With half of humanity living in towns and cities around the world, the greatest impact of climate change will be on the planet's urban fabric, said Ambassador Inga Bjork-Klevby, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.
Speaking at a news conference, she said the world had now entered a new urban age of unprecedented, rapid, irreversible urbanisation. The cities growing fastest are those of the developing world, and the fastest growing neighbourhoods are the slums, she said.
"The so-called Adaptation Fund is an innovative new start. The purpose and management of this Fund have been determined here in Nairobi. These are the necessary first steps," she said of a major accomplishment at the conference which drew government ministers from more than 100 countries. The two weeks of deliberations were scheduled to end on Friday.
"For UN-HABITAT, the agency that deals with the built environment, with cities, towns and villages, we are most keen that the new Fund will help them adapt to climate change at the local level, she said. "If sea levels rise by just one metre, many major coastal cities will be under threat: Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York, Lagos, and Cairo Karachi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Dhaka, Shanghai, Osaka-Kobe, and Tokyo. To cite just some, those are mega cities with populations of more than 10 million. Never mind the many more smaller cities and island nations," she said.
UN figures show that this year alone, 117 million people around the world have suffered from some 300 natural disasters, including devastating droughts in China and Africa, and massive flooding in Asia and Africa, costing nearly $15 billion in damages. One example – New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Everywhere, Ambassador Bjork-Klevby said, the urban poor live in places no-one else would dare set foot – along beaches vulnerable to flooding, by railway lines, on slopes prone to landfalls, near polluted grounds. Their shaky structures would be flattened the instant a hurricane hit causing untold loss of life and destruction.
In this new urban age, the mega-cities therefore loom as giant potential flood and disaster traps. In sub-Saharan Africa, slum dwellers constitute over 70 percent of the urban populations. In other parts of the developing world that figure is a shocking 50 percent.
"Our partners, including African Mayors and Local Authority organizations, have long sought direct access to global climate funds. The developing world needs local funding and local solutions to this global crisis. Reduce urban poverty and we will directly offset the horrors of disasters brought on by climate change," Ambassador Bjork-Klevby said.
The United Nations has calculated that one dollar invested in disaster reduction and adaptation to climate change today, can save up to seven dollars tomorrow in relief and rehabilitation costs.
The world had to have local solutions and local funding to offset global disasters. She said UN-HABITAT, with its wide array Habitat Agenda partners working at local level around the world, stood ready to help deal with this common threat to our existence.