A Delegate Perspective: a Step into Michael's Shoes at WUF 10
By Michael Batas
This past month, I was given the esteemed privilege to serve as a United Nations Association – Canada Service Corps Delegate to the Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from February 8th to 13th, with my fellow Canadian delegates, I attended the Forum with the intent and mandate of learning about sustainable solutions to the rapid urbanization of cities globally. This rendition of the World Urban Forum featured over fifteen thousand participants from over one hundred and sixty nations both in governmental and private sector capacities. One component about the physical organization of the event that I enjoyed was the WUF 10 Urban Expo. Here, many of the represented nations set up interactive booths and kiosks to showcase technology advancements and market their innovative, sustainable products. Such products included many concepts from basic housing materials to entire “smart communities” brought to life through high tech simulations. Furthermore, each display also was representative of the country’s culture and included local culinary delicacies and performances. The spontaneity of the conversations and networking that I engaged in here was, in my opinion, the best of the entire event. Informality often allowed for easier, more causal information flow when discussing either specifics in technology or cultural differences. This Urban Expo was such a fascinating model because it really gave participants a real-world model of the world itself.
Another key takeaway that I derived from the Forum was that networking can happen at any place and at any time. Personally, I approached this with the “world is your oyster” viewpoint; seize the moment and leave your mark. At one point, I spotted and approached the host of the World Urban Forum and Chairman of the Department of Municipalities and Transport (United Arab Emirates Government), H.E. Falah Mohamed Al Ahbabi, to which I followed up with an introduction and conversation. Our lengthy discussion included dialogue on topics such as sustainable transportation networks and urban sprawl – both areas that the UAE faces great pressure with when planning their major cities. After touring Abu Dhabi and neighboring Dubai, I learned that 99% of the country’s population lives in urban centers, in turn, creating a massive burden on the aforementioned transport infrastructure. His perspective was that his department constantly strives to implement environmentally conscious measures while serving the greatest number of people possible. In addition, we briefly discussed the strong bilateral and economic ties between our two nations, and how he aspires to see growth in this relationship. Personally, I feel that having personal discussions such as this are the strands of fabric that tie this world together and form relationships that transcend national borders.
In terms of the more formal aspects of the Forum such as addresses and panel discussions, my learning were exponential as well. In such an information-rich setting, I found it increasingly important to write condensed notes after taking time to fully digest the information shared. Above all, the most prominent fact, and theme for that matter, was the trend that outlined the societal migration towards urban centers. In the year 1900, about 5% of the world’s population lived in cities compared to a staggering 60% today. That is roughly 4.2 billion people worldwide. On top of this eye-opening set of facts, I learned that it was estimated that roughly 70% of total net global emissions also are emitted from urban centers. Understanding these numbers really furthered my understanding of why it is absolutely critical for governing bodies and the private sector to implement technologies that contribute to this urbanization pandemic. A helpful tool that can be utilized when taking such measures is the UN SDG ‘s (Sustainable Development Goals). These goals, along with specific targets, demand measurable outcomes and objectives to be attained. I am confident that the multi-lateral dialogues, such as the ones at the 2015 Paris Accord, and at WUF 10, we will further our collective efforts to fulfill the 2030 agenda and develop innovative, economically viable, environmentally conscious solutions to urbanization worldwide.