24 July 2020

75 for UN75: A Conversation on Green Cities and Economies

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and as part of its 75th anniversary initiative (UN75), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is hosting the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series of online dialogues with academics, educators, researchers and students around the world, to discuss their priorities for the future, obstacles to achieving them, and the role of global cooperation in managing global issues. On 21 July 2020 UNAI hosted a webinar on the theme “Green Cities and Economies: Solutions from Academia “as part of this series.

On 21 July 2020, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) hosted a Russian language webinar entitled “Green Cities and Economies: Solutions from Academia” with experts, scholars and participants from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia and other countries to discuss this issue of global significance.

The webinar started with a musical performance by Boris Grebenshikov, renowned Russian musician and guitarist of the rock group Aquarium, who is referred to as a one of the founding fathers of Russian rock music.

Vladimir Moshkalo, Head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Russian Federation, opened the discussion by addressing the environmental challenges we have seen in 2020, noting the Australian bushfires, the destructive floods in Africa and the COVID-19 outbreak. “COVID-19 clearly shows there is an issue in the relationship between humans and nature. We have to fundamentally rethink the ways in which we produce and consume; 90% of the raw materials go to waste before they leave the manufacturing facilities, 80% of the products go to dump within 6 months of their existence, and 9 million tons of plastic waste goes into the ocean annually – should these tendencies continue, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The sustainable future requires the cooperation at all levels of society,” he said.

Sergey Korotkov, Director of the Center for International Industrial Cooperation, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in the Russian Federation, highlighted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that UNIDO mainly focuses on: Goal 7 Affordable and Clean Energy, Goal 9 Industry, Infrastructure and Innovation, Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Goal 17 Partnerships for the Goals. He spoke about the annual event “Bridge for Cities - Belt and Road Initiative: Developing Green Economies for Cities” jointly organized by UNIDO and the Finance Center for South-South Cooperation (FCSSC). The event aims to promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development via the Belt and Road Initiative, and to encourage municipal officials and development stakeholders to scale up their engagement in inclusive and sustainable urban and industrial development initiatives. “We all live in one ecological system, which is the planet Earth and even though we live in places with various levels of industrial development and impact, the overall level of pollution still concerns the entire world population,” he concluded.

Professor Galimkair M. Mutanov, Rector of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, UNAI Principle Hub for Sustainability, brought attention to the fact that recent events such as the pandemic outbreak showed us the necessity of moving toward the path of sustainable development. “The cities are important elements of modern society that lead the direction of the world’s development,” he said. “However, the sudden increase in urbanization dramatically changed the human habitat. The fate of humanity depends on the strategy undertaken by cities in their future development.” Professor Mutanov went on to introduce the activities that Al-Farabi Kazakh National University initiated and participated in, including the Green Bridge initiative and the establishment of a joint Masters programme in Development Practice with the Earth Institute of Columbia University. The programme aims to support a series of student-led research projects on sustainable development at community, city, province and national levels, and to engage and share results through international frameworks such as UNAI and UN Global Compact.

Dr. Rahat Sabyrbekov, Researcher at OSCE Academy in Bishkek and Assistant Professor of Economics at American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan drew attention to the impact of COVID-19 on the green economy. “The level of pollution in CIS countries is generally very high, with the main contributor being emissions from the transport system,” he pointed out. “During the pandemic, we saw the pollution level decreasing. The pandemic threw our countries into the age of digitalization and proved that the level of pollution can be significantly decreased with the help of technologies that already exist – it is good news within bad circumstances.” Dr. Sabyrbekov also spoke about the University Alliance for Green Economy (AVZUR) that was created in 2019 by 11 universities and research centers in Kyrgyzstan. AVZUR is accepting new members who are interested in research and education cooperation on green economy and sustainable development.

Dr. Olga Ponizova, Executive Director of the Center for Environment and Sustainable Development in Russia Federation, lauded the fact that many of the challenges faced by cities are being solved taking into account the Sustainable Development Goals: “The solutions are being built with a wide range of sectors - businesses, nonprofits, international institutions and academia. COVID-19 added new threats but also new opportunities.” Dr. Ponizova also stressed the importance of waste management as one of the most pressing issues: “We need to reach a point where waste is recycled and turned into raw materials instead of simply being thrown into the dump. This is where academics can help, with guidance on recycling methods and strategies.”

Dr. Zhanna Mingaleva, Professor of Economics at Perm National Research Polytechnic University, elaborated on several key concepts of green cities, including the level of available greeneries in the city, the volume of pollution and the utilization of recycled materials. According to Dr. Mingaleva, in 2019 Perm Oblast ranked 4th on the industrial environmental index within Russia - 73% of the city of Perm is covered by greeneries throughout many years and in the last 5 years the waste produced by fixed establishments (factories, facilities and permanent installations) has been reduced by 20%.” Dr. Mingaleva lauded the close collaboration between the city government and academia that brought their city such positive results.

During the Q&A segment, participants raised questions and discussed with panel members various topics including the willingness of governments to support green initiatives, the shared financial responsibility between government, business and general public for moving towards sustainability, ways to maintain the balance between consumption and preservation of the environment and sustainable development priorities during and after COVID-19.

For more information on the green cities and economies, check out this list of resources:  



ООН75: 75 Минут Диалога (Russian Language)

21 июля 2020 года ООН – Взаимодействие с Академическими кругами (ЮНАИ) провел вебинар на тему «Экологически чистые города и экономические решения академических кругов для достижения этой цели» в рамках серии 75-минутных онлайн-диалогов по актуальным вопросам глобального масштаба с участием экспертов, практиков и ученых.