Statements and Speeches
  Home » About Us » Executive Director » Statements and Speeches » International Conference on Sustainable Building
International Conference on Sustainable Building
  Print This Page!

Honourable Minister Ms. Erna Solberg,
Chairman Dr. Frank Henning Holm,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to address this important Conference in the presence of distinguished dignitaries from nearly seventy countries representing the research community, property owners, the construction industry and authorities in this beautiful country of Norway. It is indeed very heartening to note that this conference is a result of cooperation among an impressive array of partners representing the government, private and public sector, research and financial institutions.

As the head of the UN agency responsible for housing and construction industry or the built-up environment, I am immensely pleased to be here. This conference will discuss issues that are central to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, namely, adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing and globalizing world. I have noted that this conference will discuss the challenges of sustainable cities, sustainable buildings, sustainable products and sustainable business opportunities. I would like to sum up these issues into one unifying theme, namely, sustainable urbanization and the challenge of bridging the gap between the green and brown agendas.

Mr. Chairman,

One billion poor people live without adequate shelter and basic services in slums and squatter settlement. With nearly half of humanity now living in cities and towns, the challenge of the urban millennium is to improve the living environment of the poor.

The speed of urbanisation and the enormous numbers involved make it one of the major development challenges of this century.

During the period 2000 to 2030, 2.2 billion people will be added to our cities. Almost 2 billion of these will be absorbed by urban areas of the less developed regions. This is the magnitude of the problem: 2 billion people added to urban areas of the less developed countries in the next 30 years !

Whereas the industrialised countries took more than one century to urbanise, urbanization today is happening with dramatic speed in Asia and Africa. 36 % 0f the population in Asia and 37 % of the population in Africa live in cities to day.

South Korea took just 40 years to move from being 80 per cent rural to 80 per cent urban.

Africa is witnessing an unprecedented urbanization. The region which until recently was predominately rural, is experiencing the world’s most rapid rate of transition. Africa’s urban population is now 37% of the total and will nearly double from 295 million in 2000 to 590 million in 2020. Fuelled by the combination of failed rural development, environmental degradation and ravages of war and civil strife, Africa’s urban growth rates are in excess are 5% per annum and are among the highest ever experienced in the world. By 2020 one half of Africa’s population will be living in cities. Unless conditions change, Africa’s new urban growth will take place in informal settlements, or bluntly speaking, in slums.

The problems of such rapid growth are familiar; we know of the grim conditions in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the shacks of Manila and the kampong of Bangkok, for instance. Access to shelter is deteriorating as the influx increases, and about 100 million people have no permanent home. More than 700,000 sleep on the streets of Mumbai. From quantitative studies we know that under-five mortality in slum areas can be higher than in rural poverty areas. Everywhere the urban slum dwellers lack access to adequate basic facilities such as water and sanitation, making it difficult maintain not only health but even dignity. The poor of course are hard working and law abiding citizens. However, polluted and unhygienic environments of urban slums are a breeding ground not only for diseases and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS, but also anti-social behaviour including crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. Against this backdrop, the need to bridge the gap between the green and brown agendas in our struggle for sustainable development has been given further impetus at the recently concluded WSSD, which has endorsed the concept of sustainable urbanization as a precondition for sustainable development. It is now our challenge to move into action.

The objective of UN-HABITAT is to support governments and other partners

  • to improve the shelter conditions of the world’s poor
  • in the adoption of operationally effective and participatory governance
  • to promote international co-operation in shelter and sustainable human settlements.
  • To monitor slum conditions and intra-city differentials in health, access to services and shelter conditions through programmes of Global Urban Observatories

UN-Habitat has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. UN-Habitat and UNEP are the only two agencies that have their headquarters in the developing world and they are classified as environmental programmes. UNEP deals with the green agenda or the natural environment while UN-HABITAT deals with the brown agenda or the built-up environment.

