The United Nations and its partners today unveiled a new initiative to achieve sustainable urban development by promoting the efficient use of energy, water and other resources, lowering pollution levels and reducing infrastructure costs in cities.
The Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities was launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, just days ahead of the start of the high-level meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The initiative, open to cities with populations of 500,000 or more, will involve local and national governments, the private sector and civil society groups to promote energy efficient buildings, efficient water use, sustainable waste management and other activities.
UNEP notes that by 2050, up to 80 per cent of the global population is expected to reside in cities, which are increasingly becoming the focus of international sustainability efforts.
Today, urban areas account for 50 per cent of all waste, generate 60-80 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 per cent of natural resources, yet occupy only three per cent of the Earth’s surface, the agency points out in a news release.
Yet water savings of 30 per cent, and energy savings of up to 50 per cent, can be achieved in cities with limited investment and encouraging behavioural change, it adds.
“In the context of rapid urbanization and growing pressures on natural resources, there is an urgent need for coordinated action on urban sustainability,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
“This is essential both for preventing irreversible degradation of resources and ecosystems, and for realizing the multiple benefits of greener cities, from savings through energy-efficient buildings, or the health and climate benefits of cleaner fuels and vehicles,” he added.
UNEP also notes that the economic opportunities associated with making cities more sustainable are numerous. As centres of technology, cities can spearhead the creation of green jobs in sectors such as renewable energy. Projections show that some 20 million people could be employed in the wind, solar and biofuel industries by 2030, for example.
The practical steps that cities can take towards resource efficiency are the focus of a new UNEP report, also launched today at Rio+20.
Using case studies from China, Brazil, Germany and a host of other countries, Sustainable, Resource Efficient Cities in the 21st Century: Making it Happen highlights opportunities for city leaders to improve waste and water management, energy efficiency, urban transportation and other key sectors.
Rio+20’s high-level meeting runs 20-22 June, and is expected to bring together over 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.