President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa addresses World Habitat Day gathering
President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa on Monday opened the global commemoration of World Habitat Day in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes with a speech giving his full backing for the Cities and climate change theme of the occasion.
"We live in a world where island states below sea level are threatened, and many countries around the world, including Mexico, are suffering the effects of climate change such as floods, wild fires and severe weather disruptions," the President told an audience of some 4,000 gathered to learn about climate change and see a special exhibition.
His remarks were followed by statements from UN-HABITAT Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos, the Minister for Social Development, Mr. Heriberto Félix Guerra, and Aguascalientes Governor Mr. Carlos Lozano de la Torre.
Mexico's Minister for Social Development, Mr. Heriberto Félix Guerra said that with cities contributing to around 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, it was imperative for everyone to change their behaviour to reduce global warming.
Dr. Clos thanked the Government of Mexico, the Social Development Ministry and the city of Aguascalientes for hosting the event. He cited projections that some 12 million people would be displaced by the effects of climate change in the next 20 years.
Aguascalientes Governor Carlos Lozano de la Torre thanked the United Nations for recognizing the efforts that Mexico and his state were making on climate change mitigation.
"Experts predict that by the year 2050, global population will have increased by 50 per cent from what it was in 1999. Also by that time, scientists say, global greenhouse gas emissions must decrease by 50 per cent compared to levels at the turn of the millennium. I call this the "50 – 50 – 50 challenge," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a message read out on his behalf at World Habitat Day events around the world.
"The nexus between urbanization and climate change is real and potentially deadly," he said. He reminded the world that both developed and developing countries had committed to reduced greenhouse gas emissions in a formal, accountable international agreement.
In a statement also read out on his behalf around the world, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos, said: "It is estimated that by 2050, there could be as many as 200 million environmental refugees worldwide, many of whom will be forced from their homes by rising sea levels and the increased frequency of flooding or drought.
"Prevention should be addressed through better urban planning and building codes so that city residents, especially the poorest, are protected as far as possible against disaster," he said. "Such measures can also help to keep their ecological footprint to the minimum."
UN-HABITAT chose the Cities and climate change theme for the 2011 observance of World Habitat Day because it is important to see what cities are doing about climate disruption: This means their pollution and environmental footprint, as well the impact in turn of climate change problems on cities, especially on the poorest and those least able to cope when a weather-related disaster strikes.
Mr. Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, also made a special World Habitat Day statement in which he stressed the need to "green" the buildings in which we live and work around the world so that they consume less energy.
"As countries prepare for the United Nations Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) in Brazil in June 2012, there are real opportunities for cities to lead the greening of the global economy, where economic development can reduce environmental risks and improve human well-being," said the chief of UN-HABITAT's Nairobi-based sister agency. "Today, our homes and offices contribute to around one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The development of greener buildings to house the world's fast-growing urban population is therefore essential to tackling climate change."
In a separate statement in Geneva, UN Special Rapporteurs on Housing Raquel Rolnik, and on Internationally Displaced Persons, Chaloka Beyani said there was "not much to celebrate" on World Habitat Day given that approximately one-third of the global population still lives in slums and dire conditions of poverty.
"States and the international community can no longer afford to ignore the specific vulnerabilities of informal settlers to climate change-induced disasters, and the increasing risks they face," they warned.
On feeding cities, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed the role urban forests play in shielding cities from strong winds and flooding and buffering them against hot weather.
"Good practices in urban and peri-urban forestry can contribute to building a resilient city in terms of mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change," said FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry Eduardo Rojas-Briales, who called on countries to pay more attention to managing urban forests worldwide.
In New York, Ms. Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, was at pains to point out that the world's mayors and municipal leaders were on the frontline in the fight against climate-induced disasters.
"Cities today are bursting at the seams and they are both an opportunity for economies of scale which will reduce the impact of climate change, and a challenge because of the rapid pace of urbanization," said Ms. Wahlström, who called for governments and the private sector to work more closely and quickly in an effort to reduce the risks facing urban areas.
She also announced that 841 cities and municipalities had joined the Making Cities Resilient initiative, launched by the UN Disaster Risk Reduction Office (UNISDR) over a year ago in an effort to reduce urban risks from climate-related disasters.
Also in New York, the United Nations General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, meanwhile, emphasized that cities in the developing world were bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change.
"It is clear that developing countries are hit the hardest," Mr. Al-Nasser said. "This impacts their overall development, including their ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)."
Bryan Lipmann of Wintringham Australia receives Scroll of Honour, looking on are Aguascalientes Governor Carlos Lozano de la Torre , UN-HABITAT Executive Director Joan Clos, President Hinojosa, SEDESOL Minister Heriberto Félix Guerra and Building and Social Housing Foundation Director, Diane Diacon.
In keeping with a well established tradition, UN-HABITAT also presented the 2011 Habitat Scroll of Honour winners, while The Building and Housing Social Foundation headquartered of the United Kingdom, bestowed the winners of the 2011 World Habitat Awards.
Celebrations to mark the occasion were held in many cities around the world. For details see: World Habitat Day celebrations around the world
The American-based non-governmental organization, Habitat for Humanity kicked off month-long celebrations of World Habitat Day with a major double milestone and a series of events in the USA, the Asia-Pacific region and around the world. On 3rd October, Habitat marked the United Nations event by dedicating its 500,000th house in Kenya while also raising walls on its 500,001st house in New Jersey, USA. Last Thursday, Habitat unveiled its 2012 Shelter Report at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The report's title and theme, Housing Cities After a Disaster, underscores Habitat's experiences in post-earthquake Haiti, along the U.S. Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in the Asia-Pacific region since the 2004 tsunami, and in other recent disasters.