As the UN agency responsible for cities and other human settlements, the UN focal point for local authorities, and also the agency responsible for the implementation of Habitat Agenda and the urban dimension of Agenda 21, UN-HABITAT is focusing on achieving "Sustainable Urbanisation". The concept has resulted from years of experience and reflection by Habitat Agenda partners representing a wide range of public, private and civil society sectors.

It was reviewed and developed as a unifying conceptual and operational framework by 1000 Habitat Agenda partners during the recent first World Urban Forum held in May 2002 in Nairobi. "Sustainable Urbanisation" is a dynamic, multi-dimensional process covering environmental as well as social, economic and institutional sustainability. It embraces relationships between all settlements, from small towns to metropolises, and between these places and their surrounding areas. It is founded on the proposition that the inexorable transformation of human society from a rural to an urban way of life requires an equally fundamental change in decision making, in resource allocation and in our institutional frameworks.

Sustainable urbanization is an integral part of sustainable development and its defining essence. There cannot be sustainable development without sustainable urbanization.

Urbanisation and globalisation have become dominant trends that are changing the parameters for sustainable development.

Globalisation clearly favours cities and metropolitan areas as centres of production, and consumption and brings with it irreversible changes in terms of how we use resources such as land, water and energy.

Just over two weeks ago I was in Johannesburg attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development. During my stay there I visited the township of Alexandra, just 5 kilometers from the posh Santon Convention Centre where the summit deliberations were being held. The township was established in 1912 for a population of about 70,000. It now has a population of about 700,000, ten times its design capacity. Unplanned population has overloaded the infrastructure in areas such as water supply, sewage and electricity. While most of the population in the township still live in poor conditions with lack of access to basic amenities, it was indeed inspiring to see that the South African Government and the local authorities have achieved tremendous progress in many areas.

Facilities such as water supply and health care have improved, and care for those affected by HIV and Aids are a few examples that I can mention. Above all what is worth emulating is the integrated approach to the shelter question in Alexandra: innovative architectural features, infrastructure design, credit facilities, employment generation for the youth, care facilities for the elderly etc.

Despite the earlier pessimistic predictions about the Summit, Johannesburg has rekindled the spirit of Rio where sustainable development (development that integrates, social, economic and environmental concerns) was put back on the agenda. For UN Habitat it was not Rio+10, it was rather Stockholm +30, where focus was much broader than the natural environment.

Human settlement issues and livelihoods of people were much in focus. In short, efforts to promote sustainable development received a major boost from the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Significant commitments to improve the lives of people living in poverty and to reverse the continuing degradation of the global environment were undertaken by the governments.

What was achieved in Johannesburg?

I would like to focus on the outcomes that are of relevance to urbanization and the Habitat Agenda.

WSSD adopted two negotiated documents

The Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development


The Plan of Implementation of the WSSD

The Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development is a brief political statement agreed upon at the highest level. The Declaration contains explicit reference to UN-Habitat’s areas of responsibility, placing them at the top of the agenda, effectively up-dating the list of priorities.

I quote for example paragraph 17 of the Johannesburg declaration: "We welcome the Johannesburg Summit focus on the indivisibility of human dignity and are resolved through decisions and targets, timetables and partnerships to speedily increase access to basic requirements such as clean water, sanitation, adequate shelter, energy, health care, food security, and the protection of bio-diversity". It is noteworthy that " adequate shelter" was added to the earlier concept of " WEHAB" (Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity) after the political leadership in their own wisdom realized the limitation of trying to provide basic needs to homeless or inadequately housed people. Paragraph 17 is a landmark decision in bridging the gap between the green agenda or the natural environment with the brown agenda or the built-up environment. A logical follow-up of paragraph 17 is to integrate shelter into all basic macro-economic development frameworks such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). Shelter is a basic need and an essential element in any formulation seeking to alleviate poverty, including the 20-20 compact agreed here in Oslo in following up the Copenhagen World Social Summit in 1995.

