Committee also Concludes General Debate, Co-Hosts Panels on Circular Economy with Economic and Social Council
Speakers stressed the need for a revamped, better‑funded United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to bolster its vital role in implementing the New Urban Agenda and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) focused on that topic today.
The demand for UN‑Habitat’s support on country programmes and products remains strong, but its finances are highly problematic, warned Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the Programme’s Executive Director. As of June 2018, non‑earmarked contributions stood at $1.1 million, representing only 8 per cent of UN‑Habitat’s annual budget of $13 million, she said, adding that the it risks further losing its core capacity in 2019.
Likewise, Kenya’s delegate praised UN‑Habitat for its work in waste management, water supply, sanitation, and access to new energy and transport, but highlighted the Programme’s dire financial situation, given its greatly expanded mandate. The representative of Egypt, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the urgent need to properly fund and reform UN‑Habitat in carrying out its work as the focal point for global urbanization.
Malaysia’s delegate noted that the 55 per cent of the world’s population living in urban areas will increase to 68 per cent or 2.5 billion people by 2050, requiring urgent attention from Member States. A reformed and sufficiently supported UN‑Habitat will contribute immensely to knowledge and new ideas, providing innovative, creative measures to tackle the problems of future cities.
Speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Bahamas’ representative said such rapid urbanization has brought with it a housing deficit, underscoring the need for safe, affordable and sustainable accommodation. Her region urgently needed to protect homes against rising sea levels, with half of the population living within 5 kilometres of the coastline.
Delegates also stressed the need to develop a country‑led follow‑up and review mechanism promoting full implementation of the New Urban Agenda within each country’s priorities and capacities. The mechanism will track progress, assess impact and ensure its timely implementation as well as accountability and transparency in an inclusive manner.
During an afternoon session, the Committee held a joint panel discussion with the Economic and Social Council on the circular economy, or the need to “give another life to what we once believed was waste”, as Council President Inga Rhonda King put it. Moderated by Michel Shank, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance Communications Director, the event featured papers on “Circular Economy for the Sustainable Development Goals: From Concept to Practice” and “Partnerships for implementation of the Circular Economy”.
During the discussion, speakers emphasized that the circular economy promised to create additional revenue, spur innovation and reduce operational costs in a world facing an unprecedented increase in demand for resources. In the long run, the linear economy is unsustainable, they stated, as supplies of raw materials are being exhausted and use of land and sea as dumping grounds has major negative implications for humanity.
Speakers also alluded to the effects of the linear economy on land degradation, burning on air pollution, effluents on water pollution, urban as well as electronic waste and their collateral harm on the human endocrine, reproductive and neurological systems. Gradual acceptance for concepts of sustainable development, green economy, sustainable consumption and production leads to that of the circular economy, they said.
Earlier in the day, the Committee concluded its general debate, with speakers underscoring the urgency of tackling climate change, supporting financing for development in reducing world poverty and empowering women and girls in achieving goals laid down in the 2030 Agenda. They also focused on the need to support technology transfer in reducing the “digital divide”, mobilize domestic resources for development and boost agriculture in eradicating food insecurity.
Also speaking in today’s meetings were the representatives of Estonia, Timor-Leste, Bolivia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Tunisia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), El Salvador (for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Oman, India, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation, Philippines, Singapore, Nigeria, Nepal, Venezuela, Indonesia, China, Brazil, Ethiopia, Morocco, Tonga, Cameroon and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the observer for the Holy See. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also presented statements.
The Committee will meet again on Thursday, 11 October, to take up macroeconomic policy questions.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), associating himself with the European Union, stressed that the biggest hindrance to sustainable development is climate change. One only needs to observe the fate of small island developing States and low‑lying coastal areas, where climate change poses an existential threat, to underscore the importance of overcoming it. Regarding financing for development, it is particularly important to focus on countries in special situations. That includes least developed countries, landlocked developing nations and small island developing States, as well as the specific challenges facing middle‑income countries. As for the social sphere of sustainable development, the international community must ensure that its work contributes to the empowerment of women. This issue cannot be overemphasized, as it will not be possible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without the participation of half of the population.
