Speech by Resident Coordinator Dena Assaf at a webinar on sustainable infrastructure organized by the Zayed International Foundation for the Environment.
Your excellency, Dr Mohamed Ahmed Bin Fahad, Chairman of the Higher Committee of the Zayed International Foundation for the Environment
Esteemed colleague Mr Anthony Kane, President and CEO of the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure
Fellow speakers and distinguished guests,
It is with great pleasure that I join you today in this important and timely webinar. This is a central topic to the United Nations, given its centrality to many of the Sustainable Development Goals. I also would like to state my appreciation of the work and initiatives of the Zayed International Foundation for the Environment in this regard. We have a special relationship with the foundation, not only because the late United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was the recipient of the foundation’s 2002 Sheikh Zayed award for Global leadership in environment and sustainable development, but also given the foundation’s impact on global and regional discourse about this important work, which includes this evening’s webinar.
Today, around 55% of the global population are urban, most living in some 10,000 middle and large-size cities with just under one billion persons joining the ranks of urban dwellers over the last decade. The United Nations estimates another 1 billion persons will be living in urban areas by 2030, thereby becoming 60% of the world’s population. This heavy urbanization and population growth creates unprecedented demands on infrastructure, in addition to demands on equitable access to services thereby causing more stress on the environment. This makes sustainable development particularly acute in the context of an urban setting, thinking about the simplest example of ordering a Salad. Everything from production of produce to the logistics of delivering it to urban centers for processing, to the packaging, and all the way to delivering it to your doorstep. This seemingly simple action of purchasing a Salad for home delivery, involves a wide range of steps, and all these steps can benefit from sustainable infrastructure in search of more efficiency in time, reduction in cost, and removal of emissions and off-setting environmental impact and the like. And that is just one Salad, consider all of the processes involved in much more complex issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges, and the importance of efficiencies and interdependence of systems such as sustainable infrastructure. The Sustainable Development Goals stress the interdependence of the various goals, and this is truly exemplified through sustainable infrastructure as well, as it touches on all aspects of our lives and environment. We must also remember that elements of infrastructure impact communities, and communities are made of people, and therefore we must consider impacts on populations, especially vulnerable populations and any related gender impacts as well.
Therefore, dialogues on sustainable infrastructure, such as this one, are critical and also bring hope through knowledge exchange and innovation. I am an architect and urban planner through my professional training, and understand very well the many dilemmas involved in making decisions in urban planning and sustainable infrastructure, as policymakers try to meet cost and service delivery considerations with responsibility towards the environment and the biosphere and moral obligations towards future generations, while also providing quality services to the residents of our communities. This is one area where the UAE has been a global leader in seeking out innovative solutions to urban challenges, and we in the United Nations are most keen on continuing our engagement with national counterparts and partners on this important issue. Less than a month ago, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) launched its latest report entitled “Cities and Pandemics: Towards a more just, green and healthy future” which is the latest iteration of the United Nations efforts to bring attention to the need for new imaginative systems and creative solutions, not only to find solutions for today’s problems, but also to prevent tomorrow’s challenges and limitations. This is at the core of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable development, and the many internationally-agreed commitments on urbanization and the environment.
I would like to conclude by thanking the Foundation for giving us this opportunity to contribute to this webinar, and I look forwards to an engaging and informative discussion. Thank you.