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Message of UNEP Executive Director to the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)

21st Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)
16-20 April 2007

Opening Plenary
Monday, 16 April 2007


Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Kenya, Honorable Mwai Kibaki,

Your Excellency Mr. Fahmi Aljowder, Minister of Works and Housing of Bahrain,

Your Excellency Mr. Petr Kopriva, President of the Governing Council and Ambassador of the Czech Republic,

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

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends and Colleagues;

The Executive Directors of UN-HABITAT and UNEP have a standing tradition to address one another's Councils, and I am very pleased to honour this tradition and address you here today.

Something historic is going to happen next year - at some time in 2008 more than half of the world's people will be living in urban areas. This offers immense threats and opportunities at the same time.

These growing cities will need increased resources such as water, food, minerals, energy, building materials, etc. Where resources are flowing into the cities, wastes in solid, liquid and gaseous forms are emitted and "exported" by the cities. We need to look at urbanization from this urban - rural context. Cities can have huge impacts on the ecosystems outside the cities. However, often these cities also depend on those ecosystems, for example for water, tourism, and energy sources. A sustainable link between cities and their rural surroundings is therefore not only essential for the rural areas and ecosystems, but also for continued development of the cities.

Recently, The World Watch Institute launched The 2007 State of the World report - titled Our Urban Future. UNEP and UN-HABITAT contributed to this important report. Its general message is that if we manage urbanization well it can be beneficial. Economies of scale that are possible with high density urban areas can bring decent conditions to the world's poor while at the same time conserve the resources we all depend on.

However, the rapid urbanization taking place in many developing countries at present is often far from sustainable. Nor is it sufficiently aimed at reducing poverty and improving human well being.

From an environment pointy of view, urban areas play an increasingly important role. More than 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, causing global climate change, originate from urban centres.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

A recent study found that the greenhouse emissions of New York City are similar to the emissions of countries like Ireland or Portugal. However, the study also found that the average New Yorker emits only a third compared to the emissions of an average American. The study said this is mainly due to the efficient transport system in New York - the sub way, cleaner vehicles, and greener buildings.

Now compare this with the rapidly growing cities in Asia and Africa - like Nairobi, doubling in population size every 10 to 15 years. How will these cities grow? What will be their land use? And energy use? Will they be able to set up an efficient transport system to reduce car emissions - like New York? Will they be able to have a compact city, rather than a city sprawled out over big areas, impacting on ecosystems? Will they have buildings that are green?

We need to address these issues now before it is too late. Before these cities have air that is unbreathable and they have multiplied their greenhouse gas emissions.

As I said, urbanization offers huge opportunities. New York - to stick to my example - has committed itself to a reduction of their greenhouse gas emissions of 30 percent by 2030. Many cities around the world, in developing and developed countries, have done the same. This goes well beyond what national governments and the international community have set as targets. UNEP is pleased to work with UN-HABITAT and ICLEI to promote the role of cities in climate change - it is clear that we need to involve cities to be able to address the issue successfully.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNEP and UN-HABITAT are supporting Kenya and Nairobi in addressing environmental challenges. This week the city of Nairobi and UNEP will launch the preliminary outcomes of the GEO city environment report for Nairobi. Nairobi is a beautiful city. It has unique ecosystems surrounding it, such as the Nairobi National Park. It is a green city with huge potential. Good progress has been made - compare many parts of down town Nairobi today with the situation some years ago. At the same time, heavy traffic is bringing the city centre to an economic standstill and pollutes the air. City expansion is largely unplanned, resulting in informal settlements and slum development. Many residents have no clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Waste is being dumped, uncontrolled, close to residential areas - like the Dandora waste dump. A recent UNEP study found half of the children living there have respiratory diseases due to the burning of waste on the dump.

UNEP is working with Nairobi and Kenya on many initiatives - to better manage water resources like the Nairobi River, to clean up the air through cleaner fuels and vehicles, to better manage waste dumps, and through the GEO for Nairobi report I just mentioned. However much still remains to be done.

Given the impact of cities at all levels - local, national, regional and global, UNEP and UN-HABITAT are increasing their cooperation. Over the past years the number of joint activities and programs has increased significantly. We are now completing a joint Strategic Framework to further institutionalize our cooperation. In this regard our two Nairobi based UN programmes are taking the lead in the UN Reform with our very close and intensive cooperation at all levels.

UNEP staff will be involved in many of the sessions during this Council, promoting the link between urbanization and the environment. We look forward to these discussions.

I wish you all a successful meeting.




Further Resources

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)

UNEP Urban Environment Unit

State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future

World Watch Institute


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