Monday, June 19, 2006

Burying Urban Myths on Environment & Development

by UNEP
June 19, 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.

© United Nations Environment Programme

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