H.E. MINISTER KIMMO SASI
AT THE SPECIAL SESSION FOR OVERALL REVIEW AND
APPRAISAL OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HABITAT AGENDA
New York, 6 June 2001
Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. While fully supporting the Statement by the Honourable Minister of Housing of Sweden, who speaks on behalf of the European Union, I would like to draw your attention to some issues of special interest to Finland on this important occasion regarding the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
2. This review takes place during the United Nations Millennium Assembly. In the Millennium Declaration our Heads of States and Governments resolved to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020, as proposed in the "Cities Without Slums 11 initiative. We need to keep that commitment in our minds during the present review of the Habitat Agenda.
3. The challenges set forth in the Habitat Agenda are of immense importance in the world today. We are witnesses to rapidly increasing urbanisation, a phenomenon that has moulded our living environment as has no other man?made development in the history of mankind. Due to rapid urbanisation irreversible changes are taking place that will have a decisive effect on our cities and other human settlements.
4. Despite enormous investments in urban development, housing conditions in many areas of the world are insufficient and the direction in which conditions are developing is not necessarily positive. The reason is that poor economic development and rapid population growth are widespread in today, s world. On the other hand, many cities, with equal resource bases, have turned out very differently due to varying development policies. I I m not saying that we should mechanically copy policies, but, nevertheless, policies have a decisive role in urban development. What then should the international community do? To a larger extent, we should be evaluating the positive and negative features of various policies and approaches, and learning from and disseminating this information. The thematic committee in this special session supports these goals. I also believe that existing international cooperation, and The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, can play an important role in this field.
5. In line with the spirit of the Habitat Agenda, Finland has promoted the right to adequate housing in a 1995 amendment to the constitution. In legislation the right to housing is not guaranteed, apart from specific exceptions, as a justiciable right. However, what is underlined is the supportive role of public authorities. Additionally, local authorities must take steps to improve housing conditions that particularly benefit the homeless and those whose housing conditions are inadequate. Local authorities are also obliged to create the preconditions necessary for improving housing conditions.
6. A key problem worldwide is the division of cities into high - and low- income areas, which has led to great social and financial problems. Finland has, as a central issue in housing policy, made concerted efforts to ensure a social mix of inhabitants in all residential areas. Various measures have been applied to achieve this, for example, by locating social and other housing in the same areas. Under the overall umbrella of sustainable human settlements development a variety of approaches have been implemented in Finland. Support for disadvantaged groups has been a general issue in striving for sustainability. Gender equality has also been a central socio?political target. Despite progress in several fields there are still many issues that need to be addressed. Regional differences in Finland are widening. Problems, linked to decreasing incomes and taxation bases, are growing in regions with declining populations. At the same time, growth centres are facing totally different problems, such as rising costs of housing.
7. Local authorities are central to success in meeting many of the challenges set by the Habitat Agenda. In Finland, municipalities have played a key role. With decentralisation, individuals have the possibility to take part in the development of their community. This takes place, for example, through democratic participation in municipal decision-making. Decentralisation also gives local authorities a high level of financial independence. This independence allows municipalities to act for themselves.
8. In Istanbul, five years ago, Finland underlined the important linkages between human settlements development and global environmental issues, especially climate change. The significance of regional and community structure in diminishing emissions of greenhouse gases has been acknowledged. Finland is working to curb urban sprawl through integrating new development within the existing city structure, and promoting an environmentally friendly transportation system. We are also working hard to decrease air pollution and increase the efficiency of our energy production systems. For example, during the last two decades, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide emissions have been reduced by 70 - 80% in Helsinki, yet energy production has increased steadily. Highly developed technology has brought the efficiency of our combined heat and energy production to over 90%. This technology is used for both district heating and cooling. Finland's experience shows that air quality can be improved, without negative effects on production. We are convinced that if cities improve their air quality, ná only would this have extremely positive local effects on inhabitants, but it would also significantly diminish harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
9. We believe that our deliberations on the Habitat Agenda will form
an excellent forum for focussing on and developing the future of our cities
and human settlements. We look forward to this special session as an excellent
opportunity to give political support to the continued implementation of
the Habitat Agenda. We hope that the participants of this special session
will leave New York with a feeling of confidence that they can influence
the outcome of development, and with a vision of how to do so.