Opening Remarks by Nicholas Rosellini, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, at the Western China City Sustainable Development Forum 2018 September 21st, 2018 in Chengdu, China

Nicholas Rosellini

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative


Excellency Mr. Hou Xiaochun, Vice Chairman of Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress

Mr. Li Houqiang, Party Secretary of Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences

Distinguished officials from Western China cities, ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning.

It is a pleasure to join you today for the 2018 Western China City Sustainable Development Forum. Today’s forum marks the third year of the partnership between Sichuan provincial government, Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences, and UNDP in co-hosting this platform. During the Western Expo in the past three years, as a major forum, this event provided a unique opportunity for officials from Western Chinese cities to exchange their development experiences. Thematic annual research reports were also presented at this forum, which resulted in actionable policy options for policy makers. I hereby wish to express my gratitude to our partners for their great efforts in making this happen.

Today we will focus on an important topic: how to promote sustainable and inclusive urban development through proper coordination of urban-rural relations. I will address two aspects in my speech today: firstly, why urban-rural coordination is important for sustainable development of cities; second, how UN and UNDP is working on the sustainable cities in China through SDG localization during the past year.

It is well known that the main characteristics of China’s urban development model in past decades were high growth, high consumption, significant investment and rapid expansion. While enjoying fast GDP growth, this model has also concentrated the most valuable resources in large cities, and caused slower development of small cities and towns.

Unlike many other countries, China has a special dual system between urban and rural areas. This includes dual systems for household registration, land management, local governance and so on. This dual structure has given maximum support to urban development and provided cities with cheap labour force and land expansion. However, at the same time, it has also enlarged the gap between urban and rural areas. Globally, the average income ratio between urban and rural residents is 1.5, but in China it is 2.71. The gap in terms of quality of social services can be even greater.

In recent years, the government has taken various actions to mitigate the gap, such as fiscal transfer payment to rural area, municipal governments’ direct support to rural infrastructure, and the inclusion of rural migrant workers into urban social schemes. These measures are necessary, but also raise the cost of urban development in future. Multiple urban-rural coordination mechanisms and policies will be needed in order to make development more complementary and balanced.

Therefore, in the context of China, the issue of sustainable development of cities cannot be considered without also taking into account the needs of rural areas and small towns. During the process of rapid urbanization nationwide, human development and ‘human urbanization’ are more important than ‘geographical urbanization’. The urbanization process is not only a migration issue, but also impacts children who are left behind, the elderly, agricultural production, and rural land reform. It is indeed a redistribution and coordination of various core interests.

Cities in Western China have certain advantages in achieving better coordination with rural areas. On one hand, as a traditional source of migrant labor, there has been a recent trend of migrant workers in coastal areas returning home. These returning workers not only directly promote the rural development of the western regions, but also provide skilled human resources for western cities, reducing the gap between urban and rural areas.

On the other hand, because of the relatively lower level of urban development compared with coastal cities, the cost for Western China to adopt equal and universal urban-rural benefit systems will be much lower. There is also more space for innovative reforms and pilot policy programs. For example, Chengdu is leading the country in urban and rural policy interfaces. Through unified budgeting, construction planning, and legislation, it has achieved not only great development in rural areas but also sustainable development in Chengdu.

In this regard, the United Nations and UNDP have made great headway in supporting sustainable development over the past year.

As backdrop of our work, there are several milestones in China’s national sustainable development agenda that are relevant and worth recalling: the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party placed great emphasis on sustainable development and included the 2030 agenda as a target to fulfill; the Chinese government officially released its 2017 China's Progress Report on Implementing the SDGs, reflecting China's national responsibility for the global process; the State Council issued “Development Plan of China’s Innovation Demonstration Zones for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda” and through the Ministry of Science and Technology launched the first three SDG pilot cities of Shenzhen, Guilin and Taiyuan.

These signals provide direction and an institutional basis for our cooperation with China on SDG implementation and localization, and we have been working closely with our counterparts at all levels.

At the macro level, we cooperate with influential national partners such as the Development Research Center of the State Council, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Academy of Macroeconomic Research of NDRC and Tsinghua University to hold various forms of policy dialogues and academic exchanges. These collaborations and activities will help relevant government departments to have a better understanding of sustainable development.

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of China’s “Reform and Opening-Up”, UNDP will also publish a special edition of the Human Development Report for China to discuss China's future policy options for achieving sustainable development and provide theoretical support for the National 14th Five-Year Plan and the post-2020 era.
We are also exploring more applicable solutions to assist China in evaluating the SDG process more objectively.

At the local level, UNDP is the first international organization to sign an MOU with the Ministry of Science and Technology for Innovation Demonstration Zones of the Sustainable Development Agenda. We have been working closely with MOST and pilot cities to provide consultative advice and to formulate innovation projects on the ground. We are also broadly expanding cooperation with cities not listed as first pilots but actively engaged with SDG implementation. For example, UN country team in China has had in-depth consultations with the city of Chengdu on implementing the SDGs, UNDP is also formulating a SDG innovation platform with Chengdu High-tech Zone.

UNDP is ready to cooperate with national partners to promote the sustainable development of Chinese cities. I hope that our extensive technical advantages, project experience and influential platform can play a bigger role for more innovative solutions.

Finally, I would like to once again express my gratitude to the organizers of this forum, and to thank the Sichuan Provincial Government for inviting me to participate in the West Expo as well as all of you for supporting the forum.

I wish today’s forum and the discussions it brings a great success.

Thank you.


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