UNITED NATIONS - At a high-level meeting of sub-national government leaders and representatives from the World Bank and other institutions with a stake in Rio+20, delegates unanimously clamored for a more prominent role in sustainability and climate change talks.
In light of rapid global urbanization, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognized the importance of cities, insisting that “our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.” Ban called on delegates to play a central role in shifting the development paradigm and make the “hard but necessary choices” that lie ahead. “Our goal,” he announced, “is a fundamental ‘reset’ of the global development agenda.”
The delegation shared its vision of a sustainable future, which prioritizes an integrated approach to sustainable development. Ambassador Albert Chua of Singapore, speaking as the co-Chair of Friends for Sustainable Cities, laid out a five-pillar framework comprising: 1) basic services (from education to waste management); 2) investment in connectivity infrastructure; 3) social inclusion and equity; 4) respect and development of culture; and 5) adaptation to climate change, disaster risk reduction, and resilience planning.
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Dr. Joan Clos, stressed prioritizing “sustainable urban development through good urban design, urban legislation, economy and governance to face the challenges of the 21st Century”. He also urged thinking about Rio+20 in conjunction with Habitat III, the UN sustainable urban development conference that will revitalize the urban agenda for the 21st century.
Brazilian Ambassador Maria Viotti noted that though cities pose sustainability challenges, they are ultimately “laboratories for the implementation of sustainable development solutions, and hubs for their diffusion.”
Given the high-level affirmation of the importance of cities, many delegates expressed disappointment in not having a greater voice at the international level. As leaders of metropolises who have long grappled with rapid population increases, resource scarcity, pollution, youth unemployment, sanitation issues, and urban planning, many mayors in particular believe they have amassed a set of best practices worthy of emulation at national and international levels.
In response to the recent announcement that mayors will not be accommodated at Rio+20 (only president of United Cities and Local Government is to attend), Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay complained vociferously, warning he would come anyway and sleep in a favela if there was no alternative. Many in the room echoed Tremblay’s demand for a greater place at the table not only at Rio+20, but at all international forums.
Expressing their frustration, Sebastião Almeida, mayor of Guarulhos in Brazil and Vice-President of the Global Fund for Cities Development (FMDV) explained, “Cities represent the level of government closest to the people, so they are responsible in the eyes of the population to implement development models that will define the face of the urban future.”
Posted on the MediaGlobal blog April 24, 2012