City transport project under way

Posted: 2 August 2006

With over three billion people now living in urban areas, a project to bring good public transport to some of the most polluted cities in Latin America is now under way.

The project, executed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with government agencies and local authorities. The multi-million dollar project, funded by the Global Environment Facility and involving Concepcion, Guatemala City and Panama City, aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100,000 tonnes a year, and potentially far more.

The project, which will lead to the creation of modern bus networks, cycle ways and pedestrianisation schemes, will also tackle local air pollution linked with ill health and with damage to forests, farmland and other key ecosystems.

UNEP says the cities will work with others in the region through a new information network called 'NESTLAC' - Network for Environmentally Sustainable Transport in Latin American Countries.

Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director, told this summer's 3rd World Urban Forum in Vancouver: "In 2007, for the first time in history, more people will be urban than rural dwellers. By 2050, some six billion people are expected to be city dwellers."The urban environment is inextricably intertwined with the rural one and inextricably linked with the way local, regional and global natural resources are soundly and sustainably managed."

Managing waste

As part of the World Urban Forum III UNEP, along with the UN-Habitat, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainable Development and the Cities Alliance presented a study of numerous cities from Cape Town to Hyderabad and Honolulu.

This underlines how many are proving that management of waste can, on top of more efficient energy use, make both economic and environmental sense.

Hyderabad in India is working with local women under a 'community collection' scheme to collect waste and rubbish with the money madehelping women get much needed access to credit via the local banking system. The city is also turning the waste into 'refuse derived fuel' which, the city says, emits less greenhouse gases than traditional biomass like wood or agricultural wastes.

Honolulu has replaced traditional light bulbs in the city's traffic lights with light emitting diodes saving over half a million dollars a year in reduced energy, maintenance and other costs.

Mr Steiner said "Around half the world's population is already living in cities and thenumbers are set to rise. So the quest for sustainability will be increasingly won or lost in our urban areas. However, it is a quest uponwhich many local authorities and city leaders are increasingly eager to embark often for hard nosed and pragmatic economic reasons."

The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), for example, estimates that the benefits of America's Clean Air Act will be around US$690 billion over the period 1990 to 2010. A Santiago study said the financial benefits of compliance with the Santiago Decontamination Plan would be US$ 4 billion over a 15-year period.

These findings mirror a new report by the European Commission on achieving improved air quality standards by 2020. This estimates that an investment of around seven billion Euros to reduce air pollution will deliver benefits totaling Euro 42 billion as a result of "fewer premature deaths, less sickness, fewer hospital admissions and improved labour productivity". That is withur taking into account the many other benefits to buildings and to water supplies of clean air.

Important advances are also being made for city dwellers in African cities, says UNEP, as a result of the successful phase out of leaded petrol in sub Saharan Africa, achieved at the beginning of 2006.

Mr Steiner said there was still a long way to go to realise sustainable cities. It was vital that the rural environment is addressed andthat services, decent jobs and sustainable energy supplies are provided in rural areas.

Source UNEP