Ms. RIBEIRO (Timor‑Leste), aligning herself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Alliance of Small Island States and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that her Government’s development strategy has been fully harmonized with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aiming for upper‑middle income status through economic diversification to provide employment for a rapidly‑growing population. At the heart of the strategy are partnerships that place people and the planet at the centre of concern. As a small island developing State, and a post‑conflict least developed country, Timor‑Leste must work within the frameworks developed for vulnerable countries to avoid being left behind, she added, encouraging development partners to strengthen their relationships and to allocate adequate resources to enable fulfilment of international agreements. In that regard, she welcomed the Secretary‑General’s strategy for financing the 2030 Agenda, reforms of the United Nations development system and establishment of the Technology Bank.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia), associating herself with the Group of 77, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, pointed out that her nation has tripled its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and accomplished 4 per cent growth per year. In 2005, the richest 10 per cent of the country had income 128 times larger than the poorest 10 per cent, a figure reduced to 47 times higher in 2018. The country has decreased extreme poverty to under 17 per cent of the population in the same time frame, and 85.6 per cent of Bolivians now have access to clean water, and life expectancy has been increased by 8 years. Noting that Bolivia is among the fastest‑growing countries in the region, she said this has all been made possible by reclaiming natural resources, as “living well” also applies to Mother Earth. Stating that the structural causes behind climate change must be addressed, she blamed capitalism, which exploits the majority for the benefit of the minority.
Ms. MUCHIRI (Kenya), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, named climate change as an existential threat and “the greatest concern of our time”. Climate change costs 3 per cent of Kenya’s annual GDP and is quickly reversing gains against hunger and poverty. Noting that most rural economies are based on agriculture, she supports the Secretary‑General’s call for urgent action for food security and to empower small‑scale farmers. In her country, 24 per cent of GDP is agricultural and a further 27 per cent is generated through interlinkages with related sectors including manufacturing and distribution. Domestic resource mobilization remains a main thrust of Kenya’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Information and communications technology (ICT) are critical for Kenya’s productivity and competitiveness, but connectivity to high speed data remains a challenge. She calls on the United Nations to address a persistent “digital divide”, especially for countries in the global South. Turning to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), she noted her country will host the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference aiming to access untapped potential in its shores, oceans, lakes and rivers. Kenya and Canada are taking a leadership role in uniting players from all sectors of the blue economy.
ENIAN LAMCE (Albania) said his country is in the process of incorporating European Union objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals, which are coherent with principles of European integration. Common aims include promoting good governance, rule of law and a competitive as well as sustainable economy. He stressed that Governments alone will not be successful in achieving the Goals, but must coordinate with civil society to form effective partnerships, which can provide good corporate governance and mobilize additional resources to support development.
ILKIN HAJIYEV (Azerbaijan) stressed that international trade is recognized as an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction and an important means of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. A global partnership and multilateral trading system will be a central component of such a partnership. Adding that all countries face common challenges, she said it is important to address the diverse needs and challenges of countries in special situations. Being a landlocked developing country, Azerbaijan contributes to building interconnectivity in the region. It is a crucial enabler and strong promoter of East‑West, North‑South and South‑West international transport corridors and continues its efforts to promote and develop transport connectivity in the bilateral or trilateral framework and within regional and international organizations. The country has been contributing to inter and intraregional trade and overall sustainable development in the Eurasia region by offering a multitude of favourable transport opportunities.
BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said development concerns not just one dimension of the person — for example, the material dimension — but the person as a whole and that development “cannot be restricted to economic growth alone”. The Holy See wants to ensure that political, economic and financial systems respect the dignity of every person and the identity of every nation. He reiterated the importance of respect for fundamental human rights in the fight to eradicate poverty and warned that using “human rights” as a rhetorical catch‑all term undermines development efforts. He said Pope Francis had described that re‑appropriation of human rights as “ideological colonization” that imposes development models alien to people’s identity. He quoted Pope Francis as saying that “Debatable notions of human rights have been advanced that are at odds with the culture of many countries”. He said that fervour for the integral good of the human person is the key to authentic development.
RAMZI LOUATI (Tunisia), associating himself with the Group of 77, African Group and the Arab Group, noted that many of the countries on his continent bear the weight of conflicts and suffer from marginalization and the negative effects of climate change. Developed countries must offer more support. Tunisia wants to ensure that economic development and the green economy are linked, and seeks to establish good governance, combat corruption and protect human rights. Pointing to Tunisia’s efforts to enhance education and health care, especially reproductive health, he noted that sustainable development is impossible without the empowerment of women and youth. He called for the global community to ramp up international partnerships, especially to middle‑income countries and those in transition as they face economic challenges and social issues. Technology transfer is important for the future, and illicit financial flows must be countered, with that money repatriated.
