Local Power Evoked on World Environment Day

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - The Earth has two special days - Earth Day, celebrated on April 22 - and World Environment Day, as designated by the United Nations, celebrated annually on June 5. This year, San Francisco is the host city for World Environment Day and the theme is the urban environment: Green Cities: Plan for the Planet!

The theme fits with the Commission on Sustainable Development's thematic cluster of water, health and human settlements this year. Events marking World Environment Day span the first five days of June, with each day celebrating a different theme. The first sub-theme examines the issue of food, water and air within urban areas, the second that of recycling, green building, and smart urban growth, the third that of urban transportation, the fourth that of renewable energy in cities, and the fifth focuses on open spaces and biodiversity.

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United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (Photo courtesy UN)
In his message to the world for World Environment Day, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan looks ahead 25 years. "In the next quarter-century," he says, "almost all population growth will occur in cities, most of it in less developed countries. By 2030, more than 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas."

"Cities are prolific users of natural resources and generators of waste," Annan says. "They produce most of the greenhouse gases that are causing global climate change. They often degrade local water quality, deplete aquifers, pollute the marine environment, foul the air and consume the land, thereby devastating biological diversity."

"Creating environmentally friendly cities is an admittedly big challenge, but the technologies and expertise we need already exist," he says. "Clean transport, energy-efficient buildings, safe sanitation and economical water use are possible now, not just in the future, often in a manner that is affordable for all."

But in too many of the world’s expanding towns and cities, Annan says, "environmental safeguards are few and planning is haphazard."

The UN leader emphasizes a positive approach that utilizes creativity. "Let us tap the great knowledge and natural dynamism of urban areas," he said. "And let us create green cities where people can raise their children and pursue their dreams in a well-planned, clean and healthy environment.

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Downtown San Francisco, view shows solar panels covering the roof of the Moscone Convention Center. (Photo courtesy PowerLight Corporation)
San Francisco is the first U.S. city to host World Environment Day. Mayor Gavin Newsom says he looks forward to learning from the 50 mayors who are assembling in his city to sign as set of Urban Accords that will act as guidelines for greener cities.

London’s mayor is expected to share details of a program that charges vehicles for circulating in the city’s congested zones. And Calcutta, Newsom said, diverts 87 percent of its waste away from landfills, compared with San Francisco’s 67 percent.

As part of the citywide events throughout the week, officials will discuss the power of local governments to lead the global effort to protect our global environment:

Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights recruited some two dozen grassroots minority groups to discuss social justice at the event. They will call on global mayors to address urban poverty by training residents in green technologies.

“Mayors are in a better position than presidents, frankly, to give a green light to the green economy,” said the Center's executive director Van Jones. “It’s at the local level that the zoning decisions are made, that tax credits are given, that community development plans are approved.”

Urban dwellers need all the help they can get to improve environmental and basic living conditions. A report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme published in October 2003 found that Asia has about 550 million people living in slums, followed by Africa with 187 million, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 128 million.

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In some Indian cities, slum dwellers live next door to modern appartments. (Photo courtesy City Mayors)
While slums have largely disappeared in developed countries, the report still found that there were some 54 million urban dwellers in high income countries living in slum conditions.

Farming in and around urban areas must play a bigger role in feeding city populations, the UN Food and Agricultural Agency (FAO) said today.

Growing urban populations are faced with expensive foods that are rising in price in many places, and 10 to 30 percent of produce is spoiled in transit due to long distances, bad roads and urban crowding, says the FAO.

The agency advocates expanding the practice of raising crops and small animals on vacant lots, gardens or rooftops in the city, as well as just outside the city. Rooftop gardens only one meter square (39 by39 inches) introduced by an FAO project in Dakar, Senegal are yielding 18 to 30 kilos of tomatoes per year, the FAO said.

Urban farms already supply food to about 700 million city dwellers – one quarter of the world’s urban population – and more could benefit if efficient methods were introduced, the agency said.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) organizes World Environment Day and this year is publishing an atlas of the environment that shows the changes taking place on Earth as seen in satellite photos from space.

"One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment" compares and contrasts satellite images of the past few decades with contemporary ones, some of which have never been seen before.

The atlas shows the growth of greenhouses in southern Spain, the rise of shrimp farming in Asia and Latin America, and the emergence of a peninsula at the mouth of the Yellow River.

The images highlight changes taking place around some of the world's largest cities - Beijing, Dhaka, Delhi and Santiago.

UNEP's Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said, "People living in San Francisco or London may look at these images of deforestation or melting Arctic ice, and wonder what it has to do with them. That these changes are the result of other people's lifestyles and consumption habits hundreds and thousands of kilometres away. But they would be wrong."

"Cities pull in huge amounts of resources including water, food, timber, metals and people. They export large amounts of wastes including household and industrial wastes, wastewater and the gases linked with global warming. Thus their impacts stretch beyond their physical borders affecting countries, regions and the planet as a whole."

"One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment " can be purchased at Earth Print.