UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner speaking at the 25th Session of UN-Habitat Governing Council

By 2040 it is expected that cities worldwide will generate about 75 per cent of global GDP; will be home to around three quarters of the world’s population; and will require for their growth more than 75 per cent of total natural resources consumed world wide – in the form of energy, food and material.

And as voraciously as cities will continue to consume, they will just as readily produce – green-house gas emissions, and waste. On the other hand, sustainable cities present an opportunity to become centres of resource efficiency – people living in greater concentration means shorter travels, more efficient transportation and infrastructure, better land use and fewer emissions.

Therefore, there can be no question that without a commitment to transition to sustainable cities, there can be no sustainable development, and no means of effectively implementing a new climate change agreement.

One has to look no further than the 17 draft sustainable development goals to see how imperative the cultivation of sustainable urban centres is to healthy, peaceful and environmentally restored societies.

From ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; and the building of resilient infrastructure; to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, it is clear that much of the sustainable development agenda centres on the urban-environment nexus.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is why UNEP and Habitat have sought to build on the successes of the Urban Environment Partnership Framework which guided our collaboration between 2008 and 2013, and to revitalise our cooperation with the Greener Cities Partnership, launched at the World Urban Forum in Colombia last year.

That partnership, which will guide our two agencies’ cooperation until 2016, draws on the strengths of each, to create new standards for the development of greener cities – that include best practices, and the delivery of joint advisory services to national and local governments.

The Greener Cities regional partnerships will be carried out in Africa – on waste management in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya – and through a series of joint trainings on urban environment issues in 10 African cities as part of the Africa-China collaboration.

In Asia we are developing proposals for ecosystem-based adaptation in large cities in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka; and in Latin America and the Caribbean we are preparing a regional plan of action, which will include macroeconomic policy environment and investments for transitioning to green cities; urban planning and design for resilient and resource efficient cities; sustainable transport and mobility; and integrated solid waste management. And in the Pacific we are developing a four-country project on ecosystem-based adaptation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

How and where we live, work, raise our children, care for our sick, and spend our free time does not – as we know – exist in an environmental vacuum. The relationship between production and consumption patterns in particular – and the environment – is an increasingly important one to the sustainability of our planet, and one that can be transformed by a transition to sustainable and green cities.

This was recognized at Rio+20 when countries formally adopted the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns, which aims to enhance international cooperation to accelerate the shift towards SCP patterns in both developed and developing countries.

I say this because The Greener Cities Partnership holds as one of its main objectives the creation of more resource efficient cities. And there is no time to waste, because our global consumption is already exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity by around 50 per cent.

Much of our consumption and wasteful use of resources – be it water, land, biomass, energy or materials – is concentrated in cities and undermines the ability of societies worldwide to meet the growing demands of rising populations and to reduce the poverty gap.

According to the UN Development Programme, if production and consumption patterns continue in the current mode, the global Human Development Index will plummet by 8 per cent in the best case scenario and 15 per cent in the worst case scenario by the year 2050, with much higher losses for the poorest regions: regions in which the growing urban poor will likely suffer some of the greatest hardships.

The issue of food loss and waste is probably the most striking example of our dysfunctional production and consumption patterns. Industrialized regions are responsible for almost half of the total food wasted, around 300 million tonnes annually, because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption. This wasted food would be sufficient to feed the estimated 842 million undernourished people in the world today.

The good news is that a shift in attitude is taking place. On June 5th we will celebrate World Environment Day, the theme of which will be resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production in the context of the planet’s regenerative capacity, as captured in the slogan ‘Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care’.

The 2015 global World Environment Day celebrations will be organised at the world famous Universal Exhibition, in Milan – one of Europe’s most industrialised cities. The exhibition attracts over 20 million visitors. The chosen theme reflects the growing belief in the benefits offered by sustainable consumption and production models in terms of economic opportunities, inclusiveness, employment, resiliency and quality of life.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Along with sustainable consumption and production, the Greener Cities Partnership will focus its efforts on developing more sustainable transport, and of course, on improved waste and waste water management.