CARLA MUCAVI, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Liaison Office, said the world is losing ground in the fight against hunger for three reasons. First, rural populations are especially vulnerable to climatic extremes, especially droughts. Despite growing urbanization, hunger and poverty continue to be disproportionately concentrated in rural areas. Making agriculture more resilient and sustainable, supporting family farming, creating decent jobs in rural and urban areas and strengthening social protection are investments that will not only help improve food security, but contribute to climate change adaptation and address inequalities between rural and urban areas. Hunger is also affected by the impact of conflict and protracted crisis, which often combine man‑made factors with repeated and extreme climate events. Finally, hunger is affected by economic slowdowns that continue to affect many countries.
CHANTAL LINE CARPENTIER, Chief of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the entity remains committed to strengthening its capacities in the broader developmental system. The intergovernmental process at UNCTAD can provide a stronger economic pillar. Many countries see UNCTAD as a safe forum to discuss trade and development, including e‑commerce, and to strengthen international consensus. UNCTAD provided an important space for all countries to discuss and generate ideas. She pointed to “momentous events” including the World Investment Forum in Geneva, with 5,000 participants on investing in sustainable development.
Outcomes of Conferences on Human Settlements, Strengthening of UN-Habitat
MAIMUNAH MOHD SHARIF, Executive Director of UN‑Habitat, said her agency is encouraged by the increasing cooperation with regional commissions, supporting regional ministerial conferences and stakeholder mobilization, facilitating inter‑agency collaboration, building capacity for monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals and co‑producing knowledge. UN‑Habit has increasingly focused on localizing the Goals, working closely with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Cities and local Government, including through the creation of a Knowledge Platform.
The demand for UN-Habitat’s support on country programmes and for its normative and operational services and products remains strong, she said. Its income for earmarked normative programmes exceeded the biennial budget by 28 per cent, while income for regional and country programmes (technical cooperation) stood at 89 per cent of the biennial budget. As of June 2018, earmarked funding was 8 per cent higher than the previous year, showing steady growth in demand for the Programme’s assistance.
UN‑Habitat’s financial situation, however, is highly problematic. As of June 2018, non‑earmarked contributions stood at $1.1 million, representing only 8 per cent of the annual budget of $13 million, she continued. The current situation is unsustainable. UN‑Habitat risks further losing its core capacity in 2019 if nothing is done. In this regard, it has started a change process, which will result in enhanced competency, accountability, transparency, trust and improved efficiency.
SHEYAM HAMED ABDELHAMIED ELGARF (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, said the scope of UN‑Habitat has grown under the New Urban Agenda, necessitating that the program be fit for purpose. UN‑Habitat is active in 90 countries across the world; however, the challenges have become more complex since the 1970s, with the evolution of human cities and settlements demanding a more capable programme. Noting that Member States ask about UN‑Habitat’s capacity to carry out its mandate, she said a revamped agency must act more quickly and be strengthened for its new role in connection with implementing the 2030 Agenda. As the focal point for global urbanization, there is an urgent need to properly fund the agency to carry out normative and operational work.
KHIANE PHANSOURIVONG (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), speaking on behalf of ASEAN, said about 90 million people in his region are estimated to move to cities by 2030, increasing the urban share of total population to almost 45 per cent. While rates of urbanization may differ in tandem with unique and varying national circumstances, geography and developmental paths, the urbanization trend is driven significantly by the growth of middleweight or mid‑sized cities with populations ranging from 200,000 to 2 million. These are often cities which, unlike more established metropolitan areas, do not have the capacity to deal with the pressures of urbanization.
One crucial aspect for cities to ensure they continue to flourish is the ability to keep pace with population growth and its concomitant demands, he said. Rapid urbanization places significant demands and stress on infrastructure. To ensure that the region intensifies infrastructure development efforts and cooperation, it has recently established the Lead Implementing Body for Sustainable Infrastructure for the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. Its work will be critical in view of the Association’s annual infrastructure investment needs of at least $110 billion.
WILLIAM EDUARDO HERRERA MOLINA (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of CELAC, said it is imperative to develop a country‑led effective follow‑up and review mechanism that promotes the full implementation of the New Urban Agenda within each country’s priorities and capacities to ensure coherence at the national, regional and global levels. The mechanism will track progress, assess impact and ensure its effective and timely implementation as well as accountability to citizens and transparency in an inclusive manner.
It is also critical that nations commit themselves to promoting appropriate measures in cities and human settlements that facilitate access for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, especially to public spaces, public transport, housing, education and health facilities, public information and communication (including ICT and systems) and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas, he said.
