As the world awaits of United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) or the Rio+20, the United States of America today undelrined the importance of cities in the creation of a sustainable future.
On her remarks at the OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers Chicago Cultural Center, Special Representative Reta Jo Lewis for Global Intergovernmental Affairs highlighted that cities, as major consumers of resources, are also centers for job creation, making them the front line of a green economy.
She cites that urbanization is occurring at an unprecedented rate, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Fifty two percent of the earth’s population now lives in cities, she cited.
“Every week one million people move to cities. Continued rapid urbanization will lead to three billion new urban dwellers.” -Ms. Lewis
She noted that this rate of change places enormous challenges on capacity and resources, but also presents opportunities to realize synergies across social, environmental, and economic objectives.
It will not be possible to achieve global sustainability without sustainable cities, she added.
“Rio+20 is about the future. The United States believes that Rio+20 should be a different kind of meeting, one that transforms the multilateral approach to sustainable development and incorporates its concepts across all sectors.” -Ms. Lewis
The United States hopes that Rio+20 will be truly inclusive of a broad collection of stakeholders, including state and local officials, civil society and the private sector.
According to Ms. Lewis, in the U.S. submission to the Rio outcome document, it highlighted the importance of urbanization in the context of a Built Environment.
She underlines that opportunities abound to modernize service delivery. This includes: deploying green technologies and services; prioritizing green infrastructure and buildings; protecting and restoring green spaces; creating more housing opportunities; reducing emissions, seeking greater efficiency in resource use and waste processing; and making more sustainable urban system and land use decisions.
Cities are where the “rubber meets the road” in terms of concrete, practical policies and best practices to support sustainable development, Ms. Lewis said.
The world needs to utilize all the tools at its disposal, and harness the capabilities of the private sector and civil society.
“If we are to see these innovative policies expand to meet the needs of the growing global urban populations.” -Ms. Lewis
She stresses that states and cities do not face a choice between green and growth: they CAN and MUST pursue both.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” model for implementing sustainability, and strategies will differ across regions as they do across countries, Ms. Lewis noted
The United States firmly believes that local government leadership bears the fundamental responsibility to support urban sustainability.
Ms. Lewis reports that cities across the United States have adopted comprehensive sustainability programs, and in the process are transforming themselves to greener and more efficient urban centers.
Increasingly, cities are using sustainability management systems to prioritize investment decisions that enhance their “triple bottom line” be it large metropolitan areas like New York’s “PlaNYC” or Chicago’s “Climate Action Plan,” or smaller cities like Fort Collins, Colorado’s “Sustain Fort Collins” or Austin, Texas’ “Climate Action Plan,” Ms. Lewis said.
She says that this disciplined approach is working with savings ranging from $2 billion through New York’s Green Infrastructure Plan to $500,000 saved by Fort Collins’ pavement recycling program.
An example of US international efforts to cooperatively address the urbanization challenge is the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability or JIUS with Brazil, announced last March by President Obama and President Rousseff.
“The discussion at this Roundtable highlights another fundamental message that the United States is bringing to Rio: the importance of good governance if we are to achieve a sustainable future.” -Ms. Lewis
She stresses that the states need governance at all levels to be open and transparent, with robust channels for public participation, to better engage citizens and build new networks across all sectors of the societies.
“Let’s make Rio a celebration of the new and innovative technologies that not only bring us closer as a community, but can help us solve global challenges in ways unimaginable 20 years ago.” -Ms. Lewis
Rio+20 will take place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where world leaders will seek to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of previous summits on sustainable development, and address emerging challenges.