2011 October Gwangju Summit of the Urban Environmental Accords

Jamie Lerner, Urban planner and former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil believes that, “Cities are not the problem, they are the solution.”  

This article I wrote for the Gwangju News October Issue 2011 

Gwangju Metropolitan City and the United Nations Environmental Programme in affiliation with the City and County of San Francisco are addressing the most pressing issues of our generation that of waste disposal, energy sustainability, and environmental pollution created by high population density.


In 2008, the number of people living in urban environments exceeded those in rural areas. People are flocking to cities for conveniences, life-styles and employment.  It’s estimated that by 2030, 5 billion people will live in urban areas. That’s half of the world’s population. Cities are already emitting 71% of the planets Greenhouse Gasses [GHG] although they occupy on 2% of the landmass. But it is a misconception that the environment must suffer for these opportunities to exist.

Local governments play an important role in curbing greenhouse gasses. They are in a unique position of understanding their constituency’s lifestyles, choices and culture. Allowing them to implement suitable environmental schemes that will work. Which is why the Gwangju Summit of the Urban Environmental Accords [UEA] is bringing local governments together to exchange ideas and implement schemes to better their urban environment.

Cities first acknowledged the need to promote sustainable urban areas at the 2005’s World Environment Day. Since then, 109 cities have signed the Accords, thereby strengthening inter-city cooperation. It was Gwangju’s mayor Kang Un-Tae, a passionate environmentalist who took up the challenge of hosting the event with Professor Kim Kwi-Gon at the helm.

Kimdaejung Convention Center October 11-13 2011 

The essence of the summit takes place on the 12th and 13th October at the Kimdaejung Convention [KDJ] center. Named so, after the 1998-2003 President of South Korea and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. The facility boasts world-class exhibition halls, conference rooms, cutting edge amenities and ample parking spaces with public transport at its doorstep. How fitting that the KDJ center will also be the site of the Solar Wind Earth Energy Trade Show in February 2012.

The Objectives

The UEA will include four conferences, an exhibition, cultural events and the all-important plenary sessions.  In the sessions, attendees will listen to environmental experts as well as two Mayors from both a developed and developing country. The session ends with an open floor discussion. The focus of the UEA is on two major objectives, The Urban Environmental Evaluation Index and an Urban Carbon Development Mechanism; spilt into three plenary sessions over two days.

Urban Environmental Evaluation Index

The first objective will create an index to measure the environmental friendliness of a city and will stand as the ideal for developed and developing cities. Features may include management of toxicants, water conservation and healthy food systems. Titled the Urban Environmental Evaluation Index, it will continue to serve as a guideline for urban environmental policies and as a measurement of future cities’ progress.

The UNEP Low-Carbon Green City award will be given to the city that measures highest in the developed Evaluation Index. The award will continue to be presented to the best city once every four years. The Accords conference itself will be held biannually.

Urban Clean Development Mechanism [CDM]

The second is arguable the most innovative aim, the creation of the world’s first city-to-city carbon trading scheme. The UN will issue cities with a limited number of carbon credits. These credits can be sold to other cities or traded on the open market alongside other carbon credit schemes. The intention is that developed countries either reduce their emission to the levels set by the Kyoto Protocol or purchase carbon credits to make up for their shortfall. As the Kyoto Protocol does not bind developing countries, they can profit from the sale of their carbon credits.

The hope is that overall levels of GHG will fall whilst innovation in this industry continues to flourish.  These developments can then be exchanged between developed and developing countries.


The list of attendees reads like a “Who’s Who” of environmental conservation. International organizations like the United Nations Environment Programme, Union of Environmental Societies and countless Non-Governmental Organizations [NGO] will have representatives at the conference. Of the 70 cities intending to take part some to note are San Francisco, Brussels of Belgium, Curitiba of Brazil and Sakai of Japan. Cities from countries as diverse as New Zealand, India, Kenya, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Mexico and America will come together under one roof to express their concern for their urban environment, and share examples of successful projects already in practice.

Brazil’s , Curitiba is one of twelve cities and four international organizations to display their city’s best practices at the subject hall’s exhibition.