SHEILA GWENETH CAREY (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating herself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Alliance of Small Island States, said the New Urban Agenda offers the road map for achieving sustainable cities and social inclusion. It is projected that by 2030, most Caribbean people will live in urban areas, but an unfortunate feature of rapid urbanization is a housing deficit. CARICOM needs to protect homes against rising sea levels, with half of the population living within 5 kilometres of the coastline. She affirms that the New Urban Agenda must focus on adequate housing, sustainable mobility and other issues, and must be implemented with a focus on human rights and gender equality. UN‑Habitat plays a leading role in sustainable urbanization and water resources management, and she supports making the agency more fit for purpose to ensure that cities are liveable, sustainable and inclusive.
KHALID SAEED MOHAMED AL SHUAIBI (Oman), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and the African Group, said migrants living near urban areas have created slums, and those who draw up plans in relevant United Nations groups must take such issues into account. The Arab Strategy for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development prioritizes Sustainable Development Goal 11. Saying that all people must have housing that is safe with all necessary services, he added such development must be able to face challenges of climate change. Wars affecting Arab States have increased the number of displaced persons, refugees and migrants, leading to an extra burden on urban centres. Therefore, UN‑Habitat must assist those countries, not to be included as part of development aid.
Mr. SAWANT (India), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that urbanization presents challenges of infrastructure, connectivity, housing, sanitation, health care, education, economic inequality and crime. One sixth of the world’s population lives in India. Urban areas generate two‑thirds of the country’s GDP and account for 90 per cent of Government revenues. India is in the process of implementing the world’s largest sanitation and hygiene programme, with the aim of ridding the country of open‑defecation. The nation’s Affordable Housing for All scheme, meanwhile, is the largest housing programme for the poor. Its goal is to build 11 million affordable homes for urban Indians by the year 2022. Connectivity in cities is being improved through green and clean energy in public transport, airports and railways.
REEM AL SAUD (Saudi Arabia), associating herself with the Group of 77, said sustainable development improves living conditions. Cities must therefore be comprehensive, safe and resilient. New methods and paradigms are needed for UN‑Habitat to support ambitious new programmes. She noted that Saudi Arabia is witnessing rapid urbanization and construction, and in view of these challenges, the country is cooperating with UN‑Habitat to support the New Urban Agenda. As her country seeks to upgrade basic infrastructure, and improve the lives of women, there have been positive results.
IAN S. NAUMKIN (Russian Federation) said a highly balanced approach must be taken to UN‑Habitat reform to ensure it fell in line with implementation of the New Urban Agenda. A broad range of events have been arranged in the Russian Federation to support human settlements and urbanization. In July, for example, a UN‑Habitat delegation took part in Moscow’s Urban Forum.
LEILA CASTILLON LORA SANTOS (Philippines), associating with ASEAN and the Group of 77, stressed that reform to UN‑Habitat is vital in ensuring efficient management in implementing the New Urban Agenda. The Philippines has localized the Agenda and is coordinating it with the country’s Urban Plan. Its participation in UN‑Habitat has assisted the country in enhancing the technical capacity of local governments and engaging and empowering local actors in implementing the Agenda. He reaffirmed his country’s commitment to robustly implement the Agenda.
QIYAN TERENCE TAN (Singapore), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, noted that his delegation has sought to balance environmental sustainability with economic development and social inclusion. The Smart Urban Habitat Masterplan is a collaborative effort to improve liveability, efficiency and sustainability for public towns, with real‑time data collected through sensors and consolidated in a smart command centre. His Government has also introduced a Super Low Energy Programme to encourage cost‑effective and energy‑efficient building designs. Also, the Cities of Tomorrow Programme was developed in 2017 to invest in more research and development efforts across disciplines for the blue environment. Such research will help develop urban solutions to allow Singapore to deal with the increasing complexities of running a city State. As ASEAN Chair, Singapore has also championed the formation of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, providing an inclusive and collaborative platform to develop individualized action plans and joint framework for smart city development.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), associating himself with the Group of 77, expressed support for the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Cities 2030 as well as the New Urban Agenda in general, noting that they can help to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s goals and targets. The increased support in those areas by the United Nations, along with the increased understanding of the role of cities in sustainable development, is encouraging. Emphasizing Nigeria’s commitment to providing safe, adequate and affordable housing for all, he nevertheless said the fast pace of urbanization in Africa requires urgent remedial strategies. Nigeria’s rapid population growth has been characterized by its even faster pace in urban areas, he said, citing the country’s unprecedented commercial and industrial expansion — as well as the urban location of higher education institutions — as driving factors. The Government is responding by implementing an integrated Change Agenda aimed at empowering people and driving up the standard of living, he said, describing innovative approaches to such issues as the eradication of poverty and slums, urban sprawl, access to basic services and infrastructure development, among others.
NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE (Nepal), associating himself with the Group of 77, said UN‑Habitat has an important role to play, requiring it be strengthened and made fit for purpose. A balance in earmarked funding must be struck with a view to implementing the New Urban Agenda. Like other developing countries, Nepal is experiencing rapid urbanization, with rural to urban migration as people seek better opportunities. As a landlocked developing country, Nepal understands the importance of forward‑looking urban policy and regards the right to housing as a human right. His Government is working with all stakeholders to make cities resilient and sustainable. His country’s location — in the high Himalayas — makes it cognizant of the effects of climate change and the importance of upgrading slums.
CRISTIANE ENGELBRECHT SCHADTLER (Venezuela), associating herself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said the recent United Nations Human Settlements conference has allowed the international community to take stock of emerging urban trends in continuing to strengthen implementation of the New Urban Agenda. In view of resources needed for such implementation, she urged developed nations to honour their commitments to the Agenda. Venezuela has continued working on urban development, so that all can enjoy safe and decent housing. The country’s Constitution of 1999 enshrined access to housing as a right, guaranteeing that families can build or acquire housing. To allow further development in housing, a commission was established to bolster technical knowledge for construction, so that people can build or renovate their own homes. By June 2018, some 644,000 homes had been restored. Despite economic difficulties, the Government has maintained its commitment to provide decent housing to all who need it.
Mr. IRAWAN (Indonesia), associating himself with the Group of 77, said urban populations will continue to rise, with 2.5 billion living in cities by 2050, 1 billion of them living in slums. The international community must move quickly to provide affordable housing. Recognizing Indonesia’s vulnerability to climate hazards, he said cities must also be sustainable and resilient, and UN‑Habitat must be reformed with concrete results.
LU YUHUI (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that 2018 represents an important year for the 2030 Agenda. Cities must be built with respect for sustainable development, and China supports UN‑Habitat’s coordinating role for sustainable development worldwide. The Programme’s capacity must be more efficient, especially regarding developing countries, with reform guided by Member States by consensus. He said China has experienced major success in building urban infrastructure, and underwent the fastest urban growth in history between 1978 and 2017. Urbanization has been a strong driver for its economic development.
PHILIP FOX‑DRUMMOND GOUGH (Brazil) said implementation of the New Urban Agenda and urban‑related Sustainable Development Goals depends on the active involvement of multiple stakeholders, including the Government and civil society. To adequately respond to challenges posed by the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations agencies and programmes involved with urban development must be strengthened. The new governance structure recommended by the open‑ended working group will greatly contribute to overcoming the discrepancy between the normative and operational functions of UN‑Habitat as well as the disproportion between non‑earmarked core funding and technical cooperation funds in the Programme’s budget. The new structure will allow UN‑Habitat to overcome the dire financial challenges that it currently faces.
LEULSEGED TADESE ABEBE (Ethiopia) described the new commitment to urban development as a powerful tool for inclusive growth. It is important to pay serious attention to current urban realities. Increasing collaboration with the United Nations system in this area is encouraging. Full implementation requires a paradigm shift at the national, regional and international level. Stressing that UN‑Habitat strives to support developing countries, he said that it should be provided with more political and financial support. Ethiopia’s housing programme has been successful in alleviating the housing shortage, creating jobs and expanding the construction sector. The Government is convinced that urban transformation can be a catalyst for economic growth and development.
Mr. ANDANJE (Kenya), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country highly values the contribution of UN‑Habitat, and understands the scope and complexity of its role and responsibility have changed. He appreciates its help in areas of waste management, water supply, sanitation, and access to new energy and transport. However, the Programme is in a dire financial situation given the significant expansion of its mandate. Kenya believes UN‑Habitat must therefore be strengthened, and that negotiations must be holistic and practical. He commends Sweden, Norway and Malaysia for their funding contributions.
KENNEDY MAYONG ONON (Malaysia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, noted that 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, but that that will increase to 68 per cent by 2050, representing 2.5 billion people, requiring urgent attention from Member States. Malaysia is confident that a reformed UN‑Habitat will contribute immensely in terms of knowledge and new ideas, as well as in providing creative and innovative measures to address the problems of future cities.
