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Remarks by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner At the Opening of the UN-Habitat 22nd Governing Council

GC Theme: 'Promoting affordable housing finance systems in an urbanizing world in the face of the global financial crisis and climate change'

30 March 2009 - His Excellency Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Vice-President of the Republic of Kenya

H.E. Michael Werikhe, Acting President of the Governing Council and Minister of State for Housing of Uganda,

H.E Soita Shitanda Minister of Housing, Republic of Kenya

Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director UN-HABITAT

Inga Klevby, Deputy Executive Director UN-HABITAT

Distinguished delegates, guests, colleagues and friends

Thank you very much for inviting me to address the opening of the 22nd session of the UN-HABITAT Governing Council.

It has now become a tradition for the executive heads of each our respective agencies to address each others Governing Council.

It reflects the sharing of a common location here in Nairobi.

Reflects too our common purpose and our many partnerships that unite the global and urban environmental agendas as one.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The theme for this UN-HABITAT GC is "Promoting affordable housing finance systems in an urbanizing world in the face of the global financial crisis and climate change".

It echoes to the extraordinary challenges of today amidst extraordinary times and turmoil.

It also sends a clear message from this gathering of ministers and experts to world leaders of the G20 gathering in London later this week.

Peaceful protests over the weekend in the UK capital, and capital cities elsewhere, underline that there is a broad coalition of interests insisting that a global solution is found?one that addresses the common but differentiated circumstances of economies, especially the most vulnerable ones.

Ones that address multiple challenges from poverty up to climate change.

However, given the state of the global banking system, the precipitous decline in markets and the slow downs and recessions facing so many countries, surely this is the wrong moment to call for accelerated investment in sustainability across so many issues and areas.

But ladies and gentlemen now is precisely the right time.

A point made by the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT in her recent editorial in Kenya's Business Daily where she underlined the need for a green new deal for cities, given the challenges of one billion people in slums and informal settlements.

Given too the environmental economies of scale possible in terms of resource efficiency, decent jobs and opportunities for shrinking humanity's carbon footprint.

In the run up to the G20 meeting, UNEP unveiled its Policy Brief for a Global Green New deal.

It was drawn up in consultation with leading economists, over 20 UN agencies; the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund and the OECD.

It suggests that investing one per cent of global GDP, or just under $800 billion of the current $3 trillion-worth of stimulus can generate quick and multiple benefits.

Allied to other measures, such a sum can play an important role in reviving the global economy and boosting employment while accelerating the fight against climate change, environmental degradation and poverty.

Five sectors, dovetailing with UNEP and UN-HABITAT's agendas and our joint Partnership Framework, represent the biggest and broadest return:

- Raising the energy efficiency of old and new buildings

- Renewable energies including wind, solar, geothermal and biomass

- Sustainable transport including hybrid vehicles; high speed rail and bus rapid transit systems

- The planet's ecological infrastructure including freshwaters, forests, soils and coral reefs

- Sustainable agriculture including organic production

It also calls for a range of specific measures aimed at assisting developing countries to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and green their economies as well.

An investment of $15 billion a year towards meeting the MDG of halving by 2015 the number of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation could generate global economic benefits worth $38 billion annually-$15 billion of which would be in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Other measures aimed at achieving the MDGs include an expansion of micro credit schemes for clean energy; reform of subsidies from fossil fuels to fisheries and the greening of overseas development aid.

Promoting affordable housing finance should be an integral and important catalyst in some of these key sectors?home owners are far more likely to seek and secure access to micro credit schemes for clean energy and energy efficiency measures than tenants or indeed landlords.

This in turn can translate into employment for some of the poorest people in cities while also contribute to slum upgrading and other urban improvement projects.

Another area where micro-finance or seed support can have a big impact on the environment and on livelihoods, especially in developing countries, is recycling.

Millions upon millions of people across Asia, Africa and Latin America earn a living in this sector?the challenge here is to make this decent work and to buffer people against hardship and poverty as a result of collapsing commodity prices.

Here in Nairobi, UNEP and UN-HABITAT are assisting the city council with an integrated, solid-waste management plan with the aim of replicating it elsewhere in Kenya and the region.

Specific activities here include the promotion of a Community Cooker in Kibera powered by rubbish and water and sanitation improvements some of which are linked with the Nairobi River Basin Programme.

Joint programmes, often linked with the Cities Alliance and ICLEI, have included our sustainable cities work?during 2007-2008 the programme provided technical cooperation in an additional 64 municipalities and five countries.

This brings the total to 144 active municipalities in 26 countries globally since 1996.

Other cooperative initiatives include:

- A three-year programme in the Philippines on mainstreaming climate risk and climate coping strategies in cities with funding from the Spanish Millennium Development Goals Achievement fund

- Joint urban environmental assessment under the Global Environment Outlook Cities initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean followed up by local Agenda 21 action plans

- The new Partnership Framework for 2008-2013 will cement our relationship further across five key sectors including climate change and the Global Alliance for EcoMobility with an emphasis on non-motorized transport infrastructure

Ladies and gentlemen, many of these are aspects of the Global Green New Deal/Green Economy initiative.

And perhaps the biggest stimulus package of them all will be if governments 'seal the deal' in Copenhagen in December at the UN climate convention meeting?a deal that reflects the ever more sobering science; a deal that reflects the urgent need to adapt vulnerable countries and communities

Sealing the deal in Copenhagen will also bring some much needed certainty to the carbon markets and spur more Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects into more developing economies in Africa and elsewhere.

It will also accelerate the reform debate and agenda surrounding the CDM , a great deal of which relates to urban-related CDM projects such as those linked with buildings and indeed city-wide CDM proposals.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2020, around 30 per cent of projected greenhouse gas emissions in buildings could be avoided at "net negative cost"?with over half in developing countries.

In new buildings it is possible to achieve energy savings of 75 per cent of more as compared to current practises?the best incentives are tighter building codes, appliance standards and tax exemption policies says the Panel.

Clearly this must be a priority for cities current and future development plans.

The world has been teetering on the edge of disaster but also, perhaps without knowing it fully or being fully aware, on the edge of the biggest opportunity for transformation in well over a generation.

One that resonates with the urban and wider sustainability agenda: one that sets the stage for Green economic growth in the 21st century and millions of new jobs and livelihood opportunities.

Thank you and please accept my best wishes for a fruitful and successful Governing Council.

Full Release




Further Resources

UNEP-UN-Habitat Joint Partnership Framework

UNEP Global Green New Deal Policy Brief

UNEP Urban Environment Unit

UN-Habitat 22nd Governing Council


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