1 October 2012
"Building the Future We Want"
Opening remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“Building the Future We Want”
Palais des Nations, Room III
Monday, 1 October 2012 at 5 p.m.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the opening of the exhibition “Building the Future We Want” organized to celebrate World Habitat Day 2012. I would like to especially thank Mr. Alkalaj and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe for the organization of this event. I believe this is the first time that the Palais has ever hosted a yurt in the Cour d’Honneur! I would also like to express my appreciation to the Permanent Missions of Austria, Denmark, Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the United States of America and to the Ambassadors from these countries for their personal participation.
Starting in 1985, we use this day to reflect on our towns and cities and reaffirm the basic right of adequate shelter for all.
This year, the theme of this day is "Changing Cities, Building Opportunities".
The world is becoming predominantly urban, and this change brings with it important consequences. At the beginning of the 19th century, only 2 per cent of the world’s population was urban. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had increased to 10 percent. Today, the world’s population living in urban areas now exceeds the world's rural population.
Studies have established that there is a positive correlation between urbanization and development. It is also clear that throughout history, urbanization has been, and continues to be not only an outcome of development, but a source as well. Because of this, urbanization can be used as a powerful tool for creating employment and livelihoods.
It is true that many city dwellers today face serious challenges. These include: unemployment, especially among the youth; high percentages of people living in slums; dominance of the informal sector; and inadequate urban basic services, especially water, sanitation and energy; among others. But at the same time, cities and towns play their role as drivers of national economic and social development and therefore these challenges must be met. Good governance, effective political decision-making and technical capacity all contribute to making urban growth a positive tool for development.
It is important that we have chosen to highlight sustainability – a priority issue for the United Nations – today on World Habitat Day. I look forward to hearing the success stories from different countries and how their sustainable projects ‘changed cities and built opportunities’.
Here at the Palais, we have our own success story. Over the past 10 years, we have put in place a number of measures to cut the consumption of water by 40 per cent, carbon emissions by 34 per cent and the use of electricity by 20 per cent. We aim to do even more through our Strategic Heritage Plan. And with support from the Swiss Government, we have begun a series of projects to improve our energy efficiency even further.
This exhibition is an inspiring example of how sustainability can be made a reality in our cities. What is more, it shows that for many countries, sustainable housing and green design are priorities in improving living conditions for city dwellers. This event is also a testimony of governments leading by example - with direct social, economic and environmental benefits for all.
Thank you very much.