Nicholas Rosellini: 2017 New Urbanization High-level Forum

Jun 2, 2017

Opening Speech, 2017 New Urbanization High-level Forum

Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to first express my appreciation to both the Shaanxi Provincial Government and Tsinghua University for the invitation to speak at this high-level forum. It is my pleasure to visit this beautiful, historical, and cultural city, Xi’an for the first time. Xi’an has served as the ancient capital of China, the economical belt along the Silk Road, and the bridge between Eastern and Western Culture throughout history.

As the successful outcomes from the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing have pointed out about Xi’an’s strategic value in realizing the Belt and Road Initiative, I would like to also extend my sincere wishes to Shaanxi Provincial Government on having a successful “2017 Silk Road International Exposition” and a “21st Investment and Trade Forum for Cooperation between East and West China” this week. Shaanxi Province is ranks number 11th by size, 17th in terms of GDP and 15th in terms of GDP per capita in China, which signals its irreplaceable and significant value of accelerating development in China economically and socially. The most pressing challenge, as Shaanxi Province graduates to the emerging and middle-class and economically transition to a well-being society, is sustainable development.   

United Nations Development Programme is the United Nations’ global development network that serves nations and governments. We advocate for change, connect countries to knowledge, experience and resources with doing research, providing capacity building and expert advice, to make sure positive social, environmental and economic outcomes can impact every nation and its people.

In 2015 the world agreed on a set of goals to guide the planet for the next 15th years, the Sustainable Development Goals, while in a year later in September 2016, UNDP and the People’s Republic of China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

This MOU outlined a strategic cooperation framework to enhance collaboration between UNDP and the Chinese government for the implementation of the BRI and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Three weeks ago, during The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), UNDP signed further an Action Plan with the Chinese government to follow up on the MOU. The Action Plan aims to put the advancement of the cooperation in practice through: information exchange; projects cooperation; policy coordination; building partnership and capacity building.

Now it is time for action, how can the BRI and the SDGs together have a positive impact for the people on the ground? While China has achieved significant results in poverty reduction there is always room for stepping up the efforts for Sustainable Development. Therefore, UNDP has launched an effort to localize the Sustainable Development Goals and is working with several counties all over China to see how the SDGs can be integrated in local planning.

Yesterday I spoke with the governor and together with our partner Tsinghua University we are ready to support the provincial government and local governments to roll out the SDG localization programme in the Shaanxi province.

For the last three decades, UNDP China has been the trusted partner for China as we had drawn on world-wide experience to assist China both in developing solutions to its own ongoing development challenges and for south-south cooperation. As well, sustainable urbanization is a key focal area for UNDP globally and in China. Cities are the centers of economic activity and produce about 80 per cent of global GDP.

The world is urbanizing at a rapid pace. In 1950 only 30 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2014, the global urban population had increased to 54 per cent and is projected to reach 66 per cent in 2050.

China has not only seen the most rapid rates of urbanization but now with just over half of the population urbanized, has the largest absolute numbers of people living in cities in the world.  Getting urbanization right in China is not only critical for the development of the country, but also for the world.

Every year UNDP China publishes a “sustainable city index report” which examines the 35 largest cities in China including Xi’an, where it ranks number 12th on the index in terms of their environmental performance and level of human development. All 35 cities rank highly in terms of human development as measured by life expectancy, education and income. Cities do less well in terms of their environmental performance. There are many steps, however, that can be taken to improve urban environments that will also have positive social impacts.  

For example, adopting mixed-use and public-transport oriented developments with energy efficient buildings integrated with district heating and cooling networks that rely on low-carbon fuels can improve air quality, increase access to modern energy services, improve mobility and improve standards of living while decreasing energy consumption and carbon emissions. In building sustainable cities, social issues cannot be neglected. Local governments need to address increasingly complex challenges and emerging social issues, and implement effective and inclusive city governance with limited resources.

The integration of sustainable development goals into city development is a key step to achieving inclusive and equal urbanization for all. With sufficient planning, competence and institutional capacity, governments can take advantage of the economies of scale that cities provide to supply infrastructure and services to a large population more efficiently and at lower costs in urban areas.

Access to social services and higher incomes in urban areas, coupled with efficient resource consumption and pollution controls can help realize higher levels of human development, literacy and education, gender equality, better health, greater access to social services, and enhanced opportunities for cultural and political participation.

UNDP is ready to work with the provincial and local governments in Shaanxi on the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainable Urbanization, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in both urban and rural areas. This requires aligned cooperation and partnership. I urge international organizations, governments, universities, the private sector, and other partners here today to work together and to build the future we want, starting in Shaanxi.

Thank you all again.

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