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Urban sustainability heroes share coveted Swedish environmental prize

Page history last edited by Rosemary 11 years, 11 months ago

 A prestigious prize often called the Nobel Prize in environment has been awarded this year to three people on three continents who have found new solutions to the enormous challenges involved in making the world’s rapidly growing cities and towns more sustainable.

The tenth Goteborg Award, one million Swedish crowns, was presented Nov. 26, 2009, to Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Nairobi, Kenya; Enrique Peñalosa, Bogotá, Colombia; and Sören Hermansen, Samsö, Denmark.

“Rapidly growing cities and towns house half of the world’s population. They represent 75% of all energy consumption and generate 80% of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jury Chairman Stefan Edman. “This means that the battle to create more sustainable cities and urban environments – environmentally and socially – is one of the most decisive factors facing the UN Climate Change Conference Copenhagen in December.” The three winners, he said, are “brilliant visionaries, strategists and system transformers.”

Dr. Tibaijuka is Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and since 2000, has served as Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT, whose mandate is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable cities and towns. Based on the Millennium Declaration’s goal 2020 to lift 100 million slum inhabitants out of poverty, she is leading a successful global undertaking that includes water supplies and empowering women to improve their surroundings. As one of the initiators of Cities in Climate Change, she is also advancing the practical climate work being carried out in major cities.

“We continue to seek an end to homelessness, urban poverty, deprivation, social exclusion and suffering throughout the world. If we cannot secure the hyman habitat, we shall not be able to secure the environment,” she said in accepting the award.

Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogotá 1998-2001, successfully transformed Colombia’s capital – one of the planet’s most chaotic urban environments with its slums and smog – into a model of sustainable, democratic city planning. Enrique Peñalosa reformed mass transit, primarily through “TransMilenio”, a modern, efficient bus-based transit system. He also initiated construction of the world’s longest bicycle path system and further developed the popular ”ciclovia”, which shuts off vehicles from long stretches of roads every Sunday between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.. Both projects are aimed at promoting pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Peñalosa now travels all over the world holding lectures on his visions and strategies on how to create good and liveable cities.

Mr. Peñalosa stressed the importance of cities that accommodate all their citizens, making all feel that they belong, so that, for example, “a person who cycles to work has as much right to get around safely as someone who drives a thirty-thousand dollar car”.
Sören Hermansen is the driving force behind the Samsö Project, in which Samsö, with its some 4,000 inhabitants, won the competition between Danish islands on which one would first become self-sufficient through renewable energy within ten years. The project has resulted so far in 11 land-based, and ten ocean-based, wind generators as well as a number of district heating power plants driven by burning hay or wood chips. Replacing fossil fuelled cars and tractors with biogas, raps oil and electric car technology is already in the pipeline. Named one of Time Magazine’s 2008 Heroes of the Environment, Hermansen is now spreading his ideas around the world.

Mr. Hermansen said it should always be remembered that climate change and the environment are not matters of science alone, but rather all about people, and that people in the world had to learn how to share better

The Award, founded by the City of Göteborg and several interested companies in 1999 to “stimulate further positive developments and recognize strategic work for national and international sustainable development”, is funded by the City together with the Second Swedish National Pension Fund, Carl Bennet AB, Elanders AB, Eldan Recycling, Folksam, Götaverken Miljö, Handelsbanken, Nordea, Peab, Schenker AB and SKF.

This story was prepared from the Goteborg Award press release on the awards, and from stories on the UN Habitat website. The photograph (top) of the awards ceremony, by Rolf Hallin, comes from the Goteborg Prize website, as do the photos of the three award winners.

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