Coastal Cities Summit focuses on values and vulnerabilities

11/18/08 Seán Kinane
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The 2008 Coastal Cities Summit is under way this week in St. Pete Beach. 250 global experts will address threats faced by coastal cities worldwide, including threats from climate disruption and overdevelopment. This morning’s keynote speaker was Saskia Sassen, professor of Sociology at Columbia University.

“Coastal cities are going to be particularly strategic. They will become vanguard spaces in order to handle some of these challenges.”

Sassen compared the population densities, trade and economies of major cities around the world and said there is a trend toward “spatial and socioeconomic fragmentation” in cities.

Carlos Fernández-Jáuregui, coordinator of the United Nations International Decade for Water, pointed out that a majority of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometers of the coast. Fernández-Jáuregui said it would only cost about $5 billion per year to provide fresh water and sanitation to everyone in the world who needs it. That’s a tiny fraction of the $700 billion U.S. bailout of financial corporations, he said.

“Every three minutes one child is dying in the world because of the lack of safe water and sanitation.”

Although Florida is about to emerge from the 2008 hurricane season relatively unscathed, many countries in the Caribbean, like Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic were hit by multiple storms.

Dr. Noel J. Brown is the former Director of the North American Regional office of the United Nations Environment Programme and is considered an environmental diplomat. Brown is one of the numerous experts from around the world who is in St. Pete Beach this week to warn that coastal cities are burdened by climate disruption and other threats. This season’s hurricanes could bring attention to the plight of coastal cities and the world’s oceans, Brown said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said he has spoken with leaders from other cities around the world, and they face many of the same challenges. “We have much more in common as cities than differences. … And I think when you focus, then, in on coastal cities, there’s even a greater commonality that we have.”

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said the state’s coastal cities are especially prone to future disasters. But it’s not just Florida’s coastal cities that are threatened by climate disruption, Sink said.

Filiep Decorte is the coordinator of the UN-HABITAT’s disaster program in Nairobi, Kenya. Decorte said that the effects of climate disruption on coastal cities will not be just water levels rising. The urban poor will not just be affected by major disasters like Hurricane Katrina, but also by frequent minor crises, Decorte said. “Focus much more on the risk reduction and trying to make our urban systems much more resilient.”

The Coastal Cities Summit continues through Thursday at the TradeWinds resort in St. Pete Beach. The keynote address will be tonight at 8 p.m. at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Martin Parry, who along with Al Gore was the co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, will speak on "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability."

Coastal Cities Summit 2008


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