Mr. ALAMI (Morocco), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the world is seeing rapid urbanization, namely through a spread of the urban setting. Creation of new urban centres has contributed to this spread. As cities are also sources of greenhouse gas emissions, Morocco will make every effort to achieve related Sustainable Development Goals. His country is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the construction industry. He noted that significant progress has been made to eliminate slums, assist vulnerable populations and provide houses for the poor. Challenges that continue to face the international community include managing urban growth, preserving identities of cities and ensuring cohesion in energy management.
VILIAMI VA'INGA TŌNĒ (Tonga), associating himself with the Group of 77, said cities and urban settlements should be allocated the necessary resources and support to enable them to take the lead in addressing such global challenges as air pollution, climate change, poverty, inequality, unemployment, crime and environmental degradation. Effective partnerships are critical to such initiatives, especially in small island developing States with limited resources, such as Tonga. Noting that his country has a high percentage of urban dwellers and that many of its cities and urban settlements exist in coastal and low‑lying areas, he said those communities are susceptible to high waves, flooding, sea level rise and other adverse impacts of climate change. The dense population of such areas also drives people to live as squatters and in informal settlements, he said, underlining their vulnerability. In response to those challenges, Tonga passed a National Spatial Planning and Management Act in 2012, mandating the Government to provide an operational urban structure that is more resilient and provides better access to services.
SERGE PAMPHILE MEZANG AKAMBA (Cameroon), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Africa Group, said cities foster socioeconomic development and well‑being. Saying they must be resilient and safe, he noted that in Cameroon they are nevertheless burdened by pollution, poverty, extremism, terrorism and mass migration. Endorsing the vision of UN‑Habitat, his country is structuring its cities with respect for the environment even in the face of rapid urbanization, with thousands of plots of land being developed. Resource, technological and technical skills are constrained, and he therefore thanked UN‑Habitant for its help in building roads.
Ms. AL‑ALI (United Arab Emirates) said her country strives to include youth in urban affairs by informing their councils, which serve as consultants to the Government. The youth focus on challenges they face and then submit them to ministers. The national experience shows that tolerance and inclusion play a great role in a civilized community. All segments of society should be given equal possibilities and services. Her country has begun building based on renewable energy. It has become a centre of knowledge and commercial services, providing new initiative in the field.
Joint Meeting of Second Committee and Economic and Social Council
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, introduced a discussion on the shift from a linear economy of make, take and throw away to a circular economy, addressing the need to “Give another life to what we once believed was waste”. Saying it concerns the move towards a more sustainable and just world, she noted that humanity is expected to add another 1 billion people by 2030, generating a drastic additional demand for raw materials. Humanity is using nature 1.7 times faster than it can regenerate.
Quoting from English economist Ernst F. Schumacher’s book “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”, she said modern man does not experience himself as part of nature but as an outside force meant to dominate it. One of the fateful errors of our age is the illusion of having solved the problem of production. Every economist and businessperson understands the notion of irreplaceable capital, except in the domain of resources. She stated the circular economy model aims to change mindsets and reach beyond the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 12, offering promise for the implementation of multiple others. It also promises to create additional revenue, spurring innovation and reducing operational costs. As this global movement gains momentum, tangible solutions can be embraced.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEÉ (Guatemala), Chair of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), said there is an unprecedented increase in demand for resources, from both the emerging developing economies and the continued conspicuous consumption by the developed world. The world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, with a concomitant 25 per cent increase in demand for resources. With the linear economy one of degradation of resources and inequality, the world needs a smart, cross-sectoral economic system full of opportunities for equitable growth.
Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals requires synergies and trade‑offs, with the circular economy offering multiple solutions for inclusion, employment and health, he said. Addressing the greening of green industries, he said shifting to a circular economy can advance poverty eradication. The shift will require multiple interactions between sectors, countries and regions and include digitization and automation. Given the pursuit of unsustainable linear consumption threatens future generations and the 2030 Agenda, he stated that transition is not optional but imperative, also offering unprecedented opportunities for growth and prosperity.
PETER THOMSON, United Nations Special Envoy for the Oceans, says embedding the principle and practices of the circular economy will be key to achieving the 2030 Agenda. In the long run, the linear economy is not sustainable, as supplies of raw materials are being exhausted, and use of land and sea as dumping grounds has major negative implications for humanity.
