Bernama: Significant Slice Of Gdp Being Lost Through Poor Urban Planning
13 October 2011
Improved planning and more intelligent management of cities across the developed and developing world could play a key role in growing economies, boosting social improvements and reducing humanity's environmental footprint.
Findings from the Green Economy report of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) indicate that current patterns of urban development could be costing countries over three per cent of GDP as a result of congestion to welfare costs.
The cities chapter of the report, released at the Gwangju Summit of the Urban Environmental Accords in the Republic of Korea, cites Buenos Aires and Dakar as two examples where current patterns of urban development are reducing GDP by 3.4 per cent.
Current models of urban development in a city like Mexico City may be undermining the economy by over two per cent of GDP and in the European Union a lower but still significant 0.75 per cent of GDP.
Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Without cities, a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy as a way and as a means for implementing sustainable development, will always remain an aspiration rather than a reality-the overwhelming evidence is that the decoupling of economic growth from the consumption of natural resources will only happen if cities are committed and on board".
"The evidence from around the globe, and the case studies from city delegates in Gwangju, is that this realization and action to re-define the urban environment as a catalyst for transformational change is understood and underway," he said.
"Rio+20 in Brazil next June is an opportunity to scale-up and to accelerate these transformations through innovative policy switches, creative and available technologies and by capitalizing and adopting the legion of lessons and experiences that clearly illuminate a path towards a sustainable future," he added.
According to the report, cities are facing mounting pressures to meet the demands of bourgeoning populations - from unsustainable resource use and energy consumption to insufficient infrastructure and health hazards.
While urbanization has helped to reduce absolute poverty, the number of people classified as urban poor is on the rise. Between 1993 and 2000, there was an additional 50 million poor in urban areas while the number of rural poor declined by 150 million.
The UNEP report finds that the environmental performance of cities can be enhanced through effective urban planning and sound governance.
The physical structures of cities - urban form, size, density and configuration - can be designed and managed to limit resources consumption and per capita carbon emissions.
More compact urban forms, reduced travel distances, higher density green residential and commercial buildings and investment in green public transport models lead to greater energy efficiency and reduced environmental footprints.
According to research, net residential densities of up to 3,000 persons per hectare can be reached without compromising environmental or social conditions.
Many cities around the world have recognized such structural opportunities. Compact urban development models with walkable urban neighbourhoods and green public transport have been created in cities such as Copenhagen, Oslo and Madrid in Europe and Curitiba, Vancouver and Portland in the Americas.
In high density cities such as Hong Kong and New York, housing, commercial retail and leisure facilities are in close proximity, thus limiting the lengths of everyday trips. This is supported by efficient and extensive public transport networks.
In an urban green economy, job creation can come in many forms - from urban agriculture and renewable energy to green construction and better waste management. Upgrading to greener infrastructure will also create more jobs, as will more effective recycling services. For example, in the Republic of Korea, the Ministry of Environment expects the government and private sector to spend 5.63 trillion won to expand the country's waste to energy facilities by 2013. It has projected that this project will create 46,000 new jobs and generate savings of 1.2 trillion won from reduced waste disposal and importation of crude oil, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The most significant cost savings can be derived from shifting away from infrastructure for automobiles to more efficient public transport systems, such as pedestrian and cycling paths. Studies have shown that fuel wasted in traffic jams in well-designed cities such as Curitiba, Colombia, has cost the city about US$ 930,000 compared to $13.4 million in Rio de Janeiro.
A green public transport sector also helps create jobs. In many countries, public transport jobs account for up to one and two per cent of total employment. In New York, almost 80,000 local jobs are connected to the sector and in Mumbai, there are more than 160,000 jobs involved.
Overall, greening cities reduces social inequality and improves the quality of life for its inhabitants. Research shows that creating green spaces has positive impacts on public health, as does providing access to recreational facilities, such as bicycle and walking paths.
