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Statement of the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka on the occasion of the 25th Meeting of the UNEP Governing Council
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25th Meeting of the UNEP Governing Council

Address to the Opening of the High Level Segment
 by Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
Director General of UNON

Your Excellency Mr. Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In keeping with time honoured tradition, it is indeed a pleasure for me to be with you today and to address the 25th session of the Governing Council of UNEP in my capacity as the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.

It is also my privilege, as the Director General of UNON, to welcome all of you who come from afar to Nairobi, the home of the United Nations programmes dealing with the natural environment and the built environment.


Cities have become the driving force of global trade. They are the engines of economic productivity and cultural creativity. They serve as the nexus of global financial markets, and the service centres of our information society.

But cities are also generating the bulk of our waste and are witnessing some very worrisome trends in social deprivation and exclusion. As a result, some one billion people are living in slums and informal settlements today.

Besides suffering from poor health, poor nutrition and lack of access to education, they have become the unwitting contributors to pollution and deforestation. Because they lack access to modern and affordable energy supply, many slum dwellers, especially in Africa, continue to rely on bio-mass as the principle source of energy. Because they lack access to modern water supply and sanitation, they pollute our rivers and watersheds. Because they are poor, their behavior is dictated by the necessities of short-term survival.

And, if current trends are allowed to continue, this figure is projected to reach 2 billion by 2030.

Our common quest for more sustainable forms of social and economic development and environmental protection cannot be dissociated from a quest for sustainable urbanisation. >

The concept of sustainable urbanisation represents a pragmatic approach to pursuing growth with due regard for the ecology, and wealth creation with equity.

This common ground is to be found in the way we manage our cities and communities - in the way we translate multi-lateral treaties and agreements into locally relevant practices.  

Distinguished delegates,

This Governing Council meeting takes place in the midst of a financial and economic crisis.

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.

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, we can also choose to look at things less conventionally. The Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two ideograms. One stands for danger; the other stands for opportunity. The current crisis could also be seen as a clear opportunity to make our cities and urban centres into the driving force for a green economy.

Cities in both the developed and developing countries are preoccupied with job and wealth creation.  Opportunities for green jobs do feature from time-to-time in city development plans, but more so as side products of environmental initiatives rather than with clear strategic intent. There is ample room to integrate the green economy agenda into wider city development initiatives.

This is especially so in the developing world. Given the relatively low levels of energy consumption and of individual mobility, cities in developing countries offer enormous potential for investing in infrastructure and services that favour efficiency, green jobs and green technology. To achieve this, cities need to avoid replicating models that are no longer environmentally sound. Instead, they need to innovate, to think out of the box and leapfrog the prevailing paradigms by applying the principles of ecological sustainability in their efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals.  

The technologies are there. The solutions exist. They range from water harvesting to solar energy, and from affordable mass transit to bio-fuel production. But turning the huge unmet needs into market demand requires the right mix of political will and commitment, well-founded policies and strategies, and an enabling business environment.

Distinguished delegates,

The medium and long–term impacts of climate change present similar profound challenges for promoting sustainable urbanization. Both adaptive and preventive measures in cities and towns will require substantial investments in infrastructure, improved services, and in planning.  

Around 70 percent of the disasters that affect our people and our planet are now climate related. Each year these disasters take on a heavier human toll and come with a higher price tag.  Destructive rains and tropical storms, repeated cycles of flooding and drought are on the increase. Not only do these destructive forces affect food security and energy pricing, they make all of our communities more vulnerable. More and more people are likely to end up as environmental refugees, seeking protection and survival in our cities.

Herein lies the real chance to turn “crisis” or danger into opportunity. In the final analysis, mitigation and adaptation strategies are the two sides of the same coin. They require the very similar solutions when it comes to our cities. They require that we engage in more rational land use that favours compact communities, avoids urban sprawl and reduces the reliance on individual motorised transport. They require that we design more robust infrastructure and more resilient services that respond to our daily needs and guarantee our safety and security. They require that we adopt better design and construction technology that make optimal use of local resources.

In essence, what makes sense in terms of mitigation also makes sense in terms of improving the living conditions of all women, men and children while reducing the particular risks and vulnerabilities of the urban poor.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sustainable urbanisation has become a key determinant in achieving sustainable development. UN-HABITAT can only contribute to the goal of sustainable urbanization by working closely with its partners within and outside the UN-System. Our very fruitful collaboration with UNEP is a case in point.

We have a long-standing cooperation which dates back to the mid 1980s. The mandates of the two organizations are complementary. UNEP focuses on policies to protect the environment while UN-Habitat seeks to reduce render human activity more sustainable.

In an increasingly urbanized world, our common quest is to mainstream the urban environmental perspective into the work of both programmes. UN-HABITAT’s Medium Term Strategic Institutional Plan (MTSIP) addresses urban environment issues through environmental planning, sustainable building and environmentally sound basic infrastructure.

UNEP and UN-HABITAT have developed a new framework for enhanced and strategic cooperation in the area of urban environmental management. This plan includes five activity areas:

  1. Cities and climate change, Africa, where we are joining forces to integrate cities climate action into national mitigation and adaptation plans;
  2. EcoMobility, to provide support to integrating non‑motorized forms of mobility in transport investments;
  3. Improving solid waste management; including the development of an Integrated Solid Waste Plan Management plan for Nairobi
  4. Promoting urban biodiversity and ecosystems; and
  5. Joint outreach activities.

Distinguished Delegates,

I look forward to your deliberations. Several resolutions that you will be deciding on are of immediate relevance to UN-HABITAT’s collaboration with UNEP, which we are committed to further strengthen in the coming years.

Allow me in closing to welcome again all of you to the UN Headquarters in Africa and wish all of you a most successful Governing Council.

I thank you for your kind attention.

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