He stated that marine plastic pollution has reached unconscionable levels, requiring massive global efforts to find a solution. Plastic is a wonder product of human ingenuity, and will still have future uses, but it must be truly recyclable and/or biodegradable. Our addiction to single‑use plastic must end. Noting that the replacement of linear economy models by circular economy ones is already under discussion by our Governments and in our boardrooms, he pointed to the Economic and Social Council forum as timely and practical.
Panel Discussion I
The Second Committee and Economic and Social Council held a panel discussion on the theme “Circular Economy for the Sustainable Development Goals: From Concept to Practice”, moderated by Michel Shank, Communications Director, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. It featured the following speakers: Kevin De Cuba, Circular Economy Platform of the Americas & Circular Economy Forum of the Americas; Elena Simina Lakatos, Institute for Research in Circular Economy and Environment “Ernest Lupan” and Representative of the European Circular Economy Stakeholders Platform; and Lawrence Chidi Anukam, Director General of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency of Nigeria.
Mr. DE CUBA said his organization is committed to strengthening regional capacities throughout the Americas in the circular economy. It consists of 35 plus experts who have a working relationship with the topic. Their job is to educate people on the circular economy’s function and importance and organize forums as well as workshops. His organization aims to grow and become a centre of excellence for people to exchange ideas and knowledge.
Questioned by the moderator about overcoming policy barriers, Mr. De Cuba said his organization is examining ways to assess materials and ensure a proper design as well as conditions to recuperate new products and reinsert them into the production system. His programme has run for eight years, working with Governments in the Americas, who see the circular economy as an opportunity for competitiveness and innovation beyond waste treatment or recycling.
Ms. LAKATOS said her institute attempts to rethink the global economic model in line with the circular economic concept. It is focused on the product’s value, its materials and regenerating it to yield economic, social and environmental benefits. Since March 2007, the Institute has been working to advance the concept of circular economy among Governments, civil society and businesses as well as to identify social, economic and cultural barriers to its transition. Managed by the European Commission, the Institute shares best practices with its members.
Questioned by Mr. Shank about what gives her hope, Ms. Lakatos responded that she sees results in her native Romania, including a waste food bank servicing the homeless, despite red tape constraining such initiatives.
Mr. ANUKAM looked at the circular economy from a Government perspective, noting it is driving a paradigm shift. At a previous meeting at the United Nations, addressing the very name for “waste”, it was decided to call it “secondary source”, a term that has gained traction. Plastic was once the greatest scientific development, and some chemical products once celebrated are now known to be carcinogenic. He noted the effects of the linear economy on land degradation, air pollution from burning, water pollution from effluents, home and urban waste, and electronic waste, and their collateral harm on the human endocrine, reproductive and neurological systems. Gradual acceptance of concepts of sustainable development, green economy, sustainable consumption and production leads to that of the circular economy. The notion of cradle‑to‑cradle replaces cradle‑to‑grave. Similarly, the notion of extended producer responsibility in Nigeria leads to multiple environmental benefits. His Government agency ensures “everyone is on the same footing” when implementing extended producer responsibility. As a way forward, the private sector, especially multinationals, must integrate the circular economy into production. The developing world must not be a dumping ground, creating stable markets for secondary raw materials.
Asked by the moderator if the extended producer responsibility agenda is gaining industry traction, and if consumers are changing purchasing practices, Mr. Anukam responded that Coca‑Cola, among other corporations, has taken up the concept, driven by the private sector, not the Government. He added that among consumers, there is a growing level of public literacy, for instance on the use of plastic. The representative of Norway noted on the subject of water pollution that every minute, 15 tons of litter enter our oceans, 80 per cent of that from land‑based sources.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Nigeria asked Ms. Lakatos if good practices from Romania can be replicated in the culture and landscape of Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Ms. Lakatos responded that replicating Romania’s results are pricey but possible. She also asked Mr. Anukam what pushbacks and opportunities he had encountered, who responded that not enough corporations are showing initiative, but the process is an ongoing one enlisting the interest of the private sector and consumers. Mr. De Cuba questioned the principle of the container itself, and why it is considered disposable. He also addressed the need for the United Nations to have a common definition for the circular economy itself.
Also speaking were representatives of Egypt, the European Union and Morocco.
