Europe 2020 is 'comprehensive strategy' to promote 'smart, inclusive and sustainable' growth

European cities are faced with the challenge of reducing their carbon footprint while remaining competitive. Writes Gerald Callaghan

By Gerald Callaghan

10 Dec 2012

More than half the people in the world now live in cities, and the global urban population is expected to reach over six billion by 2050. Presently, around 68 per cent of Europe's citizens live in urban areas, with 85 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product being generated within them.

Smart and sustainable cities aim to better use information and communication technologies (ICT) to manage city services, infrastructure and the urban environment to reduce their environmental impact. By lowering the carbon footprint of these urban areas, the EU hopes to reduce overall emissions in its transition to a low carbon, knowledge led economy.

By definition, a smart city performs well in six areas, built on the 'smart' combination of the activities of self-decisive, independent and aware citizens. The six characteristics of a smart city are: a smart economy; smart mobility; a smart environment; smart people; smart living; and, last but not least, smart governance.

"Around 68 per cent of Europe's citizens live in urban areas, with 85 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product being generated within them"

So, how do cities fit into the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth?

In Europe 2020, a comprehensive strategy is put forward to promote smart, inclusive and sustainable growth, and also to provide a framework for the EU to emerge strengthened from the current financial and economic crisis. Innovation has been placed at the heart of this strategy, as Europe's competitiveness and job creating capacity depends on driving innovation in products and services. It is also the best means of successfully tackling major societal challenges, such as climate change and energy efficiency.

The EU's innovation union announced 'European innovation partnerships' (EIP) which are designed to rally actors across the innovation cycle and across sectors with a target of speeding up innovative solutions to societal challenges. This year, on 10 July, the European commission launched the smart cities and communities (SCC) EIP. Under the partnership umbrella, energy, transport and ICT sectors are encouraged to work together with cities to combine their technologies and address the needs of metropolitan areas. The commission hopes this will enable innovative, integrated and efficient technologies in their development and make them more readily available on the market, while placing European cities at the forefront of this innovation. Funding for the partnerships will be awarded through yearly calls for proposals, with €365m being earmarked for 2013.

According to the commission, smart urban technologies can provide an important contribution to the sustainable development of European cities. At the moment, 68 per cent of the EU's population live in urban areas, a proportion that is growing as the urbanisation trend continues. The SCC EIP is a joint venture across the areas of energy, transport and information and communication with the objective to catalyse progress in areas where energy production, distribution and use, mobility and transport, and ICT are intimately linked to offer new interdisciplinary opportunities to help improve services, while at the same time reducing energy and resource consumption. SCC focuses on industry led innovation as a key driver to achieve economic and social change in urban areas and promotes actions across the innovation cycle and across different sectors.

"Smart urban technologies can provide an important contribution to the sustainable development of European cities"

It will support existing and future EU initiatives for urban areas in the field of resource efficiency, water, waste, pollution, green infrastructures and climate policies. The initiative intends to foster, throughout Europe, the dissemination of the most efficient models and strategies to aid in the progression towards a low carbon future.

It will support cities and regions in taking ambitious and pioneering measures to progress by 2020 towards a 40 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable use and production of energy. This will require systemic approaches and organisational innovation, encompassing energy efficiency, low carbon technologies and the smart management of supply and demand.

Cities in Europe now face the challenge of combining their competitiveness and sustainable urban development in synchronicity. This is a major challenge for Europe and will likely have an impact on the housing, economic, cultural, societal and environmental conditions in Europe's cities. But by following the 'smart' model, the European commission is optimistic that a concerted effort to tackle these challenges head on will be successful and ensure the transition to a future low carbon, knowledge base for our urban areas.

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