Newly appointed UN-HABITAT Executive Director Joan Clos on Tuesday held a meeting with staff at which he exchanged ideas and called for new urban thinking to raise the global urban agenda.
Saying that he had a long held passion for cities and urbanisation in general, the new Executive Director said he was looking forward to working closely with the staff members in taking the agency forward.
"UN-HABITAT has the best world expertise on urban issues. We can harness the available knowledge and make it useful for Habitat Agenda Partners. Such users can be the citizens, city governments or national governments," he said. The new Executive Director said the inclusion of partners into the day-to-day activities of the agency was crucial.
Recently urbanisation had been faced by lots of challenges, he said, adding that the whole topic of cities was too complicated to be compartmentalized. Whereas people were once flocking to cities because of the promise of jobs and better life, now people just migrate into town without any promise, leading to the urbanisation of poverty, he said. Giving an example of his home country Spain, Mr. Clos said when the country made the transition from a rural to an industrial economy, many people migrated to the cities in search of jobs. The situation is however now different because it is the mechanization of agriculture which pushes people to the cities despite there being no jobs.
Consequently, Mr. Clos challenged the agency's professionals to focus on the quality in cities, rather than concentrating only numbers.
Alluding to the impacts of climate change, he said that although cities caused more than half of all pollution by way of green house gases emissions, if handled well, the cities were also in a unique position to address the matter and thus key to addressing environmental problems through various means such as better transport systems. He said cities also had to work harder on meeting the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals.
Although the agency was largely seen as developing world focused, Mr. Clos said there were many areas where it could actively engage with the developed world. One of these areas, he said, is climate change.
He reminded governments that cities are important for national wealth as creative places for the generation of new and positive ideas.
On funding, he said the financial crisis had very strong effects on economies of most countries thus making it difficult for them to maintain contributions to UN organizations. "It will require us to make bigger efforts to convince organizations that our work is worth it and a good contribution to humankind. We need to explain ourselves, convince, and do our job excellently," he said.
The Executive Director said that UN-HABITAT had done a commendable job in addressing humanitarian problems especially in post conflict and disaster situations. And he added that the agency should advise and encourage cities to plan so as to mitigate the effects of the disasters before they take place.
He paid tribute to his immediate predecessor Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka who left the agency at the end of August.
In conclusion, Mr. Clos challenged the staff members to present to him their definitions of cities promising that the best 100 of such definitions would be published. "One of my favourites is the one that says that a city is a place you will find what you are not looking for," he said.