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Address by UNEP Deputy Executive Director at 'Green Cities, Better Cities' Conference in Gwangju

Opening Speech by UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ms. Amina Mohamed at The 2011 Urban Environmental Accords (UEA) Gwangju Summit, "Green Cities, Better Cities"

I. Introduction

Honorable Mayor of Gwangju, Mr. Un-Yae Kang,

Honorable Mayors from many parts of the world,

My Colleague Mr. Juan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat,

Assistant Minister of the Environment,

Distinguished representatives of the private sector, the civil society, international organizations,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here today on behalf of UNEP's Executive Director, Achim Steiner. UNEP appreciates the opportunity to be a Partner of this important conference on Green Cities, Better Cities, together with the Metropolitan City of Gwangju and the city and county of San Francisco.

The 2011 Conference of the Urban Environmental Accords comes at an extremely timely moment for two reasons. First, the Gwangju Summit is the first conference to be held after the Urban Environmental Accords were signed in 2005, with the overall objective of reviewing the current city practices in integrating sustainability in their strategic planning. Secondly, the outcomes of this Conference will be feeding into the preparations for the next United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Hopefully we will also define and agree upon new strategic actions and measures so as to deliver the needed transformative change that will make our cities a better place to live in.

We all agree that we can no longer afford to continue exploiting the planet's finite resources at the expense of the environment, health and local people's livelihoods. We have amassed an enormous amount of evidence and examples of best practice over the past two decades that show us that green economy and sustainable development, notably through resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production, are achievable goals.

- This is made even more evident by the fact that all of the world's emerging economies – China, Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa and most importantly here in Korea – have all embraced green growth strategies. In the Republic of Korea's 5-year plan for green growth launched in 2009, the government committed to investing 2% of its GDP in green sectors, such as renewable energy, clean technologies and water.

- Earlier this month, a Gallup survey in India found that the bulk of the population narrowly prioritized environmental protection (at 45%) over economic growth (at 35%), even when they found it difficult to make ends meet.

A green economy is a pathway for achieving sustainable development. There can be many paths leading in this direction, but there are some key guideposts that we must follow if we want to scale-up our achievements to date to meet the challenges tomorrow.

II. Challenges and Opportunities for Green Cities

Cities are where some of the world's most pressing challenges are concentrated: unsustainable resource and energy consumption, carbon emissions, pollution, and health hazards. But cities are also where hope and innovation lie. They are focal points for the global economy and therefore key elements of building a green economy.

We all know the facts: Since 2007, more than 50% of the world's population now lives in cities, 60% within an hour to the coast. By 2050, nearly 70% of all the earth's inhabitants will be living in urban areas. Approximately 3.5 billion people, or 58% of the world's population, live in Asia and the Pacific. With the region's population due to grow to 5 billion and half of this population living in urban areas by 2030, sustainable urbanization is and will remain a major challenge for Asian policy makers.

Cities consume more than 75% of the world's natural resources; use 60-80% of the world's energy, and are responsible for 75% of its carbon emissions. We are already living beyond the planet's natural carrying capacity and need to find new ways to generate greater efficiency at scale if we are to reduce our human footprint on this planet. We are borrowing natural capital at an unprecedented pace and we are spending beyond our means.

Another critical factor that must be taken into account is that today's urban growth is often accompanied by poverty and deprivation - what we now see as a growing divide between rich and poor. Better managed and future cities can alleviate this gap by being more inclusive.

There are numerous examples of where local governments, communities and the private sector have shown foresight in this area. For example:

In Quito, Ecuador, the city established a trust fund with water user fees that helps pay farmers to protect the forests and thus, protect freshwater sources in the Andes.

Here in the Republic of Korea, Gwangju is known as a Low Carbon, Green Industry City where many innovative ideas and practices are being tested. In line with the meaning of Gwangju, the "City of Light", it has the largest quantity of direct solar radiation in the Republic of Korea. Solar panels are easily found around the town and the city is investing in future eco-friendly industries, such as the photonics industry

III. Why green cities are better cities? Key findings from UNEP's Green Economy Report

Earlier this year, UNEP released its Green Economy Report, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. Working with experts around the globe, the report found that investing 2% of global GDP across 10 key sectors could "tip" us towards a green economy transition - generating much needed sustainable employment, while reducing the human pressure on the planet's resources. Such an investment would help reduce the ecological risks and scarcities inherent in our current economic systems.

Considering their importance, the Green Economy Report examined the role of cities in this global transition and confirms that they are critical in greening the economies, both at the national and international level.

1-Green Cities generate Economic Benefits

Larger, denser cities, which help lower per capita emissions, are good for economic growth. Cities bring people and places closer together. They help overcome information gaps and enable idea flows. This is why 50 of the world's most significant metropolitan economies produce 46% of the global GDP with only 12% of the global population.

These 'agglomeration economies' translate into productivity gains for business, higher wages and increased employment rates for workers.

Densification reduces the capital and operating costs of infrastructure. Not only are streets, railways, water and sewage systems less expensive in cities but so are the cost of utilities. Comparing smart growth areas and dispersed car-dependent developments, direct cost savings have been identified between US$ 5,000 and US$ 75,000 for building road and utility infrastructure per household unit.

On the other hand, the financial and welfare costs of unplanned, congested cities are substantial. In the largely urbanized European Union, these costs are equivalent to 0.75% of GDP, and even more in similar cities in developing countries. For example, the cost of congestion in Buenos Aires is estimated at 3.4% of GDP, in Mexico City 2.6 and in Dakar 3.4%, according to the World Bank.

