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Welcome remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director to Symposium on Climate Change Education and Sustainable Cities

Nairobi, 31 August 2009 - Hon. Njeru Githae, Minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Development, Excellencies, Hon. Wangari Maathai, Nobel laureate, distinguished colleagues from the UN Interagency Committee for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, ladies and gentlemen.

As the Director General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi and as Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, welcome to our headquarters here in East Africa.

Welcome especially to colleagues from UNESCO who are leading this UN-wide global initiative.

The theme of your Symposium, taking place before the Inter-Agency Committee meeting of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, echoes to the heart of the mandates of UNEP and its sister agency, UN-Habitat which is co-headquartered here.

I am also delighted that UNEP and UN-Habitat take the chair of the Committee for one year-climate change education and cities is indeed a challenge but also an opportunity for both agencies and the global public we serve.

We meet here in Nairobi less than 100 days before the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Here governments must Seal the Deal on a serious new agreement able to propel the world on course to a low carbon, resource efficient 21st century Green Economy.

Education, through schools and universities but also via civil society organizations, has a key role to play in achieving these goals.

And with half the world's population now urban-based and with the rest increasingly connected to the rural environment in a multitude of ways, cities will be where a great deal of that education will take place.

Meanwhile cities, by virtue of their fabric and density of populations, have always be places where the exchange of views and the fermenting of new, novel and transformative ideas have occurred.

Indeed it will be in cities where the innovative solutions to mobility up to energy efficient buildings and sustainable ways of working are and will be pioneered.

The urgency of the climate change challenge requests the UN to accelerate society's understanding of the risks of inaction and of the abundant and multiple opportunities that can arise if action is taken.

  • Education in terms of research and development of new, low emissions products and processes tailored for national and regional settings
  • Education in terms of choices individual citizens can make
  • Education in terms of sharing experiences and know-how from one part of the world with another, not least in terms of adaptation to the climate change already underway
  • Education and awareness of citizens so they can engage with policy-makers and in a sense give them license to act-for in the end politicians will act in the interests of the electorate if the electorate clearly understands and espouses what they want

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In respect to this important decade, UNEP has taken concrete measures to contribute by collaborating with the UNESCO Secretariat for the DESD, and building partnerships with institutions of higher learning.

I am pleased to inform you that UNEP is implementing the Mainstreaming of Environment and Sustainability in African (MESA) Universities partnership programme as a contribution to the Decade.

MESA aims to boost the quality and policy relevance of university education in Africa by making environment and sustainability a key topic across curricula, research and community engagement activities in universities.

It is so far operational in 90 universities across 40 countries in Africa and it is attracting attention and interest from other regions.

Indeed I am delighted to say that MESA is to be mirrored parts of the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific regions. UNEP is also actively involved in Decade activities though its regional offices in Europe.

Meanwhile a great deal of UNEP's research work and reports, across the wide range of sustainability challenges have and increasingly involve universities and colleges including students and post doctorals.

In addition, UNEP's children and youth initiative-Tunza, which means in Swahili to treat with care and affection-involves education on climate change.

Indeed I have just returned from our Tunza conference held in the Republic of Korea where hundreds of young people met to discuss and to thrash out a response to climate change, including education and public awareness of their peers, parents and policy-makers in the days and weeks running up to Copenhagen.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Bonn World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in March 2009 released the Bonn Declaration for Education for Sustainable Development.

The declaration recognizes the role of ESD in helping societies to address different priorities and issues from water, energy, climate change, disaster and risk reduction to loss of biodiversity, food crises, health risks, social vulnerability and insecurity.

Furthermore, it recognizes the critical role of ESD in the development of new economic thinking.

This ladies and gentlemen, echoes to the heart of UNEP's Green Economy initiative, launched last year.

In collaboration with economists, other UN agencies and bodies such as the OECD and the World Bank, we are trying to bring a new and transformational lens to challenges and opportunities on a planet of six billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050.

The departure point is that in a world of multiple crises-from food and fuel to climate change and natural resource scarcity, our investments need to be smarter and our market instruments cleverer, than perhaps has previously been the case.

Let me cite just one of many example-carbon capture and storage.

Many economies are considering combating climate change by fixing technologies to smoke-stacks, capturing the carbon and burying it in the ground.

But what about bio-sequestration? The planet-from the forests and peatlands to mangroves and soils, has perfected just such a system over millennia.

Perhaps a different kind of cost benefit analysis will reveal that investing in our natural or ecosystem infrastructure can not only soak up greenhouse gases.

But also reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity, stabilize economically precious soils and water supplies while generating new green jobs in natural resource management and eco-tourism.

For while we have environmental change challenges emerging, we also have a jobs one with 1.3 billion people currently under-employed or unemployed and half a billion young people job seeking within the next decade.

Education and training will be at the heart of such new directions as it will be with advancing clean energy and renewable energy systems in developed and developing economies.

Education on the economics but also on the skills needed to develop new technologies and the installation and maintenance of this infrastructure.

And there are many, many more examples.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Symposium and the Inter Agency Committee meeting to follow are an opportunity for us to share and learn from one another in order to move forward together in one common resolve to meet the DESD goals by 2014.

Sustainable development is no longer a choice, but is now the only option for ensuring that six to nine billion can live together and prosper in the 21st century-the faster we all learn that, the faster tomorrow's economy can be with us today.

Thank you.