Professor Dr. Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand on Wednesday graced the opening of the Fifth Asia Pacific Forum with a clarion call for the urgent need for a green economy and a comprehensive framework for its implementation.
Her Royal Highness Highness Princess Chulabhorn address the meeting. Photo © UNEP
She made the appeal in opening remarks to some 700 delegates gathered at the Bangkok headquarters of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
She noted that with four billion people living is Asia today, it is by far the world's largest and most populated continent. As such, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population – a figure is projected to increase to 80 percent by 2020.
Unfortunately this growth in size has been accompanied by growth in levels of poverty with the urban poor comprising 250 million people living in Asian cities earning less than one dollar a day, a fact recorded in the joint UN-HABITAT / ESCAP report, The State of Asian Cities 2010/2011.
Her Royal Highness challenged participants to address some of the gravest challenges of our time, including marine, solid waste, and air pollution, noting that statistics from the World Health Organization attribute 800,000 deaths annually to air pollution.
UN-HABITAT is organizing over a dozen events with many of its key partners including the Huairou Commission, CITYNET, UCLG-ASPAC, ICLEI, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and the Rockerfeller Foundation.
Among the first sessions held was an "Urban Planning Café" which provided close to 100 participants with a highly innovative and interactive exchange on the challenge of managing our increasingly complex cities.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said cities were important for generating growth: "This is the right time to find the appropriate model for combining economic growth and the growth of cities with a new form of urbanisation which can also provide equal opportunities for all."
As part of UN-HABITAT's major new emphasis on urban planning, participants discussed the challenges posed by traffic congestion, urban economy and employment, disaster risk reduction and slums.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, agreed on the need to address economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and resilience to climate change.
"This requires that we take a fresh look at how cities are managed," she added.
"The frequency and intensity of these and other climate-related disasters will increase. We simply do not have the luxury of growing first and cleaning up later."
Delegates from National and Local Government, academia and civil society welcomed this renewed emphasis within UN-HABITAT. They called on the agency to develop practical tools and programmes to support this initiative.
In particular the suggestion for a Quick Guide on urban planning for elected leaders was warmly welcomed as an important starting point.
"Too often we think and never do, or do and never think. Urban planning has been overlooked in our efforts to better manage our cities and we need to address this critical deficit," said one participant.
The theme of the 22-24 June multi-stakeholder Fifth Asia-Pacific Urban Forum is Cities of Opportunity: partnerships for an inclusive and sustainable future.
Its aim is to discuss emerging urban development issues, share experiences and enable delegates to network with one another.
"To make our cities inclusive and sustainable, we need to address economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and resilience to climate change," said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Noeleen Heyzer. "This requires that we take a fresh look at how cities are managed."
"The frequency and intensity of these and other climate-related disasters will increase," stated the ESCAP chief. "We simply do not have the luxury of growing first and cleaning up later."