges for cities range from worsening impacts of climate change, such as heat waves and flooding, to pollution, waste management, or loss of green spaces.
The EEA report ’Urban sustainability in Europe — Avenues for change’ brings together the Agency’s recent work on urban environmental sustainability, developed together with stakeholders in the field. The main report is published together with an urban nexus assessment, which completes the EEA’s urban report package, available on the thematic page on urban sustainability.
The new assessments and the EEA’s previous work emphasise that cities have a key role in Europe’s transition to sustainability: cities need to address economic, social and environmental issues in an integrated way to achieve sustainability and that includes to ensure that cities are inclusive, safe and resilient.
The EEA report identifies several key building blocks for improving cities’ sustainability, including improving the quality of the local environment, building adaptive capacity, ensuring enough public and natural areas, switching to renewable energy, and improving energy and resource efficiency. Moreover, cities should improve the quality of the built environment, including homes, and ensure social justice and inclusive participation in decision-making. While all cities are both complex and different from each other, the report identifies some shared key factors for improving their sustainability. Local culture, knowledge and quality of data can either enable or slow down improvements, and the same is true for new technology, governance, and financial management.
The package also presents an ‘urban nexus approach’, which can help identify problems or opportunities that are linked and, as such, support integrated and cost-effective actions. For example, in many cases cities can improve their climate resilience, quality of public spaces, ease of mobility, and air quality with integrated and targeted actions. Cities can also test sustainability approaches and develop new ways of measuring sustainability, the report argues.