Voxy: Making the economic case for greening cities
Malaysia's Prime Minister has fuelled international momentum towards a World Environment Organization, endorsing proposals to create such a body when global leaders meet for a global summit in Rio de Janiero next June.
The proposed WEO would be a specialized global body akin to the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization.
Speaking at a two-day UN conference on law, justice, governance and sustainable development concluding today, the Prime Minister, the Hon. Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, said it is time for the world to rationalize a bewildering jumble of overlapping processes.
"It has become virtually impossible" for developing countries to participate meaningfully in today's excessively complicated environmental governance system, the Prime Minister says -- one only wealthy countries can cope with while "developing nations are becoming disenfranchised."
According to the UN Environment Programme, there are now 18 major (and many more smaller) multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), each dedicated to a specific issue ranging from forests and climate change to collapsing fish stocks and biodiversity, and each managed by a separate secretariat and administration.
Between 1992 to 2007, the 18 major MEAs alone convened some 540 meetings, at which more than 5,000 decisions were taken, all requiring some level of follow-up effort by signatory countries.
"From the perspective of the Government of Malaysia and many other governments, only with a major overhaul of the governance system will we be able to address the challenges of environmental sustainability."
Prime Minister Razak adds that, unlike the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is regulatory and sets standards, the proposed environmental body "should be consultative and facilitative to assist countries to meet the global commitments derived from mutual agreements."
The proposed World Environment Organization has been publicly embraced by a growing number of heads of government, including now Malaysia, France, Germany, Brazil and Kenya, as well as several other African and South Pacific countries.
The meeting in Kuala Lumpur is the first in a series to be held in different world regions in the lead-up to a UNEP-hosted World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability 1-3 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- immediately before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD 2012 -- the "Rio+20 Conference"). A similar event was held just prior to a 2002 meeting in Johannesburg on the 10th anniversary of Rio's original landmark 1992 environmental summit.
Says Prof. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia and co-chair the High Level International Advisory Committee for the World Congress in June: "Political clout, stable, adequate and assured funding, and effectiveness are fundamental for an international organisation mandated to help the world effect sustainable development. The relevant institutions today have neither the funding nor the authority required."
He notes that voluntary national contributions to UNEP's budget have fallen approximately one-third in the past decade. Restricted, earmarked contributions now make up two-thirds of UNEP's annual worldwide budget of roughly $60 million - the price of a high-end yacht. The Washington-based Global Environment Facility, which funds limited types of environment-related projects, has a budget 10 times as large.
Bakary Kante, Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, notes "arguments that international environmental governance is incoherent because there are so many layers of bureaucratic fragmentations between multilateral environmental agreements and has evolved as a system that is too loosely connected."
"The heart of the incoherence problem is the very fact that the primary international organization responsible for environment, the United Nations Environment Programme, is solely an 'environment' organization and does not place environment in the context of overall sustainability (economic and social). ...(U)ntil this fundamental flaw is fixed in the IEG (international environmental governance) systems, progress towards environmental sustainability cannot be achieved."
UN News Centre: As disasters increase, risk reduction should a be a concern for all – UN chief 13 October 2011
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed that disaster risk reduction should be a daily concern for everyone, noting that vulnerability to catastrophes is growing faster than the world’s capacity to strengthen resilience, as evidenced by the devastation wrought by the recent series of floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and droughts.
“The good news is that some countries have shown how to reduce risk from floods and cyclones,” Mr. Ban said in his message to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction, which is observed today. “Investments in early warning and other measures are paying dividends.”
The message is clear: Disaster risk reduction should be an everyday concern for everybody. Let us all invest today for a safer tomorrow.
To mark the Day, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and its partners invited children and young people to “Step Up for Disaster Risk Reduction,” saying they were the groups most affected by disasters.
An estimated 100 million young people are affected by reported disasters each year and thousands of them are killed and injured.
“We know from many courageous stories which emerge post-disaster that young people are not passive victims of events beyond their control,” said Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of UNISDR.
