The theme for this year’s observance of World Environment Day, “Green Cities: Plan for the Planet!”, highlights the challenges raised by one of the major trends of our times: the rapidly increasing proportion of people who are living in urban environments.
In the next quarter-century, 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. Such rapid urbanization presents profound challenges, from poverty and unemployment to crime and drug addiction. Already, one of every three urban dwellers lives in a slum. And in too many of the world’s expanding towns and cities, environmental safeguards are few and planning is haphazard.
Indeed, the environmental consequences of urban growth are considerable. Cities are prolific users of natural resources and generators of waste. 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.
The rising concentration of humanity in cities and towns means the world will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals unless environmental planning is incorporated into all aspects of urban management. Creating environmentally friendly cities is an admittedly big challenge, but the technologies and expertise we need already exist. 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.
On this World Environment Day, I urge individuals, businesses, and local and national governments to take up the urban environmental challenge. Let us tap the great knowledge and natural dynamism of urban areas. And let us create “green cities” where people can raise their children and pursue their dreams in a well-planned, clean and healthy environment.