This Spanish city wants to be ‘the beacon’ of green policies in Europe this year.
The greenest city in Europe has officially upped sticks from the Baltic shores of Estonia to the Spanish Mediterranean.
Valencia took over as European Green Capital from Tallinn in a ceremony last week, kickstarting more than 400 sustainable events in 2024.
The award has been running since 2010 – generating some healthy rivalry between big EU cities as they transition to clean energy, better protect nature, and improve the lives of residents.
“Valencia has earned the Green Capital title because of its ambitious sustainability strategy, and it has learned from lessons in the past,” says EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius.
“For many decades, the city has been driven forward by a bold civic movement that sustains genuine change. People are Valencia’s asset.”
Why is Valencia Europe’s greenest city?
When it comes to greenness, the southeastern city is already starting from a strong base.
Valencia boasts over two million square metres of gardens, making it a popular tourist destination for the rest of Europe. Just 10 kilometres south of the centre lies Albufera National Park, a protected lagoon area described as the city’s “green lung” by mayor of the Alfafar municipality, Ramón Adsuara.
But it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts – and that has earned Valencia title position in 2024, beating co-finalist Cagliari in Italy.
Valencia’s motto is ‘On a Mission Together’ and city authorities were praised by the Commission for working with residents to reach their climate neutrality and environmental goals.
As part of its mission to become carbon neutral by 2030, a number of green initiatives are being piloted across the city.
Many of them are found in the Cabanyal district, historically home to the local fishing community. In the 3,500 metre-squared Cabanyal Municipal Market for example, air conditioning is now being supplied by rooftop solar panels.
Nearby in Las Naves, Valencia’s first ‘socialised solar plant’ is around 80 per cent funded by individual citizens, who each chipped in between €100 and €2,000 for a stake in the renewable energy generator.
Other green initiatives include smart lighting along the seafront, where more than 20,000 lamp posts have been fitted with energy saving technology. Lamp posts are also doubling up as EV charging points, under support from the EU-funded MAtchUP project.
How is Valencia getting even greener?
“Today we take the baton from Tallinn and we do it with great strength,” the Mayor of Valencia, María José Catalá, said during the opening ceremony at the city’s Palau de la Música on 11 January.
“It begins a year in which more than 400 activities will be held, where Valencia will be the beacon of green policies in Europe to build a more humane, more sustainable and more prepared to combat climate change city.”
Valencia’s event programme indicates what some of those activities will be. Though, as we found from our visit to Tallinn in autumn, it can take a year to see how green capital status fully delivers. Here are some of the flagship projects we know about so far.
Safeguarding the Albufera park
One of the European Green Capital initiatives from Valencia is to have the Albufera declared a biosphere reserve.
The national park holds Spain’s largest freshwater lagoon; home (at times) to 300 different species of birds, especially waterfowl including flamingos.
It’s been a Special Protection Area for 30 years, but becoming a UNESCO biosphere reserve would grant it even greater sanctity as a ‘learning place for sustainable development’.
New green routes in Valencia
Valencia has designed three new routes to showcase the city’s assets and progress in three key areas: nature, including Albufera; sustainable mobility, with greater promotion of public transport, cycling and walking; and the recovery of public space for citizen’s enjoyment.
The first new route is called ‘the green river’ and it covers the nine kilometres of the Turia Garden – one of Spain’s largest urban parks which tracks the former Turia riverbed. It’s described as a “healthy backbone” with clear climate strengths: staying three degrees cooler than other areas of the city, while acting as a natural sponge that retains and filters water to the subsoil – thus preventing floods and erosion.
The second route takes walkers through the centre, across squares and pedestrianised streets that showcase Valencia’s commitment to sustainable mobility.
Route 3 encompasses the city’s “three natural pantries”: a peri-urban orchard, the fish-stocked Mediterranean sea, and Albufera with its surrounding rice fields, where paella was first cooked up.
Also on Valencia’s busy schedule is a climate summit it is planning to host, bringing together more than 200 European cities to catalyse the continent’s move to climate neutrality.
Valencia will receive €350,000 from the EU to put towards its green efforts this year.
Vilnius takes the mantle next year, and the 2026 place is still open for entries – with a 30 April 2024 deadline and more information here.