Panel Discussion II
The Second Committee and Economic and Social Council also held a panel discussion on the theme “Partnerships for implementation of the circular economy”, also moderated by Mr. Shank. It featured the following speakers: Carol Lemmens, Global Director, Global Advisory Services Leader, Arup; Kate Daly, Executive Director, Center for the Cultural Economy, Closed Loop Partners; and Sanjeevan Bajaj, Advisor at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Mr. LEMMENS said that the concept of “circular economy” is fully aligned with the objectives of all the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting the work of his organization in the area of cities, particularly in energy, water and transport, he underscored the importance of conducting research, experiments and trials and concluding what designs work for best for people. Some 40 per cent of all waste is generated by the constructive industry. “We must change this,” he added. Cities are where people live, work, meet, and innovate as well as consume a considerable amount of resources. Over the last decade, cities have been increasingly designed as circular loops. Designing for a resilient future requires understanding the relationship between different systems including data, value, energy and waste. The traditionally-separated systems should actually be integrated. “We do not have much time to do this,” he said, adding that adopting such circular economy principles will take time. There are many hurdles to overcome both in developed and developing economies. Solutions must become more affordable, resources must be mobilized and knowledge and tools must be shared.
Ms. DALY said that in the United States the transition to a circular economy will be driven by private sector interest. “The unintended consequences of our linear economy are extensive and costly,” she added. These risks represent opportunities. New business models are driven by broader, cultural and economic trends. Consumers must be partners in this area. “We have the opportunity to identify what it would look like to create a circular economy,” she continued, adding that opportunities for collaboration create more value than risk. When major consumer brands invest in circular solutions, they are better equipped to deal with challenges. New York City spends an average $60 million per year sending apparel to landfills, she said, spotlighting alternative options that can save businesses money and identify “where they are throwing money away”. She noted that the younger generation, due to social media pressures, wears an article of clothing an average of seven times before throwing it away. If clothing and furniture are as disposable as a plastic bottle, why not shift towards an economy where these resources can be shared, she added.
Ms. BAJAJ said that in India there are several reactions when the concept “circular economy” comes up. Some people say that India has always had a circular economy while others say it will be years before it adopts the concept. There are many definitions for the circular economy. In India, there is a huge “Clean India” campaign aiming to deal with “humongous amounts of rubbish”. Many small towns and cities do not have waste management systems in place. Disposing waste through making something useful out of it leads to restoration. Generating wealth without waste is an important concept, she said, stressing the need to combine value chain with life cycle of the product. She spotlighted the life of a garment available in stores from the harvesting of material to the dyeing of fabric. The circular economy is not going to be a quick‑win immediately, she said, adding that change will take time.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Netherlands wondered about how exactly cooperation on disposing waste will work between developing and developed countries.
In the same vein, Nigeria’s delegate stressed the issue of quality and standardization across zones and regions. In some cases, a person has to come to the United States or the West to buy a quality product. More often than not, a person from the developing world does not have access to the same quality product in the developing world. She noted the difficulties of implementing regulations in industry and production in the developing world.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the circular economy is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting various initiatives taken by his Government. Many businesses in the Russian Federation have already begun to implement best practices. He also emphasized the need to consider the social and development conditions of developing countries to avoid overburdening them.
China’s delegate said his country adopted relevant regulations in 2008, with the aim of advancing development. Prohibiting the import of solid waste is a critical measure China has recently adopted to ensure the health of its people. “We do not have the capacity to process the waste of the whole world,” he added.
Also participating in the discussion was the representatives Finland and India.
JAMIL AHMAD, Director ad interim of the United Nations Environment New York Office, reiterated the unsustainable use of 1.7 times the planet’s resources and pointed to a new worldwide architecture of implementing the circular economy. In Kenya, when a building is razed, every part of it is reused. Implementation of the circular economy in one country will radiate outwards to others.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, hailed the emergence of a new model for sustainable development, an engine for the Sustainable Development Goals. The long road ahead will require focus on incentives for the circular economy, but the cost savings, increased productivity and environmental benefits will be considerable. The world generates 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, which will increase to 3.4 billion tons over the next 30 years. “We cannot afford to continue to live this way” he said.
Ms. KING said the transition to a global circular economy brings cost savings, innovation and job creation, but requires changing global mindsets. Noting the traction gained by the circular economy, she hoped the meeting had accelerated the transition, and pledged on a personal level to live more simply, reusing and recycling.
Mr. SKINNER‑KLEÉ said reality checks in with a very harsh way of saying help. Conspicuous consumption is not helping: use less and reuse all. Stating that every single human activity has a by‑product, he said there needs to be greater effort to become more spartan and understand the relationship between consumption and waste. Without innovation and ingenuity, “we are dead”, he said, calling for global sharing of production and not pandering to vested interests. The most sensitive human organ is still the pocket, and that must be changed and awareness raised.