UN chief highlights ‘enormous’ benefits of greener cities
UNITED NATIONS: UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has said that the benefits of making cities more environmentally friendly are ‘enormous’, and include reduced climate risk, more jobs, and better health and well-being.
“[The] city leadership in using green materials and constructing energy-efficient, resilient buildings powered by renewable energy, is essential to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” he said, in his message for the World Habitat Day, marked on Monday.
The theme for this year’s celebration of cities and towns worldwide is accelerating urban action for a carbon-free world.
The cities are responsible for around 75 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and over 70 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, it was pointed out.
The urban areas across the globe are facing the dual crises of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, the UN chief said.
Around 4.5 billion people live in cities today, but that population is projected to grow by almost 50 per cent, by 2050. By mid-century, over 1.6 billion urban residents may have to survive through average summertime highs of 35 degrees Celsius.
Guterres said that cities and towns are at the core of climate action to keep the 1.5 degrees goal within reach.
“Three-quarters of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 has yet to be built,” he said. “[The] economic recovery plans offer a generational opportunity to put climate action, renewable energy, and sustainable development at the heart of cities’ strategies and policies.”
As populations grow in emerging economies, the demand for transport, which accounts for nearly 20 per cent of global carbon emissions, is also multiplying.
The UN chief said cities were already working on this, trying to ensure that this demand is met by zero-emission vehicles and public transit.
Guterres concluded by asking for a global moratorium on internal combustion engines to underpin these efforts, saying it should happen by 2040 at the latest.
In a message for the day, UN-Habitat executive director Maimunah Mohammad Sharif said that unless the world takes urgent action, “the greenhouse gases produced by ever-expanding urban centres, will continue to push global air temperatures higher.”
Sharif remembered that, this year, the day is celebrated only weeks before the UN climate change summit, COP26, happening in early November in Glasgow.
For the UN-Habitat chief, the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity for the world’s cities to put climate action on top of their agenda.
“This is a chance to change how we generate our power, construct our buildings, heat, cool and light up our offices and homes, and travel around from home to work,” she said.
Sharif asked for “well-planned and well-managed compact cities”, that allow for non-motorised transport and that reduce the energy consumption from cooling and heating.
“[The] cities are the incubators of innovation and new technology,” she said. “We must harness this strength for better climate change solutions.”
For Sharif, “action will differ from city to city”, but “the green transition must benefit everyone, especially the most vulnerable, and create new jobs.”
Events this year will explore how governments and organisations can work together with communities, academic institutions and the private sector to create sustainable, carbon-neutral, inclusive cities and towns.
The World Habitat Day will also amplify the race to zero campaign and encourage local governments to develop actionable zero-carbon plans in the run up to the COP26.
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