Q: As the head of “Cities and Lifestyles” Unit, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), what is your role and responsibilities?
> I am planning, coordinating and managing UNEP's work on Sustainable Cities, Green Buildings, Responsible Consumption and Sustainable Lifestyles, Education for Sustainable Consumption and Production, Sustainable Procurement and also the Agri-food sector work. I am leading a team of 15 professionals who deliver a comprehensive set of outcomes centrally placed into UNEP's global work on Resource Efficiency, Sustainable Consumption and Production and Green Economy. Our vision is to inspire a global socio-economic evolution towards sustainable use of resources in cities with the participation of individuals and institutions. We are offering a comprehensive portfolio of tools to develop and deliver integrated solutions and pathways to:
• Manage cities and towns in a way that decouples economic growth from resource use while creating major financial savings;
• Make buildings the places we can experience resource efficiently and cost-effective life and work;
• Buy products and services that represent the best possible value and produce benefits for the environment and society;
• Help to fulfill our nutrition needs through a food system approach, enhance environment, human health and economic outcomes; and
• Create an understanding on what constitutes sustainable lifestyles, promote them and inspire global change of consumption patterns
Q: What kinds of similarities or differences do you see in the green buildings movement between European and Asian cities?
> We need to acknowledge first that since Europe and the developing Asia are on different development paths (the economic growth in Asia is faster than the one in Europe but the developing Asia is still behind Europe in terms of Human Development Index. It is not easy to compare the green building paradigms in these two regions. I believe that both Asian and European cities have demonstrated a lot of good cases of green buildings. Asian cities (in both industrialised and developing countries) have shown some bold cases of large scale green buildings developments. Cities in Europe on the other hand have showcased a more integrated approach and the green buildings movement is complemented by a broader agenda on sustainable development. The approach in Europe is a result of its development experience and that it has seen the impact of non-sustainable development during its development path. Asian cities are starting now to face the problems of non-sustainable development and I expect that the green buildings movement will gain momentum in developing Asian cities.
Q: In your opinion, how do you define a sustainable city?
> It is important to perceive sustainable cities as a broad concept which integrates social and economic development, environmental management and urban governance, which refers to the management and investment decisions made by municipal authorities in coordination with national authorities and institutions. The concept of sustainable cities and its links with sustainable development have been discussed since the early 1990s. According to a definition from a UN publication, sustainable cities should meet their “inhabitants’ development needs without imposing unsustainable demands on local or global natural resources and systems". In this sense, consumption patterns of urban middle- and high-income groups are responsible for the use of a significant portion of the world’s finite resources and contribute significantly to the production of pollution and waste. Sustainable development in cities should focus on better living and working conditions for the poor, including affordable access to, and improvement of, housing, health care, water and sanitation, and electricity.
Q: Is a sustainable city also considered smart and green?
> To my understanding the term “sustainable” includes both the concepts of smart and green. Sustainability is the overall development objective for a city. The concept of green is mostly related to the environmental aspects of sustainability and to the need to have open green public spaces in cities as well as good resource management (including waste management). The concept of smart is mostly related to technological innovation at the city level that improves the life and work of its citizens. Another way to look at these different concepts is that “Sustainability” is a long term objective, a destination, while the "green" and "smart" approach is a complimentary pathway that can lead to this destination.
Q: Has the United National Environment Programme set out any targets for cities to become more sustainable over the next five years?
> The United Nations as a whole has set the most ambitious and inclusive targets for sustainable development for the next 15 years under the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). The SDGs includes 17 strategic goals that will shape global development agenda from 2016 to 2030. One of the SDGs, the Goal 11 is dedicated to urban development, with the goal to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable". The SDG 11 includes further specific targets as follows:
• By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
• By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
• By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
• Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
• By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
• By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, with special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
• By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
• Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
• By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans for resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement holistic disaster risk management at all levels in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030
• Support the least developed countries through financial and technical assistance, also assist them to build sustainable and resilient buildings utilising local materials
These targets are the universal targets for the sustainable development of cities and UNEP will be advocating them to the cities and countries all over the world.
Dr Stefanos Fotiou is a speaker at the upcoming Main Conference of the WorldGBC Congress 2015 Hong Kong (29-30 Oct). He will talk about Social Housing and the New Urban Agenda at the plenary session themed on Housing Design for Sustainable Community.