United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan heralded the celebration of World Environment Day as an opportunity for individuals, businesses and local and national governments to meet the challenges facing cities.
"Let us tap the great knowledge and natural dynamism of urban areas?and create 'green cities' where people can raise their children and pursue their dreams in a well-planned, clean and healthy environment," Mr. Annan said in a message to those attending World Environment Day celebrations in San Francisco, California, and around the world.
In San Francisco, mayors and urban planning experts from around the globe plan to exchange ideas and sign a slate of UN-backed accords on environmental actions for cities. The signing of the ground-breaking actions collectively referred to as the Urban Environmental Accords -- Green Cities Declaration, will be the highlight of the UN Environmental Programme's (UNEP) commemoration of the Day.
In his message, Mr. Annan said that this year's theme, "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 areas -- more than 60 per cent by 2030.
"Such rapid urbanization presents profound challenges, from poverty and unemployment to crime and drug addiction," he said. "And in too many of the world's expanding towns and cities, environmental safeguards are few and planning is haphazard."
The world will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he said, unless environmental planning is incorporated into all aspects of urban management. While acknowledging that this poses a big challenge, he pointed out that the needed technologies and expertise already exist.
Echoing this theme, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director said that with careful planning, cities can be "flagships of sustainable development." In his message marking the "humanity's home?and its future."
The UNEP chief offered a vision of cities "where buildings use solar power to help generate their own energy, and waste less because they use power-saving lighting and are well-insulated, where public transport is affordable and efficient, where vehicles pollute less because they are powered by electricity or hydrogen."
Such a city would become part of the solution, not the problem, he said. This city of the future with the support of communities, businesses and, above all, governments, could also be the city of today.
Mr. Toepfer also said cities in the developed world must set an example in areas such as the efficient use of energy and water, and must partner with developing world cities so they don't take a short-term 'dirty' development path, but a long-term sustainable one.
World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. This year's main celebration from 1 to 5 June in San Francisco coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the UN's founding in that city.