VI Nevsky International Ecological Congress “Environmental Awareness as a Tool of Environmental Solutions”

St Petersburg, Russian Federation, 21-22 May 2013

Speech by Natalia Romanova, (Ukraine; ILDG), President of the Chamber of Regions Congress of Local and Regional Authorities Council of Europe

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Mr Chairman of the Nevsky Ecological Congress,

Madam Chair of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly,

Distinguished Congress participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to welcome you on behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, within the walls of this historic Tavrichesky Palace.

In a time of climate change, in a time when human industrial activities have come to represent an integral part of our environment, and their impact has become a permanent component of the ecosystems of our planet, the Nevsky International Ecological Congress serves to raise awareness of the ecological problems and concerns caused by this carbon footprint.

Over the past six years, this forum has evolved into a genuine platform for an exchange of ideas and good practices in a search for responses and solutions to these problems – solutions which require joint action of all sectors of society and all tiers of government across national borders, much as the issues we seek to resolve are transborder in nature.

Local and regional authorities have a major role to play in this process, and their contribution is crucial indeed – not only because our response measures must be implemented first and foremost in our towns, cities and regions. Their contribution is crucial also because local and regional politicians can and must take a lead in their communities in raising environmental awareness, promoting positive changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns, and applying new methods of governance. In other words, they must lead in fostering a new, ecological culture – a new way of thinking, taking into account the environmental consequences of our activities, which is the central point of discussions during this Congress.

Indeed, an ecology-friendly culture lies at the heart of finding solutions to many environmental problems of today, as the theme of this forum suggests. It is hard to change the established ways of “doing business” without changing first our way of thinking. Yet, the established ways of consuming the resources of our planet are becoming increasingly unsustainable, especially against the background of the population growth, longer life expectancy, and industrial development in the Third World. New technologies, in particular “green technologies”, offer solutions, but for them to take root in everyday life, we must develop new habits of using them.

It takes a leap of faith to see beyond the costs they may represent today – to see it as a long-term investment which will bring great dividends in the future, not only for us but, most importantly, for our children and grandchildren, for generations to come. It takes a new culture, an individual conscience, which must be instilled and nurtured at the grassroots.

Due to their physical proximity to citizens, local and regional authorities are best placed to raise environmental awareness among the local population and lead by example in setting trends in local and regional ecological policies. They also have the means to do so: the decentralisation of power and fiscal devolution have endowed them with a growing scope of competences and responsibilities in the areas that are key to building a healthy and sustainable environment. Today, local and regional authorities represent 65% of all public investment and 30% of public spending, including 60% of all public spending on education, more than 30% on health and between two thirds and three quarters on culture.

They bear primary responsibility for local and regional economic development and decisions with regard to technologies, type of industry, energy and transport to be used in their communities. Through local regulation, they can impose high ecological standards in construction and spatial planning, and promote an ecological culture both in thinking and in practice, by developing “green industries”, ensuring waste recycling, or making ecologically-friendly choices of transport and residential heating.

In other words, local and regional authorities have become an economic and political force to be reckoned with. In fact, almost all round tables organised during this Ecological Congress have a local and regional dimension. Be it green energy, shaping ecological awareness in society, waste management, nutrition and good health practices, ecological regulation or water resource management – all these aspects today are in the remit of competences of local and regional authorities.

Today’s economic crisis and the need to cut costs and ensure greater cost-efficiency have also brought about more local innovation in the use of “smart” technologies, especially in the energy sector – from timed street lighting and solar energy for residential consumption to electric transport and the use of recycled materials and alternative energy for industrial purposes. These positive experiences of what actually works on the ground provide a valuable input into shaping national ecological policies, and should be taken on board at national level. In the long run, they become an integral part of our ecological conscience.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe has been actively promoting such good practices and awareness-raising of the role of grassroots action in the field of ecology. Over the past five years, we have put forward a wide range of proposals and recommendations aimed at improving the sustainability of local and regional communities. To name but a few, I could mention Congress recommendations on fostering responsible consumption, promoting a new energy culture and transition to a new paradigm in energy production and supply, halting the loss of urban biodiversity, or building sustainable transport infrastructures. We are convinced that, by implementing these proposals, we will bring our dream of a clean, green and sustainable community closer to reality.

In conclusion, I would like to recall that I already had the pleasure of addressing the Nevsky Ecological Congress two years ago, in May 2011. I spoke then on the subject of green technologies and the need to develop green industries at local and regional level. These issues have only gained in importance since then, and I am grateful to the organisers for keeping up the tradition of international ecological debate, which is so needed today.

For its part, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities will continue to make its contribution, and I very much look forward to the forthcoming discussions over these two days.

I wish this Ecological Congress and all of us every success in our efforts.

Thank you.