This conference, Sustainable Building 2002, is very timely, coming as it does on the heels of such a major decision by the world leadership. Paragraph 17 has in fact re-echoed target 11 of the Millennium development Goal, which aspires to make significant improvements in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. The Millennium Development Goals also endorsed the "Cities Without Slums", which is an alternative way of mainstreaming the notion of urban and physical planning. Unless they are well planned and well built with environmental aspects in focus, cities would not be without slums and would continue to leave behind disastrous ecological footprints.

And now to the Plan of Implementation.

The Summit discussed the ten chapters of the implementation plan and made a number of commitments and acknowledgements, including the Rio Principles; full implementation of Agenda 21 and internationally agreed development goals; good governance; and the importance of ethics for sustainable development. The Plan of Implementation contains targets and timetables to spur action on a wide range of issues.

On Poverty Eradication, the key commitments are: To halve by 2015 the proportion of the world’s people living on less than US$1 a day and who suffer from hunger; and to establish a world solidarity fund to eradicate poverty.

On Changing Unsustainable Patterns of Consumption and Production: the development of a ten-year framework of programmes in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production is envisaged.

On renewable energy it was agreed to substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources, recognising the role of national and voluntary targets.

On water: The launching of a programme of action to achieve safe drinking water and sanitation goals; promoting and providing new and additional financial resources and innovative technologies to implement Chapter 18 on fresh water of Agenda 21 is envisaged; and developing integrated water resource management and water efficiency plans by 2005; these commitments and undertakings will have positive impacts on the UN Habitat’s programme on Water.

On Sustainable Development in A Globalizing World, the plan calls for active promotion of corporate responsibility and accountability based on the Rio Principles.

On Health And Sustainable Development,

agreement was reached on strengthening the capacity of health-care systems to deliver basic health services to all, consistent with national laws and cultural and religious values.

On Sustainable Development For Africa, the Summit affirmed the international community’s commitment to support sustainable development in Africa, through addressing the special challenges taking concrete actions to implement Agenda 21 in Africa, within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The Summit identified a number of areas where interventions are required including energy access, capacity building and technology transfer and freshwater management, to support African countries in their efforts to implement the Habitat Agenda and the Istanbul Declaration (with references to sustainable urbanization, adequate shelter, basic services, governance systems in cities and other human settlements, as well as national and local institutional capacities).

The aim of describing the above outcomes from the Summit is to show that the overriding theme of the Summit was to promote action and that major progress was made in Johannesburg to address some of the most pressing concerns of poverty and the environment.

But rather than concluding with only the words of an agreed document, the Summit has also generated concrete partnership initiatives by and between governments, local authorities, citizen groups and businesses. These partnerships are bringing with them additional resources and expertise to attain significant results where they matter - in communities across the globe.

In the words of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Annan, "The Summit represents a major leap forward in the development of partnerships, with the UN, Governments, business and civil society coming together to increase the pool of resources to tackle global problems on a global scale."

As a result of the Summit, governments agreed on a series of commitments in six priority areas that were backed up by specific government announcements on programmes, and by partnership initiatives. More than 220 partnerships, representing $235 million in resources, were identified during the Summit process to complement the government commitments, and many more were announced outside of the formal Summit proceedings.

Water, energy, shelter, health, agriculture and biodiversity are the six areas of priority.

During WSSD, the establishment of "Water for Asian Cities" partnership between UN-HABITAT, the Asian Development Bank, the Government of the Netherlands, and Governments of Asian Countries has received much attention and praise.

With its agreed $7.8 million in grants and $500 million in fast-track credit, the initiative is expected to demonstrate the complementarity between capacity building- and lending operations, between the UN and development finance institutions

Sustainable urbanisation and WSSD

"Sustainable Urbanisation" has a normative dimension, corresponding to the "type-1" outcome of the WSSD, which recognises that sustainable development is contingent upon collaboration in effective partnership among diverse stakeholders. And this requires the widespread adoption of principles of social justice, equal opportunity for all women, men and children and participatory governance.

