UNDP Resident Representative in China Beate Trankmann delivers a keynote speech at the 2020 World Canal Cities Forum in Yangzhou, China

尊敬的刘奇葆副主席,         (Liu Qibao Vice Chairman of CPPCC)

尊敬的娄勤俭书记,             (Lou Qinjian, Party Secretary Jiangsu Province)

尊敬的吴政隆省长,            (Wu Zhenglong, Governor of Jiangsu Province)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon! On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme China, it is my great pleasure to join you in beautiful Yangzhou for the 2020 World Canal Cities Forum!

Yangzhou has been celebrated since ancient times, when the Grand Canal, now a UNESCO Heritage Site, made it one of China’s most important trade and exchange centres. It was even referenced in a poem by Li Bai: “ 故人西 辞 黄 鹤 楼,烟花三月下扬州” (Gùrén xī cí Huánɡhèlóu, Yānhuā sānyuè xià Yánɡzhōu). In records of his China travels, Marco Polo also recounts this city.

Yangzhou’s rich, canal city history makes it a fitting place to host this year’s forum. But I want to talk about its future – indeed, the future of cities everywhere. Currently, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, this will rise to two thirds – more than 6.5 billion people - presenting challenges and opportunities for sustainable development.

Cities are centers of economic, social, cultural, political activity and innovation. As such, urbanization has been key in driving development and reducing poverty. While cities only occupy around 2% of land globally, they account for up to 70% of global GDP. Last year, China’s urbanization rate topped 60%, producing more than 80% of its GDP.

Yet, as cities grow, policy makers face challenges – how to use resources efficiently, ensure a healthy living environment and narrow inequalities within them.

Cities account for the majority of our energy consumption, and most of our greenhouse gas emissions. They’re also highly vulnerable to climate change, particularly coastal and river cities that are prone to rising sea levels, storm surges and landslides. The poor, who often settle in low-lying areas where land is cheaper, are most-affected.

Cities also generally face worse levels of pollution, with serious health impacts for residents. A recent global COVID-19 study by Harvard University found cities with higher air pollution have higher mortality rates.[1]

So, what’s to be done?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, provide a roadmap for shared prosperity and a healthy planet. Last week, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s commitment to those goals, aiming “to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.”[2] By following the SDGs, cities can help meet those ambitious targets and become inclusive, sustainable and resilient. This means investing in a clean environment, along with adequate housing, utilities, as well as access to schools and hospitals. In particular, the needs of new residents – from infrastructure, to services – must be factored into urban plans and policies.

Technology is key. Driven by talent, ingenuity, partnerships, as well as engaged citizens, technology can accelerate positive urban development. When combined with the right policies and inclusive institutions, it can help improve livelihoods and also protect the environment.

Many “smart” city solutions are already being used across China:

Haikou has introduced AI traffic lights to ease congestion on busy streets, adjusting wait times based on the flow of cars and pedestrians.[3] This makes transport more efficient - and helps cut vehicle emissions, a major source of urban pollution.

Meanwhile, Beijing plans to include blockchain technology in its city governance. This can help better manage resources and services, like unemployment benefits and home registrations, through data-sharing and improved administrative efficiency. Already, Beijing reports its digitization has helped reduce government paperwork by 40%, which is also more eco-friendly.[4]

Over the last decade, UNDP has worked with national and local governments to develop and commercialize hydrogen-based solutions for green, urban transportation. Today, about half the world’s zero-emission Fuel Cell Vehicles have been deployed in China and over half the country’s provinces and cities have hydrogen industry plans.

Since 2016, UNDP has also worked to improve urban safety and disaster resilience. For example, through policy advice to strengthen flood risk management in Wuhan and Ganzhou, or by supporting information technology for earthquake preparedness and alert systems in Sichuan.

UNDP is committed to continue helping cities become sustainable. Soon, we will launch our SDG progress report covering 90 Chinese cities, tracking sustainable urban development in Asia’s first ever City-level, SDG report card. Yangzhou ranks among the top-10 in environment-related SDGs, reflecting its achievements in making the city greener and cleaner. Moving forward, we stand ready to support cities further, in integrating concrete measures into their development plans to accelerate the SDGs.

Because as the world becomes more urban, it’s clear that realising the SDGs – to end poverty and protect life on earth – depends on a sustainable future for cities. With just 10 years left to ensure those goals, there’s no time to waste. Everyone today has a responsibility to work together towards more sustainable cities – and safe, secure lives for all.

Thank you to today’s organizers. I wish this forum every success!




[1] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/air-pollution-linked-with-higher-covid-19-death-rates/



[2] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/09/1073052



[3] https://www.idc.com/ap/smartcities/2020-winners/?modal=details



[4] https://technode.com/2020/07/16/beijing-unveils-plan-for-blockchain-based-government/




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