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Burying Urban Myths on Environment & Development

Vancouver/Nairobi, 19 June 2006 – With over three billion people now living in urban areas, an innovative project to bring high quality public transport to some of the most polluted cities on the globe was announced to mark the opening of the World Urban Forum III.

The Forum, taking place in Vancouver, Canada and involving thousands of delegates from across the world, is being organized under the auspices of UN-Habitat, the city agency of the United Nations.

The new public transport project, executed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through its Risø Centre in cooperation with government agencies and local authorities, underscores a growing determination among developing countries to balance urbanization and growth with local and global environmental concerns.

The multi-million dollar project, funded by the Global Environment Facility and involving Concepcion, Guatemala City and Panama City, aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100,000 tonnes a year, and potentially far more.

The project, which will lead to the creation of modern bus networks, cycle ways and pedestrianization schemes, will also tackle local air pollution linked with human ill health and damage to forests, agricultural land and other key ecosystems.

The cities will work with others in the region through a new information network called “NESTLAC” –Network for Environmentally Sustainable Transport in Latin American Countries.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “In 2007, for the first time in history, more people will be urban than rural dwellers. By 2050, some six billion people are expected to be city dwellers. The World Urban Forum is thus an important meeting central to all our interests”.

“The urban environment is inextricably intertwined with the rural one and inextricably linked with the way local, regional and global natural resources are soundly and sustainably managed. So it is vital that we get cities right if we are to meet the internationally agreed development goals, if we are to deal with such pressing global issues as climate change”.

He said UN-Habitat and UNEP were key partners in the Sustainable Cities Programme. This is working with more than 100 cities world-wide to promote environmental planning and management under Agenda 21—a comprehensive sustainability action plan born at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Mr. Steiner said he looked forward to ever deeper cooperation with UN-Habitat—which is co located with UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya-- and its Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka.

As part of the World Urban Forum III UNEP, along with the UN-Habitat, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainable Development and the Cities Alliance is showcasing a study of numerous cities from Cape Town, South Africa and Hyderabad, India to Honolulu in the United States.

The study underlines how many are proving that management of waste up top more efficient energy use makes both economic and environmental sense locally and globally.

Hyderabad in India is working with local women under a ‘community collection’ scheme to collect wastes and rubbish with the money made helping women get much needed access to credit via the local banking system.

The city is also turning the waste into ‘refuse derived fuel’ which, the city says, emits less greenhouse gases than traditional biomass like wood or agricultural wastes.

Honolulu has replaced traditional light bulbs in the city’s traffic lights with light emitting diodes saving over half a million dollars a year in reduced energy, maintenance and other costs.

Mr. Steiner said:”The rapid rate of urbanization, especially in developing countries, is a fact of life. But some cities are also demonstrating other facts. Namely that improving local air quality and curbing waste up to countering greenhouse gas emissions can go hand in hand with that urbanization and with that growth”.

“Around half the world’s population is already living in cities and the numbers are set to rise. So the quest for sustainability will be increasingly won or lost in our urban areas. However, it is a quest upon which many local authorities and city leaders are increasingly eager to embark often for hard nosed and pragmatic economic reasons,” he added.

Numerous studies now indicate that air pollution alone costs not only lives but also causes damage to productive ecosystems like forests, agricultural land and marine environments.

UNEP’s latest Global Environment Outlook Year Book cites findings from work by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the experiences of Mexico City and Santiago, Chile.

The US EPA for example estimates that the benefits of America’s Clean Air Act will be around US$ 690 billion over the period 1990 to 2010.

The Santiago study assessed the financial benefits of compliance with the Santiago Decontamination Plan at US$ 4 billion over a 15-year period.

They mirror a new report by the European Commission on achieving improved air quality standards by 2020.

The Commission estimates that an investment of around seven billion Euros to reduce air pollution will deliver benefits totaling Euro 42 billion as a result of “fewer premature deaths, less sickness, fewer hospital admissions and improved labour productivity”.

The Commission’s study says that “although there is no agreed way to monetize ecosystem damage, the environmental benefits of reduced air pollution will also be significant in terms of reduced areas of ecosystems that may be damaged by acidification, eutrophication and ozone”.

Important advances are also being made for city dwellers in African cities as a result of the successful phase out of leaded petrol in sub Saharan Africa.

The phase out, achieved at the beginning of 2006, was undertaken by the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles.

The Partnership, involving industry, non governmental organizations, governments and international bodies including UNEP, was established at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

The Partnership is now working on a total global phase out of leaded gasoline alongside initiatives to tackle sulphur in vehicle fuels.

Mr. Steiner said there was still a long way to go to realize sustainable cities. He said it was vital that the rural environment is addressed and that vital services, decent jobs up to sustainable energy supplies are provided in rural areas.

“The migration of people from rural areas to cities would be better managed if people in rural communities had better chances for work, health care and education and this has also something to do with improved access to sustainable energy supplies, fairer international trade regimes for items like agricultural products, questions of land tenure and acceptable levels of inward investment and overseas development aid,” said Mr. Steiner.

Notes to Editors

The 3rd World Urban Forum or WUF III opens on 19 June. http://www.wuf3-fum3.ca/

Details of UNEP’s new GEF-funded “Nestlac” transport project for Concepcion, Guatemala City and Panama City can be found at http://www.uneprisoe.org/nestlac/. and in Spanish at http://nestlac.org/

UNEP’s Urban Environment Unit http://www.unep.org/dpdl/urban_environment/index.asp

UN-Habitat www.un-habitat.org

ICLEI www.iclei.org

The Cities Alliance www.citiesalliance.org

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 762 3084; Mobile: 254 733 632 755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Or Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: 254 20 7623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, E-mail: elisabeth.waechter@unep.org




Further Resources

The 3rd World Urban Forum

UNEP’s Urban Environment Unit


Local Governments for Sustainable Development (ICLEI)

The Cities Alliance

Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV)

DTIE Energy Branch, Transport Section

Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment (GPA)

UNEP - International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC)

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC)

Global Environment Facility Coordination (GEF)

UCLG - United Cities and Local Governments


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