ICLEI European Secretariat

ICLEI European Secretariat


Member in the Spotlight

Communauté Urbaine de Dunkerque

Dunkirk is an industrial port in northern France with approximately 210,000 inhabitants. Rebuilt during the 1950s following major destruction in the Second World War, Dunkirk’s design was centred around the private car as the primary form of transport. The Greater Dunkirk Urban District Council recognised very early the potential and need for a transition towards a greener and more sustainable local economy. What followed was a series of innovative measures to improve the local environment.

Dunkirk was the first city in France to put an air quality monitoring system in place (1976), to separate waste at source on a large scale (1989), to create a secretariat for the prevention of industrial pollution (1990), to negotiate environmental requirements with local companies as part of its Industrial Environment Master Plan (1993), to introduce wind power on a grand scale (1996), and to obtain double ISO 9002 and 14001 certification, for the Triselec waste sorting centre (2000).

In May 1985, in collaboration with the nearby town of Saint Pol Sur Mer, a district heating network was installed which re-used hot air from a local steel mill. More recent improvements include a major overhaul of the transport system and road infrastructure to try and decrease the number of cars in the city centre, and the regeneration of large residential areas of the cities through the Neptune Project. The latest stage of this project - the Grand Large development - focuses on sustainable building strategies such as rainwater collection and renewable energy generation.

Sustainability focus: Spreading sustainable practice

Housed within a former warehouse in Dunkirk’s harbor area, the newly refurbished Halle aux Sucres provides a regional learning centre focused on sustainability. Incorporating a planning agency, regional archives, workrooms, exhibition spaces and a multimedia library with a wealth of traditional and digital resources, the learning centre aims to provide a place where experts, academics and the general public can come to learn more about the concepts that make up a sustainable city.

The building itself is designed according to high environmental quality (HEQ) standards. Architects maintained the original industrial façade, but insulated the walls and roofs and divided the interior into four smaller and more energy efficient levels. Heating and cooling is provided by two seawater heat pumps and a double flow system recovers heat from stale air to warm the fresh air and keep the different areas at optimum temperature. Large glass surfaces allow plenty of natural light into the building, and the warehouse has also been sound insulated.

The Halle aux Sucres will raise awareness of sustainability concepts through exhibitions, conferences, debates and other more informal gatherings. Its aim is a long-term one: to inform a broad audience of the rationale behind sustainable cities and thus enable them to participate in sustainable urban development in a meaningful and positive way. Dunkirk sees the learning centre as part of a broader, unified vision of regeneration and transformation which will challenge the more traditional, compartmentalised approach to city planning.

Fast facts

  • Dunkirk has over 141km of cycle paths, 600 bus stops and its own carpooling network.
  • The district heating system replaces 2,500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil with a pollution-free energy source and gives annual savings of 26,000 tonnes of CO2 compared with a gas-fired solution.
  • The Grand Large eco-development currently contains 216 low energy houses and, when complete, will provide 8,000-10,000 dwellings.


  • Dunkirk was the first winner of the European Sustainable City Award in 1996.
  • The town was awarded the Global Energy District Climate Award with Saint Pol sur Mer in 2009 for their district heating network.
  • In 2010 the city organised and hosted the 6th European Sustainable Cities and Towns Conference.
  • In 2014, Dunkirk received a Gold level Cit’ergie certification in recognition of its progress in energy and climate policies.

"The creation of this Learning centre dedicated to sustainable cities is an amazing opportunity for Dunkirk and the Nord-Pas de Calais region. It's something I have been waiting for for a very long time... contrary to popular belief, environmental issues are not as commonplace as we tend to think. Here, information on such issues will be gathered, sorted, analysed and made available to any one who asks. The Learning centre will also give the impulse to new research and encourage new initiatives at local, regional and European levels. The fact that the centre is in a port is a good omen: it will become a lighthouse warning against danger, sounding the alarm!"

Thierry Paquot,
Head of the Strategic Orientation Committee of the Learning Centre,
Professor of Philosophy, University Paris-Est Créteil (UPEC)

ICLEI and Dunkirk: Dunkirk has been a member of ICLEI since 2008. In 2010 the city organised the 6th European Sustainable Cities and Towns Conference together with ICLEI. It is a signatory to the Aalborg Charter, the Aalborg Commitments and the Covenant of Mayors.