"Sustainable Urbanisation" also has an operational dimension, corresponding to the "type-2" outcome of the WSSD, for which we have launched the "Coalition for Sustainable Urbanisation". The Coalition, currently with 11 partnership implementation commitments, emphasises the need for knowledge sharing, capacity building and new and improved forms of international co-operation. Because the key responsibility for achieving sustainable urbanisation lies with local governments and their partners, the focus is on developing local capacities to better manage urban growth and change. Many initiatives to strengthen local capacity are already under way at both national and international levels, and one priority is to make these initiatives more effective by increasing the synergy between them and improving co-ordination among the organisations involved. I hope that this conference will pay attention to ways and means of strengthening local capacity.

Hon. Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

I understand that the goal of this conference is to create a multi-stakeholder forum, a forum where researchers, property owners, consultants, the construction industry and authorities meet for an exchange of knowledge on sustainable building. As you may be aware, UN Habitat has focused on the interrelationship between construction and environment. The industrialised countries are consuming natural resources at a pace that is unsustainable in the long run. Construction industries in these countries rely mainly on energy intensive, high temperature process industries producing steel, aluminium, glass, cement etc. Energy use of buildings in developed countries is also of concern. About 40 % of energy consumption in these countries is attributed to buildings.

In the developing countries adequate shelter itself is a problem, and even in this context unsustainable building practices need to be addressed. Mining coral reefs for building construction, burning firewood for brick making are some examples. While modern construction industry is energy- and capital intensive, the buildings and life styles contribute to wastage of resources.

I am aware that a lot of work is being done to conserve energy and water in households through technological innovation, pricing mechanisms and regulations. What relevance will these developments in the building industry in the developed countries have for poor nations?

There is urgency for providing adequate shelter and upgrading of slums. How can the goal of providing 100 million slum dwellers with better shelter and amenities be achieved in a sustainable way? Will it be sustainable to build toilets that use for example 40 litres of water to flush in slums where no toilets are to be found let alone the water to flush them? How can energy-saving measures in houses in this part of the world be made appropriate for shelters in tropical countries?

Learning from people’s experiences can be a good start.

Shelter being a basic need, the Agenda 21 in its Chapter 7.6 recognized that access to safe and healthy shelter is essential to a person’s physical, psychological, social and economic well-being and should be a fundamental part of national and international action. Significantly, the Agenda 21 also reaffirmed the right to adequate housing as a basic human right, as did the Habitat Agenda adopted at Habitat II in 1996.

At the national level, it is essential to accept that there is a need to evolve strategies for distributive justice, so that increases in social spending on civic services are recognised as essential to meeting the basic need to adequate housing and access to potable water, electricity and sanitation.

While one embarks on the mission to achieve the goal for adequate shelter for all, one cannot copy unsustainable building practices from the North or replicate sustainable examples from the North to the South without adapting them to the local socio-economic and cultural realities.

In many African societies, for example, women play an important role in building houses using local materials. For example, the Masai women are the architects and the builders of their houses. Women were the builders of houses after the genocide in Rwanda.

With rapid urbanization how will women’s insight and expertise be put to use?

Will they become casual labourers like many women in Asia, carrying heavy loads of bricks and mortar on their heads, climbing high and dangerous scaffoldings to build skyscrapers that they may never set their foot in after construction?

Sustainable housing is not about building materials only. One needs to have an integrated approach to building.

For example, providing employment for labour abundant economies of Africa is particularly difficult when capital intensive, highly mechanized industrialization strategies are pursued, especially in the large-scale construction sector.

One example that is worth mentioning here is the sustainable housing delivery programme in South Africa. History has proved that both traditional private and public sector programmes have failed to provide shelter in adequate volumes at prices the poor can afford .The South African housing policy, as with other housing policies around Africa and as championed by the World Bank and the United Nations Habitat, is formulated around the enabling approach theme, where the state acts as supporter rather than the provider of housing.

