Dear students, teachers and other guests,
It is a pleasure to be here with you today at the opening of the „Green days“ at the University of Iceland, as an acting Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources. This year the focus is on sustainability in cities, which is good as the cities offer many opportunities for a sustainable lifestyle – opportunities we can most certainly make more of than we do today.
Ever since the publishing of the Brundtland report back in 1987 and the Rio Summit in 1992, it has been agreed among the world‘s nations that sustainable development is the right way to ensure prosperity for current and future generations. Sustainable development is based on three pillars – social, economic and environmental – and regards all aspects of human life, from every day activity of ordinary people to political decisions at an international level. Sustainability regards, not least, the city life and all its aspects, including spatial planning, our consumer habits, transport, leisure, lifestyle choices, schooling and food culture just to name a few.
We can take a simple example from the day of a university student. The physical location of the university and how well it is served by public transport and cycle paths can be a key factor in the students‘ choice of transport mode – whether they choose to walk, bicycle, travel by bus or by private car. This little example demonstrates the alternatives cities can offer when it comes to sustainable lifestyle compared to other places where there may be no means of public transport and distances can be to long for walking or cycling. It can even be claimed that cities demand the establishment of sustainable transport, in order to reduce polluting emissions from vehicles – after all we all need to breath and air quality is a key to people's wellbeing.
The dense population of cities also provides opportunities for co-using and re-using, which may not be as easy in more sparsely populated areas. In connection with the Green days an exchange market for clothes is held here at the university, where students can exchange clothes but markets in cities and towns have proven a great way to re-use clothes. In Reykjavík the Kolaportið market place down town has proven a great venue for giving new life to old clothes as well as the Salvation Army's markets to name some. Often, not the least among young people, used clothes can become fashionable and sought after. That way fashion direction and movements can directly affect how sustainable the clothes choice of individuals becomes.
Waste of food has been debated a lot recently and doubtless there is much room for improvement in cities when it comes to reducing the waste of food – whether it is in the cases of restaurants which regularly throw away too much food, the use of raw material in producing food products or other use of food.
In general more densely populated areas provide more opportunities when it comes to waste management and categorising and recycling of waste through the municipalities' waste collection system.
Town planning plays a key role in providing the possibility for a sustainable lifestyle and planning is one of the issues that will be discussed during the Green Days this year. Increased density and a system of paths for bicycling have been high on the agenda in Reykjavik and elsewhere in the recent years, but town planning also offers more sustainable possibilities, as I am sure that many will be interested in learning more about in the presentations that will be on offer during the Green Days.
The issues that will be discussed during the Green Days this week are highly relevant to all of us. I must complement Gaia, the Environment and Natural Resources Master's Students Association, for their work on raising awareness of environmental issues within and outside the university community. Knowledge and education are key prerequisites for people to realise the importance of environmental protection. I congratulate you all on the Green Days in 2014 and I am convinced that they are step on our road to a better and more sustainable future, within and outside the city.