Your Excellency, Honourable Han Seung-soo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea,
Your Excellency, President Bill Clinton
Honourable Mayor David Miller, Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and honourable Oh Se-hoon, Mayor of Seoul
Distinguished Mayors, city delegates, members of the press,
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour and a pleasure for me to address this third meeting of the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit. Given Seoul’s fascinating approach to urban environmental issues, I am delighted that this conference is being held in this dynamic city. Although the Conference will address issues of interest to cities around the world, holding this meeting in Korea – and for the first time in Asia - should provide an excellent opportunity to pay attention to some of the specific issues facing the rapidly growing cities in the region.: Korea provides an interesting case study as it is one of the most highly urbanized countries in the world, 82 out of every 100 Koreans live in a city whilst in 1975 only 50 percent of the Korean population was urban.
A few years back I had the opportunity to visit the Cheonggye Stream. This project of urban rejuvenation, rehabilitating a river at the expense of an elevated highway, clearly demonstrates what cities can do to address urban environmental issues. But it also demonstrates how enormous the efforts have to be to roll back mistakes of the past. Now UN-HABITAT and the Republic of Korea work closely together in supporting cities in Asia to pursue a sustainable path of urbanization. The International Urban Training Centre takes the lead in this partnership, offering courses on a broad range of urban environmental issues, including Climate Change.
It is no coincidence that global climate change has become a leading international development issue at the same time as the world has become urbanized. The way we plan, manage, operate and consume energy in our cities is the key driver behind the phenomenon of global warming. Seventy-five percent of global energy consumption occurs in cities. Roughly half of this comes from burning fossil fuels for urban transport.
In fact, urban transportation is the planet’s fastest growing source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. As most cities manage urban transport, this is the single most important area where wisely invested city budgets can make the biggest contribution in continued climate change mitigation.
The construction and operation of buildings contributes to approximately one-third to CO2 emissions. We know that constructing energy efficient buildings and even retrofitting usually makes economic. Yet, it is still not often enough turned to action.
Low-density, sprawling cities are two to three times more expensive to run and service than cities more densely populated. For example, a recent survey has indicated that in New York City, per capita greenhouse gas emissions are among the lowest in the United States. This is because less energy is needed to heat, light, cool and fuel buildings in this densely populated city because apartments are packed closer together and living space is below average in size.
This example highlights that cities are at the core of the solution. Given the scope for further energy savings in building and infrastructure construction and operation as well as in transport and waste management, cities are in the position to significantly reduce their climate footprint.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you all know, no matter what the efforts will be to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, the impacts of Climate Change will be felt strongly in the years to come.
If see levels rise by just one metre, many major coastal cities will be under threat: Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York, Lagos, Alexandria-Cairo, Mumbai, Kolkata, Dhaka, Shanghai, Osaka-Kobe and Tokyo to mention just some mega cities. The many smaller coastal cities, especially those in developing countries and those of island nations will suffer most due to their limited adaptation options.
More and more people are drawn to the urban magnet. In many parts of the world climate refugees from rural areas that have been hit by drought or flooding aggravate the migration to cities.
Urban growth in most developing countries mainly takes place in slums. In sub-Saharan Africa, slum dwellers constitute over 62 percent of urban populations. Everywhere the urban poor live in places no-one else would dare set foot – along beaches vulnerable to flooding, on slopes prone to landfalls, near polluted grounds. They scratch out a living in shaky structures that are flattened the instant a hurricane strikes causing untold loss in lives and destruction. In this new urban age, the mega-cities therefore loom as giant potential disaster traps.
Vulnerable cities need to prepare their infrastructure for the impacts of climate change. But climate change adaptation also means reducing their vulnerability of women, youth and the very poor. This could be in the form of comprehensive shelter programmes, income generation, micro-finance and micro insurance and health programmes to mention but a few.
This meeting takes place in the midst of the most severe financial and economic crisis in living memory.
Conventional wisdom tells us that this crisis will inevitably have implications for the availability of public funds for social services and private capital to finance the much needed improvements in housing, basic infrastructure and services not to mention the investments required to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and to prepare for the impacts of Climate Change.
Conventional wisdom also tells us that the global economic downturn will lead to fewer employment opportunities, affecting first and foremost the developing countries and the poor.
However, the commitments by world leaders, for example at the G20 meeting give rise to the hope that we have collectively chosen to look at things less conventionally by addressing environmental concerns and the concerns of developing countries as well. The current crisis needs to be seen as a clear opportunity to make our urban centres into the driving forces for a green economy.
The opportunities for green jobs need to be seized now. Currently they feature in city development plans more as a side product of environmental initiatives rather than with clear strategic intent. Clean, low-carbon infrastructure investments, retrofitting of buildings, the renewal of our transport systems have been identified as opportunities for ‘green’ investments. However, climate change adaptation also provides cities with opportunities to create jobs and a new future for vulnerable populations. Slum upgrading, the provision of climate proof infrastructure and services to a broader group of citizens could lead to significant job and skill creation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In closing, I would like to emphasize that 2009 is a crucial year for cities in determining their role in addressing Climate Change. We all hope that the needs of cities and the role they have to play vis-à-vis climate change will strongly enter the Post-Kyoto protocol.
While we are all focussing on the COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen at the end of the year, many milestones lie ahead of us; the first one being this C40 meeting.
In June I will attend the Local Government Climate Change Leadership Summit in Copenhagen where we hope the voices of cites as key players addressing Climate Change can be made heard.
UN-HABITAT has received new mandates by the General Assembly and by our Governing Council 6 weeks ago to support cities in addressing Climate Change more forcefully. In partnership with C40, ICLEI, UCLG and other key organizations we will face the challenge.
In partnership with the Cities Alliance, the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme, we have started to develop a climate change inventory which we hope will soon cover 400 cities assessing their climate footprint as well as their climate change vulnerability.
UN-HABITAT’s Cities in Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) seeks to minimize impacts on human settlements and increase the adaptive capabilities of local governments by strengthening governance structures and engaging the private sector and civil society in finding practical solutions. The CCCI is part of our broader advocacy and capacity development activities, and a cornerstone for our global Sustainable Urban Development Network, SUDNet.
Municipalities cannot fight this battle alone. They must have the backing of government and the business sector, especially in these times of financial crisis. The C40 has a unique position to inspire and lead others on the pathway towards sustainable urbanization.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Abstract for C40 documentation:
The Economic Crisis: Opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation
Climate Change has been recognized as the biggest development challenge. No-one today can really foresee the predicament in which a town or city will find itself in 10, 20 or 30 years time. In this new urban era with most of humanity now living in towns and cities, we must bear in mind that the greatest impacts of disasters resulting from climate change begin and end in cities. Over 1 billion people are languishing in slums, making up the most vulnerable group to Climate Change. Given that cities consume 75 percent of energy, they have recognized the role they can play in climate change mitigation. However, we are in the midst of the most severe economic crisis in living history. Promises to invest parts of the multi-billion Dollar rescue packages into the ‘green economy’ provide cities with the opportunity to invest into a sustainable urbanization path that would propel us into a low-carbon future where cities are prepared for unavoidable climate change and where the most vulnerable populations are protected. In this process jobs would be created and new skills would be developed.
UN-HABITAT's Cities in Climate Change Initiative seeks to minimize impacts on human settlements and increase the adaptive capabilities of local governments by strengthening governance structures and engaging the private sector and civil society in finding practical solutions. But municipalities cannot fight this battle alone. They must have the backing of government and the business sector, especially in these times of financial crisis.