In the South African scenario, for example, this assistance is in the form of a capital subsidy to secure a site, basic services and a starter house. The government anticipated providing one million houses in five years.

This, coupled with the resultant demand for infrastructure facilities and services that go with housing such as schools, clinics and community facilities and services has caused tremendous growth in the construction industry and exposed new challenges of sustainability that need to be addressed, e.g.

affordability for the low-income group, lack of experienced contractors, lack of economic opportunities for the communities and skills transfer, especially to women.

Finally, one cannot ignore the role that the economic and political climates play in sustainable construction in both the private and public sectors.

Achievements in countries like Norway in implementing a social housing policy through the active involvement of the government and the work of housing bodies like OBOS in Oslo are impressive and pioneering. However, in poorer counties it will be difficult to follow the same path unless the normative aspects linked to shelter are addressed as well. The point is how do you provide adequate shelter to all when the majority of the people fall below the poverty line and the standard "means testing" cannot apply?

In this connection, UN- Habitat is spearheading two campaigns: The Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and the Global Campaign on Urban Governance. The campaigns seek to raise awareness that the poor are an asset and resource upon which to draw in implementing The Habitat Agenda. What they need is economic empowerment through positive policies which enhance their efforts at self reliance instead of frustrating them. The two campaigns seek to promote policies which fight poverty without fighting the poor, and which combat squatting without fighting the squatters.

The objectives of the two campaigns are: to work closely with all levels of government and representatives of civil society, especially those representing the urban poor, to raise awareness and improve national policies and local strategies to reduce urban poverty; to enhance social inclusion and justice; and to promote more transparent and accountable governance. Having a roof over one’s head and guarantees against eviction go together. Important also is the access to credit to build a shelter.

I am confident this conference will be able to provide recommendations and ideas for action integrating the normative and operational aspects of sustainable settlements and sustainable building. It is important not to consider your projects just as jobs or contracts. You can be an enormously constructive force in terms of the effectiveness of development, in terms of bringing about equitable development, in terms of bringing opportunity and sustainability in the areas in which you work. In my opinion, this is an added reward. For me, it is an invaluable reward.

And it would be my hope that in your discussions about buildings, about engineering, about technology, about finance, about all those issues which are professionally important, you will also consider the social and cultural environment in which you are operating so that together we can make this world a better place. Also in all of these do not overlook the need for gender balance.

The task of making cities and buildings sustainable along with the inseparable task of poverty alleviation and adequate shelter for all can be achieved only through a common vision. A common vision for sustainable urbanization warrants a grand coalition, a coalition for action. I invite you to be part of this coalition, a coalition that can help strengthen capacity of local communities and their partners to addressing issues such as local economic development, HIV/AIDS and safe neighborhoods.

I am interested in a constructive partnership with you and I hope this conference will be the beginning for our partnership in the spirit of WSSD and the Habitat Agenda.

When we possess the necessary tools to foresee the future, the future of global cities, we also need to take the necessary steps to meet the challenges of the future. If we do not create the future today, uncertainty may prevail tomorrow.

The Norwegian Prime Minister Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik, in his statement to the World Summit in Johannesburg, observed that sustainable development is to empower poor people. Poor people, wherever they live, are not just interested in charity. They would like to actively participate in society. They need the space for this. They are interested in opportunities and the possibility for advancement. They have a voice; they need to be listened to. They are interested in helping themselves. The majority of them put up their own houses; they are themselves builders. If not among us today, they are interested in representing themselves at this conference and enhancing its outcome. For this reason I will end by inviting and encouraging you to forge close partnerships with the poor themselves if we are serious about forming a grand coalition for sustainable building in the rapidly growing cities of the developing world. In this regard, UN-Habitat stands ready to work with each of you collectively and individually towards this cause, for sustainable urbanization and poverty alleviation go hand in hand.

I thank you for your attention and wish to declare this conference open.

Site Map | Site Directory | Contact Us | Feedback | Terms & Conditions | Fraud and scam alert