United Nations Environment Programme

Statement

by

Klaus Töpfer
UNEP Executive Director

to the UN General Assembly Special Session
to review the implementation of the Habitat Agenda

UNHQ, 3 June 2001

 

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

First of all I would like to extend my congratulations to the President of the General Assembly, Minister Holkeri, and for the members of the Bureau for the excellent leadership they have provided to this Special Session of the General Assembly.
I am fully aware of the outstanding importance of this Special Session of the General Assembly -- 5 years after the City Summit in Istanbul at Habitat II.

There are three very good reasons for me as Executive Director of UNEP and as Director-General of UNON to participate in this special session and to address this plenary meeting.

The first reason is that the UN Centre for Humans Settlements (UNCHS/Habitat) and UNEP are both headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya in Africa; that we are the only 2 institutions of the UN family headquartered in this great continent and headquartered in the developing world.

We in Nairobi are convinced that this location is a great asset; it is a challenge to prove that the development of human settlements in an environmentally sustainable manner is preconditioned for sustainable development and for fighting poverty.

 We are aware, too, that we must have open and constructive co-operation, and that we can use effectively the synergistic advantages of our co-location, as was requested by the General Assembly in its important Resolution 53/242, on the report of the Secretary-General on Environment and Human Settlements. In this resolution the General Assembly "Reiterates the importance of strengthening the capacity and capability of the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), within the framework of their existing mandates, in the areas of information, the monitoring and assessment of global and regional environmental and human settlements trends."

It is important to recall that the Assembly also stressed "in this regard, the need for adequate financial resources as well as the need to avoid duplication of efforts" and it is my sincere hope that the outcome of your deliberations will assist in achieving this objective.

I can inform this meeting of the special session that w e are committed to implement this recommendation in building on the work that has already been done.

The second reason for my participation is that 5 years before m Istanbul, I had the chance to be the head of my country's delegation to the City Summit. I had the chance to learn a tremendous amount concerning the global situation and expectations for Human Settlements and the urgent need to implement the Habitat Agenda. There was, especially in the developing world, the huge urbanization process due to population increase, and migration of the people of the rural areas. This was motivated by the hope of a better life in the city. only to be faced with the decrease of job opportunities, the lack of urban services like electricity, clean water, sanitation. health and education. This has resulted in the mushrooming of cities, to the social disaster of divided cities instead of integrated cities, which results in the rapid development of the urbanization and feminisation of poverty, and in social tensions and environmental burdens with tremendous consequences to human health.

Not only is it a problem in developing countries but more and more in cities in the developed world. The need to overcome a divided city and stimulate development to overcome poverty require the legal basis for secure tenure, for property rights such as investment in housing and micro-enterprise, the people-driven upgrading of slums, the need for micro-credit, again mainly targeted to women who also have to play a major role in city planning and development. We must find ways to decrease the ecological footprints of cities and of urban agglomerations that extend far beyond their borders to avoid the increased burdening of rural areas in a world where global population is increasing by 70 million a year. We must review our efforts to make the population density of cities an opportunity to maximise for ecological efficiency, which requires clear strategic decision in city planning related to the management of transport and of traffic and therefore air pollution as well as more effective approaches to the recycling of water and waste.

On the other hand, sustainable cities also require social integration. This is the challenge for local authorities. Mayors of cities and villages are directly linked with the needs and burdens of the citizens. They are courageous enough to ensure transparent decision-making and to encourage the needed participation of the citizens. There must be ownership for the urban citizens, who must be proud of their city, in order to engender a cultural identity and social cohesion that must characterise urban development. These are more important preconditions for safe cities linked with functional integration than the availability of policemen and regulations. There is an urgent need for the integration of all groups of civil society, of the young and the old, the families, especially the women, and the professional planner and the elected parliamentarians and last but not least, the private business in the planning and management of urban settlements.

This and much more are the message I learned in Istanbul - a message even more important in the new millennium as we have adopted the target of a World without Slums in the Millennium Declaration last year. It was also a great privilege for me to be asked by the Secretary-General to be responsible for the revitalization process of Habitat. This endeavour of two years benefited from the support of governments, through their Permanent Representatives in Nairobi and here in New York, and underpinned by the staff members of Habitat, as well as by a competent revitalization team. It was then a pleasure to last year to hand over the responsibility for Habitat to my good friend and colleague, Anna Tibaijuka, totally in line again with GA Resolution 53/242, and I quote operative paragraph 4 that UNEP and Habitat "should strengthen coordination of their activities, within the framework of their respective mandates and separate programmatic and organizational identities, as well as their separate Executive Directors."

I want to congratulate Anna for her excellent work and extend my best wishes for the great success of this special session here in New York with the hope that it provides a further impetus to the important tasks facing Habitat for the future of humanity.

Finally, the third reason why I am here is that there are huge synergies between our two respective mandates. I mention the Habitat Agenda, but I mentioned GA resolution 53/242, but I also have to mention Agenda 21 and of course Chapter 7 under the headline "Promoting Sustainable Human Settlements Development".

This is the basic precondition for our common dedication. This is the need for sustainable city development as a precondition for sustainable development overall. There is the need for the integrated provision of an environmentally sustainable structure of cities, sanitation, drainage and solid waste management. There is the urgent need to promote sustainable energy and transport systems knowing that at least in the developed world, at least one third of all greenhouse gases are linked with transportation.
There is a need for environmentally oriented city planning to mention only a few. Therefore, I believe that our cooperation is most needed in the preparatory work for the WSSD in Johannesburg in 2002.

This success of this Special Session will be a huge contribution to this process as well as a tremendous signal for the commitment of member states and civil society to address the challenges of human settlements in close cooperation with local authorities and in the framework of ensuring a sustainable future for our cities.

Thank you.