Speeches - April 2005 - 20th Session of the UN-HABITAT Governing Council - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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20th Session of the UN-HABITAT Governing Council

Opening Statement by Dr. Klaus Toepfer

Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme

Nairobi, 4 April 2005

Your Excellency, Mr. Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya

Your Excellency, Ambassador Bo Goransson, President of the Governing Council,

Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT,

Prof. Wangari Maathai, Assistant Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Kenya,

Your Excellency, Ambassador John Ashe, Chair of CSD 13

Honourable Ministers,

Distinguished Delegates, especially those representing local authorities and civil society,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I. I am honoured and pleased for having been invited by my dear colleague and friend, Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, to address the opening ceremony of the 20th session of the Governing Council of our sister agency UN-HABITAT. It is now a good tradition and a signal of good cooperation that we speak at each other’s Governing Councils.

Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate Anna Tibaijuka for having been elected as one of the eight foreign members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry and for her important role in Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa.

I would like to welcome the Distinguished Delegates to the United Nations in Nairobi. As you know, UN-HABITAT and UNEP are the only two United Nations programmes headquartered in a developing country and we continue to be proud of this. I hope that you will go back to your capitals as good ambassadors of UN-HABITAT and also of this headquarter.

II. The urban environment is one of the most extraordinary contributions that humankind has made to this planet. Cities are the engines of commerce and of trade due to the urbanization and localization economies of functional cities. They are the seats of government where big decisions are made. They are melting pots of cultures and places where the social hierarchies are blurred. They are the places for social mobility: Already in the medieval ages a motto proclaimed “the air of the city makes you free”. Cities are the centres of science, technology development, of cultural identity as well as diversity.

They are catalysts for ideas and for political movements. They are engines for sustainable development. They are most important for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

But they are also a conundrum. Rather than places of wonder, of hope and of outstanding possibilities, many have become havens of misery, of fear, crime and of human degradation. The cancerous growth of cities and conglomerations is speeding up. We need new visions and a new determination. We need to put people at the centre of our decisions to avoid conflicts. This is not only a problem in developing countries, but more and more a problem in developed countries too. We have to avoid segmentation, tensions and conflicts in our big cities.

We need to give ownership of the urban world back to communities, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, all different religious and ethnic groups. The battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in the urban environment. The MDGs will in many ways fail or succeed at the doors of our great metropolises.

Climate change, the biggest threat facing the planet, will be curbed only by an urbanization that puts energy efficiency at its centre. In buildings, transport and homes. The demand for natural resources from a mega city, from any city, is currently far more than the land that urban areas occupy. So cities have the capacity to impact far beyond their borders. They demand water resources, they import huge amounts of food, they command large energy supplies. The “urban footprints” are enormous; the terms of trade of the rural areas are detrimental.

Therefore, we need intact eco-systems. Therefore the fate of coastal, marine, mountain, forest and other habitats rests to a large degree on the resource efficiency of cities and vice versa. Rests on how we handle their wastes. The 3-R approach and lifecycle economies are solutions. As a result, the fate of rural areas - their land, air and waters - rests at least partially in how urban areas manage their affairs.

Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, says UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Slums are the open wound of that scar. Almost half of urban dwellers today live in such conditions. People do not come to cities to live in slums. Some come in anticipation of better lives, of better education, job prospects and health care. Others come out of desperation. In the rural areas of many developing countries there is no electricity and insufficient clean water, degradation of soils, no jobs especially for the young, the better educated generation.

If we are to stem the uncontrolled tide to urban areas we need to lift desperation from the lives of rural dwellers to integrate urban and rural development. Integrate women in city planning. Most of our cities are much too “masculine”, not women and children friendly. Cities do not exist in a vacuum. They are a reflection of the wider issues facing a country and a region.

III. UNEP and UN-HABITAT have forged a partnership. Our joint work is crucial in the wake of CSD13 and the “Summit Meeting of the General Assembly on the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals” in September. The urban environment component of UNEP’s work is also benefiting immensely from our partnership.

As laid out in the “Joint progress report of the Executive Directors of UN-HABITAT and UNEP” which is before you, the following joint activities will help attain the aforementioned goals:

- Cooperation between our two organisations in the Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP) and Localizing Agenda 21 Programme (LA21) has matured. The new five-year phase II plan of the SCP has been agreed on and includes collaboration on strategies for environmental infrastructure improvements to benefit especially the poor.

- UN-HABITAT has been supporting UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process, which is used increasingly in developing national, sub-regional and regional environmental assessments. In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNEP and UN-HABITAT have been very successful in bringing GEO assessments to the city level. A joint GEO for African Cities project is being implemented in 2005-06.

- UNEP and UN-HABITAT have collaborated extensively in the field of water. For example, based on the “Guidelines on Municipal Wastewater” UNEP, UN-HABITAT and other partners developed the “10 Keys for Local and National Action on Municipal Wastewater”. I would like to invite the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT to consider endorsement of these guidelines for sustainable wastewater management. We work together to formulate the Nairobi River Basin Project to restore, rehabilitate, and maintain safe water quality of the Nairobi river system.

- As already mentioned before, in Asia, the regional offices of our two organisations are collaborating on the design and dissemination of eco-houses and discussions are underway for “eco-villages” for Tsunami-affected areas.

- UNEP and UN-HABITAT are cooperating closely in the Cities Alliance. The Cities Alliance will be an important vehicle for developing and implementing joint activities with other Cities Alliance partners.

- We are also working together on response to the tsunami disaster.

We need broad partnership! Between governments, civil society, and the private sector. We need a new boost in capacity building and technology support. UNEP’s 23rd session of the Governing Council requested us to do this by implementing the “Bali Plan”. There is the need for empowering local authorities, fostering local democracy and good governance, based on reliable financial income on the local level. We have to exchange best practices in urban planning, new solutions for mobility, for creating and managing public spaces by avoiding the spread of middle classes to the suburbs and the creation of slums. And we must forge south-south partnerships.

IV. Finally, I am pleased to inform you that this year’s World Environment Day theme is “Green Cities: Plan for the Planet!” It will take place on 5 June in San Francisco. This is a good idea, because San Francisco is the birth-place of the United Nations whose 60th anniversary we are celebrating this year. It is only fitting that we are discussing the Millennium Review and the reform and development of the United Nations at this time.

V. Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you the best of success for your deliberations during this important session of the UN-HABITAT Governing Council. Your success will contribute to making slums and social ghettos history and putting one more of the MDGs back on track.