Nicholas Rosellini: Sustainable Urbanization

Dec 1, 2016

2016 International Forum on City Happiness and Sustainability in China

Beijing, 1 December 2016

UN Resident Coordinator, and UNDP Resident Representative 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure today to welcome you to this 2016 International Forum on City Happiness and Sustainability in China. I would like to thank Xinhua News Agency and Oriental Outlook Weekly for co-hosting this event. It is truly good to see so many of you here today to discuss this important and pressing topic.

As the United Nations Secretary General said in the lead-up to the Rio +20 Sustainable Development Summit “Our Struggle for Global Sustainability Will Be Won or Lost in Cities”. As such the sustainable development of cities has been singled out for inclusion as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted last September by all the United Nations Member States in New York. The SDGs are a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity and will steer the world’s development for the next 15 years. The SDGs take into account a more complex environment for development focusing on interlinkages for sustainability and issues of inequality.

In October in Quito, the world again came together in the first major global conference of this new development era, Habitat III, to adopt the New Urban Agenda, a framework that will guide sustainable urban development around the world for the next 20 years. The New Urban Agenda calls for cities to be safer, resilient and more sustainable, to lower carbon emissions and become cleaner and greener, and to be more inclusive, provide equal opportunities for all and fully respect the rights of migrants and refugees regardless of their status.

Sustainable urbanization is a key focal area for UNDP globally and in China. UNDP just released its global Sustainable Urbanization Strategy which sets out UNDP's vision for sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities, and how it is cooperating with UNHabitat and other UN agencies to support municipal governments to implement the SDGs at the local level. SDG 11 Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable specifically addresses cities, but most of the other SDGs are related to good urban development in some way. 

This makes the launch of the China Sustainable Cities Report and the hosting of this forum particularly timely. "The China Sustainable Cities Report: Measuring Ecological Input and Human Development" which applies UNDP's Human Development Index and the Urban Ecological Input Index to 35 provincial capitals and directly-administered municipalities. All 35 cities have achieved high or very high levels of human development and 7 of the 35 cities have been able to achieve very high human development within their ecological limitations.  However, since last year’s report, resource consumption and pollution have continued to increase and environmental protection continues to be a challenge for China and for Chinese cities.

The results of the report will be presented to you later in this session, so I will not go into extensive detail. But I do wish to note that while this report focuses on large and medium sized cities in China, we must not ignore the challenges and achievements of secondary and tertiary cities.

A great deal of attention is paid to mega-cities, but smaller cites also need to ensure that they develop in the most sustainable way possible. Samller cities can face challenges of lack of capacity, financing and data. However, smaller cities are also often able to integrate social, environmental and economic development in ways that can sometimes be more challenging for larger places. This means that they often have good lessons that other cities can learn from. We can see this from the case studies included in the report of cities such as Wulong and Foshan that are creatively addressing their environmental and human development challenges through inclusive approaches to development. In the case of Wulong, environmental protection guides all decision-making and supports economic development through ecotourism. Foshan has ensured that 12 years of education are available to all children irrespective of their talents, interests or residential status. This improves their lives and has strengthened the city’s small and medium sized enterprise sector. 

We also share a case study on Guangzhou’s solid waste management that has achieved excellent results. The city takes a coordinating role, but all sectors of society including business and communities work together to provide an advanced waste management system.  

I also congratulate Oriental Outlook on the 10th Anniversary of their Happiness Index. This Index was pioneering in China by suggesting a shift away from a purely economic model of prosperity and towards a focus on long-term wellbeing for all.

The dynamism of cities represents a major sustainable development opportunity. By getting urban development on the right track, cities can create jobs and offer better livelihoods; improve social inclusion; promote the decoupling of living standards and economic growth from environmental resource use; protect local and regional ecosystems; reduce both urban and rural poverty; and drastically reduce pollution.

On the other hand, mistakes made in managing urban growth can be difficult to avoid and have long-term consequences. The impacts from unsustainable infrastructure investments, urban land-use systems, and city layouts are difficult to reverse in the short term.

China’s New-type Urbanization Plan has already set out pathways to address many of the problems facing Chinese cities, including guaranteeing basic social services and access to education for migrants, improving mechanisms for public participation and supporting innovation to improve and rebalance the economy. 

The world has never seen anything like China’s economic transformation over the past thirty years. As China now begins to shift away from a singular focus on rapid economic development, the rebalancing that is happening under the New Normal is a very supportive environment for Chinese cities to make the transition to a more sustainable future.

There are many experts here today that will be discussing these issues in greater depth. I look forward to the discussions and wish you a productive rest of the day. 

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