This year marks a milestone in human history: for the first time, half of the world’s people will be living in towns and cities. That percentage is projected to rise dramatically in the decades ahead, especially in the cities of the developing world.
Urban poverty should be unacceptable in the new urban era. Yet this will also be the year in which the number of slum dwellers worldwide is forecast to reach 1 billion.
As we continue our efforts to reform and revitalize the United Nations, one of our abiding priorities must be to alleviate poverty. More concerted international support is needed if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Failure would risk massive social exclusion, with national and international repercussions.
Another compelling reason to improve living conditions in our towns and cities is to reduce their impact on climate change. An estimated 75 per cent of global energy consumption occurs in cities, and 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from urban areas. It is no coincidence that climate change has become a leading concern as the world becomes predominantly urban. Moreover, the urban poor are most vulnerable to the natural disasters made more frequent by climate change patterns, since they tend to live in unsafe places that are typically prone to disaster.
I saw some of this at first hand this past January, when I visited the sprawling Kibera Slum in Nairobi. I witnessed the depth of urban poverty, and heard about the complexities involved in addressing the challenges. Slum dwellers themselves have resources, but lack access to affordable credit systems. Municipalities have land, but no capital to invest. Banks have liquidity, but no mechanisms to lend to the poor. I had the clear sense that time is not on our side.
I am very encouraged that the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT is looking at these issues. I look forward to learning of the results of your discussions on a new medium-term strategic and institutional plan, and on mechanisms such as the UN Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation, for which new financial regulations and Rules were promulgated last August. It is my hope that your efforts will strengthen UN-HABITAT, and enable it to work more effectively with your partners towards truly sustainable urbanization. Please accept my best wishes for the success of your important deliberations.