Pacific Green Cities – the connection to Human Rights

NADI, July 1 2019: “The Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) has an objective to promote Green Towns, Villages and Islands in the Pacific in accordance with principles of the Green Economy, as key tools to build resilience of communities and protecting their human rights”. This was stated by PIDF Team Leader Programme Management, Mr. Mark Borg, to participants at the recently held 5th Pacific Urban Forum side- event in Nadi.

The Side Event on “Human rights – a transformative framework for the achievement of SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda” held on, July 1, 2019 at the Convention Centre, Tanoa International Hotel was organised by the United Nations Human Rights Pacific-Office in partnership with PIDF featuring panellists from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), United Nations Migration (IOM), and PIDF Team Leader Programme Management, Mr. Mark Borg.

The interactive discussions of the side-event focused on the need to ensure human rights are integrated into the decision-making process of Pacific Governments when dealing with the ‘right to adequate housing’ both in a response to people on the move and also in emergency situations. It also served as awareness-raising, and promote to all actors participating in the Pacific Urban Forum, particularly Government actors, investments in rights-based research and community-driven policies, strategies, and legislation in order to help achieve SDG 11.

Mr. Borg explained that a Green City is one that is more environmentally friendly and brings to mind walking spaces, clean non-fossil fuel vehicles, a city economy powered by renewables, plastic free shopping and eating, abundance of trees and other biodiversity, and the like.

“Usually there is little mention of human rights in this narrative but human rights are behind many of these green cities features . It is certainly in our interest to have a healthy lifestyle which many of these changes would contribute to and there are other more rights-significant features of green cities that are not necessarily obvious at first sight” said Mr. Borg.

He said as examples a focus on green buildings, offering better, safer shelter to all, gives people affordable healthier buildings free from toxins and with environmental features such as better aeration, rather than buildings heavily reliant on air conditioners, better use of sustainable materials, such as bamboo which does not only give us a strong versatile solution but also captures carbon in the process, use natural paints, net zero carbon concrete, self-sustainability in their energy needs through proper deployment of renewable energy.

“A better cleaner mobility in our cities would also have human rights gains again through health gains not only physical through reduction of pollution, but also mental through reduction of noise pollution and a focus on having an efficient public transport would release the traffic congestion we now experience and this would be good for productivity and good for our sanity.

Mr. Borg explained further that a Green City concept requires to look at the way the city’s population makes its money and the resources it uses for its prosperity and the focus would be on creating Green Jobs and transitioning those jobs already in existence to greener models of themselves.

“This implies that the jobs would be safer and fairer. In the long run all this would lead to a fairer more balanced economy that benefits everyone and not just the few”, said Mr. Borg.

Buildings and services, especially public buildings and spaces, need to be accessible to the physically challenged whether through a disability or old age. He highlighted that a green city needs to have a better handle of its peoples’ nutrition and that we all should aim at the removal of plastic from our food systems, promotion of home gardening and composting, promotion of organic foods and proper diets, and lower consumption of alcohol.

“A proper exercise and sports facilities are important for a properly functioning Green City and we also find the citizens of greener cities are better educated and have stronger civic responsibilities as the city becomes an extension of themselves and not just the space where they have their home” he further added.

Green City needs to deal with its waste in much smarter ways where target needs to be zero waste leading to the closure of our waste landfills and that this can only be achieved by a proper assessment of the productive processes we currently employ and ensure we use sustainable materials as far as possible.

“We should aim to have as much natural base material as possible in our productivity cycles, which can be composted at its end of life and should also look at our forestry, agricultural and even industrial waste and see ways to use these in the production of by-products where waste of one sector or industry needs to become a resource for another leading to a circular economy with zero waste.

Mr. Borg concluded his session by stating that the challenge for the coming decade is to transition existing cities and towns into green cities and towns with all the human-rights gains that come with it.

Panelists also spoke on how disasters are affecting people in housing and the nexus between housing and human rights, areas of engagement with local leaders and councils to address disaster risk reduction; enhancing community resilience; the importance of Government and Private Sectors involvement in addressing urbanization and migration in the Pacific and the implications on human rights.