The city has succeeded in introducing a Green Exchange employment programme, an enormous seed bank of flowers and cuttings and a combination of other initiatives. Curitiba’s recycles 70% of its waste, the result is astonishing. 1,200 trees are saved every day through recycling. Inhabitants of Curitiba have green spaces galore; more than 1000 green public areas, 16 national parks and 14 forests. This amounts to 52m2 of playroom per person.  In the 1970s the city’s growth began threatening the subtropical forest surrounding the city. Action was needed to ensure the city’s health did not infringe on the health of the local vegetation. Curitiba is regarded by many as a world leader in green urban planning. Jamie Lerner, Urban Planner and former Mayor of Curitiba once said that, “Cities are not the problem, they are the solution.”

Co-host City and County of San Francisco will also exhibit their best practices; like the San Francisco green taxi scheme. By 2012, taxis must reduce their GHG emissions by 20% in relation to 1990 levels. Therefore, taxis are either hybrid or run on CNG (compressed natural gas). The lifespan of hybrid technology is much more tenable than had been expected and so too are the maintenance costs.

San Francisco is also renowned for it’s pioneering farmers’ markets. Small-scale farmers and municipal governments work in partnership to establish approximately 200 farmers’ markets that distribute food in an efficient, less wasteful and fairer way.

Keynote Speakers

As if the plethora of attendees wasn’t enough, three of the foremost leaders in this field will share their expertise as keynote speakers, they are Lester Brown, Amina Mohamed and Joan Clos. The attributes and skill set of each speaker will make for perceptive and truthful discussions.

Lester Brown has been involved in the agricultural environmental movement since it’s conception. Brown has co-authored 50 books challenging agricultural ideas of food security as well as obtaining Masters degree in agricultural economics and experience advising the Secretary of Agriculture on foreign policy alongside his ample governmental experience. In 1974 he established the Worldwatch Institute, then in 2001 he founded the Earth Policy Institute to ‘provide a vision and a road map for achieving an environmentally sustainable economy.’

Throughout Amina Mohamed’s career she has served her country, Kenya, as a diplomat, international lawyer and policy maker, believed to be instrumental in advancing the environmental and sustainable development agenda at the national and international level. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged Mohamed’s expertise by appointing her Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme [UNEP]. Mohamed’s extensive experience in multilateral negotiations as Ambassador of Kenya to the United Nations and her expertise in policy and legal matters make her an excellent fit for the summit.

Joan Clos was a respected Mayor of Barcelona before he became Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). As Mayor he improved the tram and subway network, implemented far-reaching investment projects such as the Social Low-cost Housing Plan and Barcelona 22@ project. These skills in government policy combined with his medical degree from the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona and studies in Public Health and Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh put Brown and Mohamed in good company.

Events and Exhibitions

From October 10th-14th, a variety of events and exhibitions will showcase the current conditions of urban environments worldwide.

Four international conferences will feature at the Kimdaejung Convention Center:

–       the UEA United Nations Environment Programme’s Youth Forum, with the aim of addressing the next generations’ role in solving environmental issues.

–       the Non-governmental Organization’s Global Forum, where NGO’s can share their city’s best practices for combating climate change.

–       the International Conference of Union of Environmental Societies, which will discuss the Urban CDM between domestic and international experts.

–       the United Nations University with the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, will come together to present new environmental technology.

Exhibitions will showcase how cities’ have created green urban solutions at the UEA Cities and Business Exhibition. In the same venue the 2011 International Climate and Environmental Fair may provide an interesting source of inspiration.

Gwangju will be a flurry with tourists keen to see the other attractions that Gwangju has to offer. Gwangju Metropolitan City has arranged cultural performances and tours to display the cities green initiatives and show the beauty of Korea. The famous Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival will be worth a look from 15-19th October and in Autumn Mt. Mudeung of Mudeungsan Provincial Park (무

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One Response to 2011 October Gwangju Summit of the Urban Environmental Accords

  1. Martin F says:

    Hi, I look forward to reading more about the UEA meeting in October. I was recently in Korea for the IFOAM Organic World Congress and have tried to find English sources about health and environment issues in Korea. Best wishes from a Swede living in Japan!

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