Interview with Sharon Gil, UNEP Cities Unit – by Nellie Cheng
September 25, 2019 • 0 Comment
Sharon: For as long as I can remember I have always been drawn to work in the environment sector.
I started my career in environment-related law, but was drawn to industrial ecology which provided an insight into the challenge of our world is facing – rapid urban development is posing pressure on mother earth.
My involvement in environmental initiatives in Hong Kong, Philippines, Zambia throughout the years inspired me to seek solution for how urban area can be sustainable instead of destroying the environment, and how we can shift the trend toward more sustainable urban development.
More so now as a mother. I have two young daughters – 5 years old and 5 months old. My children motivate me and make me want to build a better future.
Why is the Ecocity World Summit and advancing Ecocities important to you?
- UNEP is a long-time supporter of Ecocity Summit. We believe in the integrated approach used by EcoCity.
- EcoCity Builders, who leads the organization of the Summit is a long-time partner of UNEP. They have worked with various parts of the house – our Science Division, buildings work and of course our work on circular economy in cities
- As a normative agency, we see it as an opportunity to touch base with technical experts whom we work with. There’s a lot of innovation. For us, Ecocity Summit is a very helpful venue to touch base with technical experts and other people who bring in innovative ideas and new work. The Vancouver Summit provides a strong science-based platform matching practitioners and academics. Such opportunity is of great value to us.
- It’s also a great way to touch base with existing partners
What specifically will you be addressing in your presentation?
Sharon: My presentation is about the experience of the first phase of the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities, and how urban metabolism analyses done in the Initiative's pilot cities could help in the transition towards building a circular economy. Through these analyses, UN Environment also recognized the need to ensure a just and equitable transition. Our work brought us to analyze how this transition would be distributed amongst the inhabitants of a city, and how it would affect their quality of life, through the use of a proxy indicator: circular economy jobs. The end goal is to bring people in at the center of a circular economy, with the aim of building low-carbon, resilient, resource-efficient, and equitable cities.
Our works extend to a broad range of initiatives – urban development, building systems, energy systems, circular economy, ecosystem-based adaptation … - all of these are urban in nature. I would like to focus on the research we did on urban metabolism with Ecocity Builders and illustrate how we can use new science to highlight what is normally invisible and to identify what is innovative. For example, using over 1,000 indicators from our research, we looked at the issue of circular economy in cities to understand the crucial elements, and identified human well being as the key factor and needed to be included in the consideration.
What do you hope people will take away from your presentation and your work in general?
Sharon: I’d like people to see how UN Environment bridges science to policy. I’d like them to see that people are the centre of our work.
First is the role of science and research in relation to policy. I would like to help the scientists and researchers better understand how their work impacts government policy, including at the national and local level.
My second point is that all our work is done by people and for people. Whatever we do, we need to keep people in mind, and focus on the promotion of human well being and quality of life, accessible to everyone on the world.
What would be the most important thing any one of us can do to advance Ecocities?
Sharon: When people ask me what is the most effective thing they can do to help the environment, I say, vote for the right people. Choose politicians who will invest in infrastructure and implement regulations that will prioritize the environment.
A city is a political construct – ruled by political decisions and run by officials. Government makes important decisions impacting the cities. Policy is a powerful tool which can advance the cause of sustainability. People need to be more engaged in the process of selecting better leaders to ensure the development of ecocities.
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Cities Unit, France.
Sharon is coordinator and manager of the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities which develops practical tools, conducts research, and brings solutions to implement urban metabolism, systems thinking, and circular economy approaches to cities in developing countries. An urban planner by profession, she also coordinates partnerships and joint resource mobilization on sustainable urbanization for UN Environment.
Sharon started her career in the late 90s, as a technical expert on the award-winning UNDP Private Sector Participation in Managing the Environment (PRIME) Project which has the distinction of being one of the first eco-industrial initiatives in Asia. She continued to develop her expertise in sustainable urbanization working for 2 years on rehabilitating old urban areas in Hong Kong with a private architecture and planning firm. After winning several design competitions, she was awarded “most promising urban planner” by the HK Institute of Planners in 2004. She then established herself as an expert in post-disaster reconstruction and risk reduction with UNDP and the Australian Government Aid Agency. Sharon was instrumental in conceptualizing and implementing the first multi-hazard mapping project in the Philippines bringing together scientists in different fields and linking them with local government actors. She also worked for over a year as Planning Advisor in Zambia where she focused on capacity building on land distribution and gender equality. Sharon joined UN Environment in 2012 to manage a project on mainstreaming the environment issues in city planning and management.
Sharon has a Masters degree in International Affairs from Columbia University New York’s School of International and Public Affairs. She studied urban planning at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Architecture as a Japan/ADB fellow. She speaks English, French, and several Philippine languages.