“Around the world we have seen the evidence that young people are quick to respond to tragic events,” she said in her message. “There is ample evidence that wherever young people are empowered with information and skills training, they are important actors in disaster management and have a keen eye for where risk can be reduced in the community.”
In Nepal, for example, schoolchildren are taught the basics of building homes safely, while risk reduction and climate change adaptation activities involving children in Cuba are now being emulated in other parts of the world.
Recently, more than 600 young boys and girls in Africa, Asia and Latin America developed a Children’s Charter to reduce disaster risk, Mr. Ban pointed out.
At events across the around the world today, and in the next 12 months, UNISDR will work with its partners – the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Plan, Save the Children and World Vision – To promote the new Children’s Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction.
In the Charter, children identified five priorities to strengthen resilience in the face of disasters:
•Schools must be safe and education must not be interrupted;
•Child protection must be a priority before, during and after a disaster to avoid threats such as child labour and trafficking;
•Children have the right to participate and to access the information they need in order to protect their communities as well as themselves from disaster risks and climate change;
•Special attention must be paid to those who are more vulnerable due to disability, age, gender, location and social status.
“The message is clear: Disaster risk reduction should be an everyday concern for everybody. Let us all invest today for a safer tomorrow,” said the Secretary-General.
According to UNISDR, risk reduction includes disciplines such as disaster management, mitigation and preparedness. It is also crucial for sustainable development.
According to this year’s issue of the UNISDR Global Assessment Report, the proportion of the population living in flood-prone river basins has risen by 114 per cent over the last 30 years and those living on cyclone-exposed coastlines by 192 per cent.
It points outs that, more than half the world’s large cities, with populations ranging from two to 15 million, are located in areas at high risk of seismic activity.
Meanwhile, more than 50 children from 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific region met in Bangkok today to mark the Day and discuss how they can play a more active role in preventing disasters.
Co-organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Disaster Management, the Thailand Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, the ASEAN Secretariat, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Asia Pacific Regional Office of UNISDR and other partners, the event highlighted the vital role that children can play in reducing disaster impacts.
“As we have seen in recent days in the newspapers, on television, or with our own eyes on the streets and fields around us, disasters disrupt the lives of millions of children, threatening their rights and their needs,” said Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia (ESCAP).
“Children and young people are particularly vulnerable. An estimated 66 million children are affected by disasters every year, and their vulnerability is expected to increase,” said Dr. Heyzer.
The Hindu: Two city students make it to UNEP event
Two schoolchildren from Mangalore attended the Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on Environment, organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with the Government of Indonesia from September 27 to October 1.
Albert Antony, a class 8 student of Sharada Vidyalaya and Alwyn Francis Antony, a student of class 4 from the same school (and Albert's younger brother) attended the conference.
The theme of the conference was “Reshaping our future through a green economy and sustainable development “Rio+20”. The conference reviewed the contribution of children to the International Year of Forests and how they could adopt environment-friendly lifestyles.
At the conference, the participating students went on a field trip to a forest and an observatory. They attended workshops on environment conservation. “We were told how we could reduce, recycle, and reuse. They taught us to use paper and jute bags instead of plastic,” said Albert.
He saw students from Patna, Bihar, making floor tiles from discarded tiles and broken bricks. “Some Indian students from Qatar showed how to conserve water from air-conditioners. The water can be reused for plants,” he said.
At the closing ceremony, he presented a dance, choreographed by him. It was set to the music of Jai Ho and Vande Mataram. At the end of the song, all the members of the Indian team joined in. Among the 25 Indian students participating were four from South India, one each from Visakhapatnam and Madurai, and two from Mangalore, he said. “I liked the workshops, they were fun, especially the action songs in English, French, and Spanish,” he said.
Albert said he learnt about the competition through Internet where he read about an organisation called Tarumitra (Friends of Trees, a students' movement that started in Patna to protect and promote a healthy environment), which selected him and his brother five months before the conference.
Alwyn was unable to participate as he was not well when he reached.