2-Green Cities generate Social and Environmental Benefits

One of the biggest social benefits from green cities is job creation. While urbanization has helped to reduce absolute poverty, the number of people classified as urban poor is on the rise. In a green economy, job creation can come in many forms - from urban agriculture and renewable energy to green construction and waste management. Upgrading to greener infrastructures will generate jobs, so will creating and managing more effective recycling services.

Already in the US, 100 of the largest metropolitan regions have far greater shares of low-carbon employment in wind and solar energy, and in green buildings compared with the remaining 66% of the national population. In many countries, public transport jobs account for between 1 and 2% of total employment. In New York, almost 80,000 local jobs are related to its public transport sector, in Mumbai more than 160,000 and in Berlin about 12,000. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a project for generating compost from organic waste helped create 400 new jobs in collection activities and 800 new jobs in composting.

Air pollution in particular remains a major public health burden, particularly in the developing world. In extreme cases, such as Dakar, Senegal, pollution-related health costs are above 5% of the GDP, while in other mega-cities, the range is between 2-3%.

3-Enabling Green Cities

Unique opportunities exist for cities to lead the greening of the global economy. There are genuine opportunities for national and city leaders to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance ecosystems and minimize environmental risks, but they will have to overcome vested business interests, consumer habits and often fragmented governance and planning regulations.

In order to make the transition to a green economy, it will be critical to develop policy frameworks at the regional and national level, as well as at the local level. Overcoming a set of barriers and constraints requires a multi-faceted approach across the different sectors, and it includes creating more coherent governance and planning structures, as well as new finance mechanisms and incentives.

Policy makers will need to look at the conditions most relevant to their area and ensure that there are synergies which simultaneously promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, deliver economic prosperity and reduce resource intensity, while promoting social inclusion. This is difficult to achieve under the current processes, which frequently fail to account for environmental and social externalities.

The importance of Procurement also needs to be carefully looked at. Public spending normally represents between 8-30% of national GDP and every purchase is an opportunity to drive markets towards innovation and sustainability. Through sustainable procurement, governments can lead by example and deliver key policy objectives related to climate change, excessive use of natural resources, threats to biodiversity or increasing poverty.

IV. UNEP's Commitment to Green Cities

For many years, UNEP has been active on fighting urban air pollution, promoting urban biodiversity, advocating for sustainable lifestyles and resource efficiency, campaigning for greener cities and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

UNEP's Urban Environment Programme aims at linking local and global agendas on urban policy. It makes the case for integrating the environment in strategic planning at a city level, while providing global advice to cities and city networks.

Through its partnership with UN Habitat, it helps ensure synergies are being made between tools developed globally and locally in a number of sectors such as for instance sustainable transport and mobility, sustainable buildings and housing, biodiversity and ecosystems and solid waste management at city level.

In another effort to promote Green Cities, UNEP has set-up a Global Reporting GHG Framework for Cities in collaboration with the World Bank, UN-Habitat and the Cities Alliance. Drawing on the IPCC Guidelines and WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol, the Framework calculates emissions on a per capita basis, allowing cities to compare their performance with their peers and make a more concerted action to reduce their urban climate footprint.

Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Transport and Urban Mobility, Integrated Waste and Water Management, and the Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level (APELL) are all some of UNEP's cross-cutting efforts to build greener cities.

V. UNEP's Role in the 2011 Gwangju UEA Summit

As a co-organizer of the Gwangju Summit, UNEP is supporting the development of two key studies that will be further debated during these three days.

1) The first one relates to the development of an Urban Environmental Framework, which is being carried out in close cooperation with the Institute Veolia Environment. The Framework will assess the state of the urban environment and the performance of urban activities. It will allow cities to compare their performance and analyze their differences

2) The second report relates to the development of a feasibility study on Urban CDM, using the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to support Green House Gas (GHG) mitigation at a city–wide level with the ultimate goal of supporting cities in accessing carbon finance. The report, compiled by Perspectives Climate Change, reviews existing methodologies and approaches relevant to an urban CDM, as well as featuring some case studies with the aim of providing recommendations and way forward to overcome the inherent challenges of the current CDM system.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the experts who have guided and reviewed the development of these studies. They come from the most renowned and prestigious institutions in the sustainable urban development field and in addition to the one mentioned above, I would like to acknowledge UN-Habitat, UNESCO, the World Bank, UNFCCC, OECD, GIZ and private sector organization such as Siemens, together with experts from Gwangju and Korean Environment Institute.

Additionally UNEP also coordinated the development of a position paper to guide the discussions in a more structured way.

VI. Conclusion

At the forthcoming Rio+20 Conference next year, the world's governments, business leaders, donors and civil society organizations will have a tremendous opportunity to assess the progress on sustainable development since the last Earth Summit 20 years ago, and to decide how we can work together in a more collaborative and efficient way for delivering sustainability.

In this context, UNEP sees cities as a platform for delivering environmental sustainability, economic growth and well-being; as a place where the transformative change should happen; and as a place where resource efficiency, sustainable lifestyles and sustainable consumption and production should be promoted.

Growing Green Cities requires leadership and South Korea national and local governments have definitely contributed to this movement. UN in general and UNEP in particular will definitely be looking for more adequate ways and means for strengthening cooperation and building partnerships with national and local governments to deliver the needed transformative change in the near future.

Cities must be the next "hotspots" for green investments, in our common endeavor for building up "green cities and better cities" as main hubs and driving forces for sustainable development.

Thank you for your attention.

Full Release




Further Resources

UN Secretary General's Statement at Gwangju Summit


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