The Estonian capital, Tallinn, has landed the 2023 “European Green Capital” award for its commitment to reducing carbon emissions, restoring biodiversity, as well as promoting green innovation and sustainable governance.
The European Green Capital title was handed over to the mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart, by EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius during a ceremony on Saturday (21 January).
The award carries a check of €600,000 to be spent on the city’s sustainability plan, improving waste, water, air quality, noise, biodiversity and soil.
“We have worked very hard for this award, but there is still a lot of work to do,” Tallinn’s mayor Kõlvart told journalists on Friday (20 January).
“I firmly believe that the European Green Capitals need to take leadership in creating sustainable, resilient and inclusive cities of the future in order to ensure high-quality living environment as a key to a balanced and sustainable economic and social development,” he stated, adding that cities will have an increasingly central role in achieving the European targets of climate and sustainability and thus need to collaborate and share best practices.
The opening events of the European Green Capital, which took place during the weekend, brought to Tallinn representatives of 57 cities and municipalities from more than 20 countries, including 8 mayors.
The Estonian capital is planning for 2023 environment-themed activities for all residents of Tallinn and foreign visitors, including over 60 events, as part of the green capital programme.
Green technology and biodiversity
The idea of a European Green Capital award was born in Tallinn in 2006 and every year since 2010 one European city is selected. The award is given to a city that has a consistent record of achieving high environmental standards and is committed to ambitious targets for further environmental improvement and sustainable development.
“Europe faces huge challenges to its sustainability on many fronts, from the air we breathe to the water we drink, the waste we create and the biodiversity that we rely on,” stated Sinkevičius, adding that being a green capital means having the responsibility to share the solutions with other cities, because “no city has all the answers, but many cities together can make a real difference.”
Tallinn’s four core plans that led it to victory were the improvement of the energy efficiency and indoor climate of buildings, its overall reduction of carbon emissions, the increase of biological diversity in the city, and measures to boost to the circular economy.
Tallinn’s dedication to green technology and biodiversity can be seen in the multiple initiatives the city is carrying forward.
Among the examples is Ülemiste city, a future-focused urban environment for active young people created in 2005, with 14,000 talents from more than 73 countries working, studying and living there.
Nearly 500 companies are doing business in Ülemiste, which is using smart city technologies to create a knowledge-based working and living environment to support the competitive ability of people and companies, and inspire the birth of new business models.
The city is also experimenting with self-driving unmanned delivery vehicles as well as smart building solutions, thanks to a partnership with R8 technologies, a company providing intelligent energy control software for buildings.
On biodiversity, Tallinn is in the process of developing a “pollinator highway” crossing through six city districts. The highway will also be a green transport corridor for butterflies, bumblebees, bees, and other groups of animals as well as humans.
“Tallinn has more than 2,100 hectares of protected areas – nature reserves, protected parks and even an island,” said Vladimir Svet, Tallinn’s Vice-Mayor of Environment and Urban Development.
“Tallinn is also one of the few capital cities that has its own bog. And probably the only one where Scottish Highland cattle are employees of the city. This is just one of our many projects for restoring and protecting the biodiversity of coastal meadows,” he explained.
Grenoble passing the baton
Éric Piolle, the mayor of Grenoble who held the 2022 award, also participated in the handover ceremony.
The French city of Grenoble was chosen as the green capital for 2022, beating Turin, Tallinn and Dijon, the other finalists, thanks to the pioneering nature of its actions in favour of the ecological transition.
Considerable work to reach the ambitious climate targets still needs to be done, however, according to the mayor, especially when it comes to clean air and biodiversity.
“We reduced already air pollution by 30 to 50 %, depending on the pollutant, in the last 10 years, but we want to reach the World Health Organisation targets by 2030. This would mean another big step,” Piolle said.
And Grenoble isn’t stopping there. The city, which is located in a valley and repeatedly suffers from air pollution peaks, is currently implementing a low-emission zone and trying to put in place measures to help people to change their behaviours, abandoning individual cars and moving to more sustainable transportation modes.