The European Commission today launched a new Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment to help Member States and regional and local authorities improve the environmental performance of Europe's cities. The Strategy is one of seven foreseen under the 6th Environmental Action Programme. Its goal is to facilitate better implementation of EU environmental policies and legislation at the local level through exchange of experience and good practice between Europe's local authorities. Four out of five European citizens now live in towns and cities and their quality of life is directly influenced by the state of the urban environment.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Europe’s cities should be sustainable and offer a high quality of life so that people want to live and work in them and businesses want to invest there. The Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment works with Member States to help regional and local authorities learn from one another about measures that are particularly effective in improving the environmental performance of our cities.”

Europe’s urban areas face a number of environmental challenges including poor air quality, high levels of traffic and congestion, urban sprawl, greenhouse gas emissions and generation of waste and waste water. These can cause environmental damage and affect human health. Local authorities have a decisive role to play in implementing environmental legislation and improving the environmental performance of a city. The best performing cities have developed integrated approaches to urban management where daily decisions are guided by a strategic vision and objectives. These can improve quality of life and the city’s economic performance, which in turn can attract new residents and businesses. While local action is essential, public authorities at regional, national and European level also need to be proactive. The EU can provide support by promoting Europe’s good practices. It can do so best by encouraging effective networking and exchange of experience between cities. Many solutions already exist in cities but they are not sufficiently disseminated or implemented. The Commission has coordinated the objectives of the Strategy with other Community programmes and proposes support for investments, research and demonstration projects on key urban environment issues such as investment in urban transport and reuse of derelict land, or training in urban management. Member States should exploit the opportunities offered at the European level to make improvements in the environmental performance of their cities.