On Thursday, 22 March 2012, the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) held a symposium on the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo. The symposium, “Sustainable Urban Development: Challenges and Issues in Developing Countries” explored sustainability issues in urban development — one of seven critical issues to be covered at Rio+20 in June — as well as the role Japan could play in the transition towards sustainable cities.
In his opening video message, Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of Rio+20, spoke of the sustainability challenges that cities face today, but also stressed the importance of recognizing cities as “engines of growth and centres of innovation and creativity” that are “well-equipped to serve these problems”.
The symposium featured two panel discussions. In the first, “Sustainable Urban Management”, Michael Replogle, Global Policy Director and Founder of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, delivered a detailed presentation on the key importance that transportation issues play in sustainable urban development, while Prof. Monte Cassim, Vice Chancellor of the Ritsumeikan Trust, gave a presentation on human habitat and sustainability” that touched on key future challenges as well as the linkages between catastrophes, development and ecosystem preservation.
In the second panel discussion, “Natural Resource Management for Sustainable Development”, Kazuhiko Takemoto, Senior Fellow and Programme Director at UNU-IAS, focused on the Satoyama Initiative and implications for sustainable urban development, and the importance of resilience, making reference to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. This was followed by a presentation on natural resource management for sustainable urban development by Aban Marker-Kabraji, Asia Regional Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in which she emphasized that “while cities cover a mere 2% of land space worldwide, they consume a whopping 75% of the resources”.
After the panel discussions, Reiji Hitsumoto from the Environment Bureau of the City of Kitakyushu presented on a case study of sustainable urban development at the local level. Kitakyushu, in southern Japan, was selected as an eco-model city by the national government in 2008; the city has implemented projects and initiatives aimed at lowering waste and CO2 emissions through alternative energy facilities, promotion of mass transit, and residential recycling and composting programmes. As a message to other Asian cities, Hitsumoto emphasized the “need to have consensus in the local communities”.
During the Q&A sessions, panellists participated in discussions looking at the larger issue of institutional frameworks and governance challenges, one of the two main themes of Rio+20 (along with a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication). The speakers recognized the role of local initiatives at the ground level and the importance of scaling-up successful cases, but agreed that this is an important discussion and must be continued.