Driving the city agenda in Rio

UN-Habitat is holding a series of events to drive home the all important urban aspect of sustainable development at a time more than half the global population lives in towns and cities.

In recent days, thousands and thousands of people from around the world have been pouring into Rio de Janeiro. By the time United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, arrives on Wednesday, June 20, over 30,000 people will be here.

In hundreds of meetings and seminars and various events, they will discuss the future we want. The seven-point agenda of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development includes cities, water and disaster prevention. Between June 20 and 22, the Rio Centro Convention Center will receive over 150 heads of State and Government of the world.

"Rio+20 will be one of the most important global meetings on sustainable development of our time," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

For UN-Habitat, the challenge is to convey the very urban dimension of all this – to emphasize the work for sustainable cities, with job opportunities, gender equality and adequate basic services for poorest inhabitants. The agency will launch its global "I'm a City Changer" drive to show how small steps anyone can take go a long way towards improving our cities and the air we breathe, and reducing their their environmental footprints which look like giant stains on our blue planet when photographed from space. The agency will also host special seminars on urban planning, climate change, disasters and their impacts on cities, and how cities can do more to alleviate trouble when it does hit.

According to the agency's own research, the projection for 2030 is that roughly two-thirds of the world's population will be living in cities, which occupy only 2 per cent of the planet, but represent between 60 and 80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions.

In addition, nearly one billion people live in slums and, according to estimates, 95 per cent of urban expansion in the coming decades will occur in the developing world.

One of the activities organized by UN-Habitat is the "Urban Summit", held on June 18 at Fort Copacabana. In this event, positive experiences on urban development practices to fight poverty will be shared, as well as barriers and possibilities in the effort to achieve sustainable cities. UN-Habitat, the Cities Alliance and UNACLA, sponsored by the city of Rio de Janeiro, invited 250 local and regional authorities from across the world to provide recommendations to achieve a "green society". The meetings will also enable them to discuss the Habitat III Conference, to be held in 2016.

The Urban Summit will open with a press conference attended by the Executive-Director of UN-HABITAT, Dr. Joan Clos, the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Eduardo Paes, and the Mayor of Istanbul, Mr. Kadir Topbas.

"Building strong and effective partnerships between social, public and private efforts to find solutions to urban challenges is the essence of UN-Habitat's World Urban Campaign for better cities," said Ms. Christine Auclair, the campaign leader on the eve of a special weekend gathering of partners in Rio de Janeiro.

"This initiative will bring together World Urban Campaign members of the WUC to share approaches on the same topic: How to improve our cities. In addition, campaign partners will share how they will overcome obstacles, find solutions and implement changes."

Other matters such as water, energy, disaster prevention and the threat of climate change will be discussed by UN-Habitat representatives at various events during the Rio +20 week which is gathering in seven sites across the city.

Other matters such as water, energy, disaster prevention and the threat of climate change will be discussed by UN-Habitat representatives at various events during the Rio +20 week which is gathering in seven sites across the city.

Several neighbourhood associations are staging various activities like samba and chorinho performances evocative of the first popular urban rhythm, which originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1870. There will also be photographic exhibitions and other displays.

Across from the Rio Centro Convention Center is located the Athletes' Park, home to the exhibits of various bodies participating in the conference. United Nations agencies, municipal and national governments of several parts of the world, public and private companies, both national and foreign, as well as universities may show what they have been doing toward the improvement of our cities.

At the weekend, over 2,000 young people from 120 countries joined hands for a big Youth Blast, to ensure the voices of young people and their concerns are brought as high as possible onto the Rio agenda.

Ms. Antonia Salgado, about 50, is one of thousands of university students enrolled. She travelled for three days from Belem do Pará, in northern Brazil, to attend the Peoples' Summit.

"I could not miss this event," she said. "I want to know what the United Nations is doing about the themes of water and gender. These issues are critical where I live because people still get sick because they do not have access to drinking water and sanitation. The struggle for gender equality continues."