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Today, January 15th, was the day Lisbon handed over the award we were so proud of (and will continue to be) to its successor as European Green Capital, Lahti, in a virtual ceremony – the first in the history of the European Green Capital award, due to the pandemic.
Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland, began by thanking the people in his speech: “Lahti is the winner of Green Capital 2021. I want to congratulate the city and the people of Lahti for this award, you deserve this celebration, your long work for the environment and climate is impressive”.
Although Lahti was the first Finnish city to win this award (at the same time the smallest and northernmost city to receive this honor), its journey to become a Green Capital began in the 1970s with the restoration of Lake Vesijärvi, a heavily polluted lake that led to the creation of a base for the city’s environmental experience and research, serving as an example for other cities – the treatment model was replicated to restore over a thousand Finnish bodies of water.
“This competition encourages us to do more and better,” says Sauli Niinistö, adding that more examples and role models are needed, while hoping that winning this award “will encourage everyone to follow Lahti’s example.
The President of the Republic thus refers to the fact that Lahti has changed “from a traditional industrial city to a modern environmental city and this inspires stories,” further reinforcing that “it is important to note that the citizens have made this change.” That is, all the evolution that Lahti has undergone would not have happened if its citizens had not made a difference by choosing the best options.
The effort of this small town has not gone unnoticed by Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries: “They are doing a great job for citizens and generations to come. With your effort you have put Lahti where it is today”.
“Cities like Lisbon and Lahti show that they have the ambition to put the Paris Accord into practice and show the world that this is the recipe for success, thus serving as an incentive and example to follow,” adds Virginijus Sinkevičius.
Lisboa European Green Capital 2020
Lisbon and its year as a Green Capital was not forgotten, even with all the adversities felt by the pandemic, something that no other Green Capital had experienced until then.
“2020 was a challenging year with many events and projects cancelled or postponed, but they overcame this challenge in style,” the European Commissioner tells us, adding that “Fernando Medina showed us that implementing sustainable policies, adapting to climate change and saving nature is a journey, and it needs everyone on board. In the words of your slogan we need to ‘choose to evolve'”.
This challenge, derived from the situation that first struck the world in the year that Lisbon had the spotlight on it, was also mentioned by the Mayor of Lisbon, Fernando Medina: “The pandemic has changed a lot, but it hasn’t changed the real reason why we got involved in the Green Capital. We used the title of Green Capital to mobilize people and the city to accelerate change”.
The acceleration of change was felt in public transportation – “we did this before the pandemic: we lowered prices, put more buses on the road, and invested more in public transportation”. “We have accelerated investment in green spaces, saved water, none of this has stopped,” adds Fernando Medina, while recalling that “we have involved private companies in a commitment to the Green Future.
The Mayor of Lisbon also adds that although people’s attention last year was not the same because “they were worried about the pandemic, their health and that of their families”, this is a title “of which we are very proud, the city is very proud”. Although Lisbon is no longer the European Green Capital, it will continue to be a Green City “and this will be our greatest legacy, the legacy that we need to continue to accelerate the sustainability agenda and the weapons are stronger than when we started”.
Lahti European Green Capital 2021
This northern European city has gained prominence for its adopted environmental solutions that could serve as an example for future candidates. Good waterway protection practices, innovations in the circular economy (currently recycling over 99% of household waste, with one third used to make recycled materials and the other two to produce energy), an end to coal use (the city abandoned the use of coal in 2019) and ambitious environmental targets for the coming years may be some of the reasons they have won the award.
The city has set the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025, 10 years ahead of all of Finland, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared to the 1990 level by 2025, to become a zero-waste, circular economy city by 2050, to protect nature and valuable surface and groundwater areas, and to encourage people to use sustainable means of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transportation or even skiing.
Pekka Timonem, Mayor of Lahti, reinforces the commitment to dialogue with sustainable cities and invites Lisbon to be “the first city for our first dialogue on sustainability in February”, to which the Mayor of Lisbon responds positively and adds the importance that this city will have in the near future: “Lahti will play a key role because it is in a moment of transition where the new American administration will be much more committed to accelerating the fight against climate change, where people are much more aware of how urgently we need to take action, and they will all be looking to you for help, for inspiration, and can count on Lisbon, because it is a cause that needs to unite everyone”.
In short, what Lahti has to offer to the rest of Europe and the world is, in the words of Pekka Timonem, that “we can set an important example for both Europe and the world. Most Europeans live in medium-sized cities like Lahti, so what Lahti can do is an example to many others. If we can do this, everyone can. So it’s about setting an example and during our year as European Green Capital we can make it visible at local, national and international level”.
It is urgent to fight climate change
The urgency to fight climate change was not forgotten in the speeches. “Climate crises are not a concern of the future. They are happening now and they need urgent measures [from all of us] as citizens, as individuals, as a state,” says the president of Finland.
While the European Commissioner stresses that “we are suffering from the pandemic, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccines are already there. However, there is no vaccine for environmental problems” so we need to fight. “Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens thanks to people with ideas and initiatives working for change.”