The European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) is the biggest event on EU regional and urban policy. Thousands of practitioners and experts from all Europe met in Brussels last 7 to 10 October to discuss EU Cohesion Policy and the future of Europe from a regional and local perspective. 

Several workshops addressed environment and resource efficiency, giving the opportunity to policy makers to touch base and have an overview of what is happening in Europe at local level in these policy areas. Here are some highlights from the event:

Circular economy and waste management

Transition to circular economy was the focus of several workshops this year. Interreg Europe CESME project, which is about supporting SMEs to enter the circular economy, organised a workshop to discuss the adoption of circular economy practices and project achievements. According to the panelists, in many cases SMEs need to be encouraged through a holistic approach that involves innovative ideas, networking, scientific support and financial advantages. The good practices identified during the project provided core knowledge and innovative ideas to the public. One of the main CESME tools, the Green Profile Assessment Tool for SMEs, which is a step-by-step guide that recognizes the circular economy business potentials of SMEs, was also presented. 

In the session Circular Economy as a strategy for cities and regions, the development of a strategy for circular economy in cities was highlighted as an opportunity to develop a sustainable, smart and inclusive urban environment. The programme ESPON presented the results of two projects aiming to support regions and cities in the transition to a circular economy - CIRCTER - Circular Economy and Territorial Consequences and ESPON Sharing project. The main message was that the circular economy is relevant for all types of territories, but it is materialised in very different ways depending on local conditions. Therefore, a circular strategy should start with an assessment of the local context. The role of regions and cities in plastic waste management was discussed at a workshop organised by the Circular Plastics Alliance

Waste management and food waste are gaining more and more the attention of the EU policy makers. Reflections and good practices from ECOWASTE4Food  were presented at a workshop on reducing food waste organised by ESPON, INTERACT, Interreg Europe and URBACT programmes. Samuel Féret, project manager at the Institut Agronomique Méditerranéen de Montpellier (France), talked about the ECO WASTE4Food project and the promotion of new business models in the food supply chain helping to combat food waste. A good example from the Polish Wielkopolska Region was highlighted, where special vouchers are given to those organizations that suggest innovative solutions in limiting food waste.

Natural heritage

Within the thematic area protection and sustainable management of natural heritage, Interreg Europe IMPACT organised the workshop Making an IMPACT: Putting protected areas at the heart of EU policies for the sustainable development of regions and cities. During this workshop several good practices on protected areas as engines of regional sustainable development were shared. A successful protocol (the Charter of Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas) to promote sustainable tourism in protected areas was also presented. Participants agreed that protected areas are decisive for sustainable socio-economic development: in rural areas they can stop depopulation through the creation of green jobs and in urban areas, they are key for a sustainable way of life

Enhancing green infrastructure (GI) and integrating GI activities into policy making was in the focus of a workshop organised by ESPON which presented the findings of the GRETA project on GI and reflected on good practice examples of GI implementation at different governance levels. 

Cohesion policy and the environment 

In the workshop 'How the EU Cohesion funds have helped fill environmental implementation gaps and build a Greener Europe' organised by European Commission' - DG ENV, the role of environmental policies based on the new Commission’s priorities, particularly concerning the Green New Deal, has been widely emphasized. Regional experience in the development of new methodologies on how to assess the environmental sustainability of the operational programmes and the applicability of the Sustainable Development Goals were also presented. Finally, the workshop was an opportunity to raise the attention of the participants on how to integrate the environmental concerns in other sectors, for example by using the green public procurement (GPP), sustainable environmental assessment (SEA) and the environmental selection criteria

Cultural heritage

In the thematic area of cultural heritage and sustainable tourism SHARE project presented the St. Francis Way (Via di Francesco) as a successful example of internationally-known itinerary, attracting visitors to overlooked villages and rural cultural heritage sites

Greener, carbon free EU closer to citizens 

With over 300 sessions organised into thematic clusters linked to the five main objectives that will drive EU investments in 2021-2027, EWRC 2019 was a platform for exchange of views, knowledge and ideas on the future of the EU. European regions and cities expect the EU to remain in the lead in preserving the environment and supporting the transition towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon and circular economy, while protecting our natural heritage.

Cohesion policy will continue to be the main enabler of environmental policy goals, through 'direct' investments in the water and waste sectors, air quality, soil rehabilitation, biodiversity, and 'indirect' investments through greening other sectors. Yet, there are still challenges to be addressed. It is essential that Cohesion policy supports the most effective solutions tailored to the needs and specificities of cities and regions. 

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