What is the purpose of World Environment Day? Who is the target audience for its message, and who can participate? Karen Jazmin Estrada Rivera, Peru

World Environment Day is the day on which the United Nations seeks to stimulate awareness about the state of the environment and enhance political attention and action worldwide. It reminds all nations and peoples that a safer and more prosperous future relies on informed, empowered people who are active agents in protecting the environment - so that we can all cherish and enjoy living on this planet.

What are the most pressing environmental issues facing cities today? Do these differ significantly between the developed and the developing worlds? ?Faid Souhaili, Mayotte, France

Environmental issues in different cities and countries are affected by the level and scale of human activities and the resulting pressure on the environment. Pollution, energy and waste generation top the list in our congested urban areas affected by the expansion of transport and industry. Transport, for example, is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels - the main cause of global warming.

Many cities draw natural resources from surrounding areas to support large populations. Is this desirable - or sustainable? Tim Riley, United Kingdom

We cannot avoid using natural resources. They provide us with goods and services to meet our needs, regulate life-support functions and enrich our social well-being. But we are not using this natural capital wisely, and our needs and demands are ever increasing. Sadly, we are also using nature as a dumping ground for wastes and emissions. The major challenge is to move towards using renewable forms of products and services to better the lives of every individual.

Given that cities have such a high demand for electricity, why don't more of them switch to renewable forms of energy? Wouldn't this make economic and environmental sense? Alison Staat-Niederehe, United States

Yes, it makes a lot of sense. However, citizens - both as consumers and producers - are not fully aware of the carrying capacity of the planet and of the impact of the intensive use of non-renewable natural resources on current and future generations. Public and private sector organizations need to invest in renewable forms of energy, infrastructure and facilities.

How can young people living in cities affect urban issues, which generally fall to politicians, architects and engineers to resolve? Rongling You, China
Politicians and engineers are there to make the best choices and create opportunities for healthier and more secure lives for their citizens. Young people can live by example by choosing environmentally friendly transport like walking, cycling, using public transport and sharing lifts, and by getting organized and making their voices heard about including environmental considerations in city planning. This will force the policy and decision makers to meet their demands.
Fifty years ago, less than one person in three lived in a town or city. Soon most of the world's people will do so. How will the natural environment cope as we become an increasingly urban species? Joanna Freitas, Portugal
If the current trend of increasing urbanization continues, it will have serious environmental and health implications including irreversible damage to ecosystems. This can be avoided if we adopt innovative ideas and actions. People mainly move to cities in search of better opportunities; if these were available for semi-urban and rural dwellers, the trend and its environmental implications could be reduced. This remains a major challenge.

Do you have questions on environment and development issues that you would like the experts at UNEP to answer? Please send them to cpiinfo@unep.org, and we will try to answer them in future issues.

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