Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the Global Financial Crisis: The role of the United Nations Human Settlements Program

Dr Anna Tibaijuka
18 June 2009
 

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Today we are faced with many challenges in our quest for sustainable human settlements but among the most compelling ones are rapid and chaotic urbanization, climate change and the global financial crisis.

The year 2007 was a turning point in human history as it saw half of humanity already living in towns and cities. By 2030, three quarters of the world’s population is projected to be urban.

The bulk of this rapid urban population growth will take place in developing countries, countries which are least able to cope resulting into massive growth of slums and squatter settlements. Today close to one billion people or 32 per cent of the Worlds urban population currently lives in slums under life threatening conditions where they are directly affected by both environmental disasters and social crises.

On the current global economic and financial crisis it has to be noted that it was sparked off by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which itself was the outcome of one-dimensional approach to housing and a “one-size fits all” model of housing provision. It did not look at how to improve incomes to make housing more affordable. It did not look at how to make housing cheaper so as to make it more affordable. It did not, above all, look at the need to have a mix of tenures whereby poor people could access decent housing through the rental market as well as through home ownership.

Financial prudence and banking principles were simply thrown out the window. Financial engineering became the “in game” as different so called innovative products from brokers outcompeted with each other. Commissions and bonuses were collected, CEO payments rose into the stratosphere but the risk remained on the one end with the borrowers and at the other end with the shareholders across the globe.

With regard to climate change, it has to be noted that it is no coincidence that it has emerged at the forefront of international debate precisely at the same time, and virtually at the same pace, as the world becomes urbanized. This is because urbanisation brings about irreversible changes in our production and consumption patterns. How we plan, manage and live in our growing cities determines, to a large extent, the pace of global warming. This is because 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities, and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from urban areas. Roughly half of these emissions are caused by the burning of fossil fuels for urban transport; the other half comes from energy to heat or cool our buildings and to run our appliances. These are the hallmarks of our built environment and our quest for quality-of-life in urban places which have to inform mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change.

Mrs Tibaijuka’s lecture will discuss these issues , with reference to the potential for academic and other partnerships to help address them, and outline the role of the UN-Habitat as it relates to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda with the twin objectives of shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.



Anna Tibaijuka is the first African woman elected by the UN General Assembly as Under-Secretary-General of a United Nations program. She is currently serving a second, four-year term as Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. Since 2002, Mrs Tibaijuka has been instrumental in promoting water, sanitation and slum upgrading globally and in assisting the African Union to establish the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD). She also helped place urban poverty high on the agenda of similar regional bodies for Latin American and the Caribbean, as well as the Asia-Pacific.

In its unanimous decision to re-elect Mrs Tibaijuka for a second term as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, the General Assembly noted her success in forging strategic partnerships with financial institutions for follow-up investment in housing and urban infrastructure. These include the UN-HABITAT $570 million agreement with the African Development Bank and $500 million agreement with the Asian Development Bank.

Mrs Tibaijuka is credited with raising awareness about the global challenge of chaotic urbanization, inspiring a new strategic vision, and significantly enhancing the organization’s performance, management and image.

Prior to joining the UN, Mrs Tibaijuka pursued an active academic career as a Professor of Economics at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is the author of various books and research papers on agriculture and rural development, farming systems, food policy, agricultural marketing and trade, sustainable development, social services delivery, gender and land issues, and environmental economics.


Faculty of Architecture
Institute for Sustainable Solutions