As many of you may be aware, the UN’s latest report on water revealed that only 20 per cent of global wastewater is currently being treated, leaving low-income countries hardest hit by contaminated water supplies and disease.

Once again, it is urban populations that are being hardest hit – populations that the report estimates will double in the next four decades. And with low-income countries possessing only 8 per cent of the required capacity to treat wastewater effectively, the damage being done to ecosystems and biodiversity are, as the report says ‘dire’, with wastewater imposing increasing threats to human health, economic activity, and water security.

With improved waste water management in urban centres much of this threat can be mitigated. The UNEP and Habitat Greener Cities Partnership is striving to contribute to this effort.

In October, last year, high level representatives of environment and transport ministries, assembled right here, in Gigiri, established the Africa Sustainable Transport Forum. UNEP hosts the Secretariat for this initiative and is working with UN Habitat on its implementation.

The initiative is already benefiting its city of birth – Nairobi. UNEP and UN Habitat are working with the municipal and country governments here to introduce mass transit systems, ensure that all urban roads have walking and cycling infrastructure, and to shift to a city model based on people mobility rather than individual car use. These goals are reflected in the visionary transport policy recently adopted by Nairobi.

Collaboration between UN-Habitat and UNEP goes beyond the Greener Cities Partnership, to a co-leading of the development of an SD goal on sustainable cities and human settlements – Goal 11 – with inputs from the UN system and other international organisations under the Open working Group on SDGs.

We also continue our joint work on the UN-Habitat led Cities and Climate Change Initiative which provides direct support to cities in dealing with climate change, as well as the UNEP-led Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities which focuses on the integration of resource efficiency in city development plans and the development of tools and indicators to measure the resource efficiency performance of cities.

Finally, we are collaborating in the field of green buildings for sustainable housing, where UN-Habitat participated in the UNEP-Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative Task Force on Greening the Building Sector Supply Chain, and served on the Sustainable Social Housing Initiative project steering committee with pilots in Bangladesh and India.

But no discussion of sustainable cities and the environment would be complete without reference to the green economy transition.

Cities drive innovation, business development, and job creation. Higher densities that characterise most cities can combine greater productivity and innovation with lower costs and reduced environmental impacts.

While the aggregate resource use of urban areas and their ecological impact is a source of major concern, some well-designed and governed cities are making progress in setting ambitious sustainability plans for well-being and economic and social development.

For example, in Lingköping, Sweden, public transport is fuelled by waste; in Chennai, India, rainwater is harvested to enhance the city’s water supply; in Cape Town, South Africa, low-income housing is being retro-fitted for energy efficiency; while Medellin, Colombia, is building social inclusion with cable cars and San Jose, in the United States created a 15-year plan to address climate change and promote economic growth while enhancing citizens’ quality of life, through ambitious and concrete targets.

UNEP believes that influencing consumption and production patterns at the local level – especially in cities – would have a significant impact at the global level, because resource efficiency facilitates the transition towards a green economy and global sustainable development.

In line with the Post 2015 Development Agenda, and the emerging Sustainable Development Goals, it is important that the urban agenda recognizes the environmental dimension as a key and integral element to successful urbanization.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, let me reiterate how important inter-agency cooperation between UNEP and UN-Habitat is. As I know my colleague Dr. Clos will agree, there is much the development agenda can gain from such collaboration.

The mainstreaming of the environmental perspective into urban policy-making and planning is well under-way and is something both agencies are championing. Similarly, UNEP is working to bring an urban lens to environmental policy development and a clearer understanding of resource use and consumption as a result of global urbanization.

At the inaugural session of United Nations Environment Assembly held last June, the linkages between cities and the environment were unmistakable. From air pollution, and sustainable consumption and production, to the green economy, and plastics and marine litter, the role that cities must play in the creation of an inclusive, green and sustainable future was made clear.

The COP21 to be held in Paris, and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals are important milestones in this process, which will culminate in the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) to be held in 2016, in Quito, Ecuador.

Cities are the spring of creativity, innovation and trade – and it is cities that hold the key to a new sustainable millennium.

Colleagues I wish you all the success in your deliberations. Thank you.