China Sustainable Development Forum

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Honourable Mayors, Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me, as Secretary-General of the Rio+20 Conference, to be here with all of you.

On behalf of the United Nations, let me express my sincere gratitude to the Global Mayor’s Forum for this important contribution to the preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20).

It is often said that all development is local.

That is even truer of sustainable development. Cities are the focus of the well-known slogan that challenges us to “think globally, and act locally”.

Many of the problems of our times can only be dealt with at the local level.

It is you, as leaders at the local level, who hold the key to making sustainable development a reality.

And so, I very much look forward to this gathering making a concrete and substantial contribution to the cause of sustainable urban development.

As you know, sustainable development is based on three pillars: economic, social and environmental. Cities and towns have the potential to combine these three pillars through unique and strategic people-centred local action policies. 50% of the world lives in cities. By 2050 it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban.

We are aware of the unrelentless urban demographic growth in all Regions.  But I do not see people as a problem.  People are a resource, the most valuable and perhaps the most under-valued resource we have on the planet.  Now that we are 7 billion strong, cities and towns can become mechanisms to unleash the potential of each individual and each family towards integrated social, economic and environmental goals.

For instance, all of you as Mayors and City Managers can work with public transport systems, with land use legislation, with housing incentives, with the hierarchy of various urban functions, you can transform your own city into an education hub, you can turn each city and town into an employment generation structure designed to improve people’s living conditions by facilitating jobs and service delivery to all.

I also count on you to propose new partnerships between local authorities, business and industry and other major groups through the many forums and events devoted to sustainable urban development.

Before I go into the role of cities and local authorities in advancing sustainable development, allow me to give you a quick overview of where the preparatory process for Rio+20 stands.

I believe this overview will help you fit your own deliberations usefully into the broader canvas of Conference preparations.

Regional meetings have been held in Santiago, Cairo, Seoul and Addis.

Meetings on themes related to the Conference have also been held in Solo, Beijing, New Delhi, Warsaw, Oslo, Tel Aviv and Copenhagen.

Meetings are also planned to be held in Geneva, Bonn, Monaco and Palo Alto, and this is not a complete listing.

All these preparatory meetings, including the Prepcoms and inter-sessionals at the global level have served multiple purposes.

They have deepened understanding of the key issues involved; revealed different approaches to the same goal; heightened appreciation of the challenges involved in the path to sustainable development; and helped formulate inputs for the compilation document.

By the 1 November deadline for contribution to the compilation document we have received over 6000 pages of text. It will be a challenge to distil them into a zero draft for negotiation.

The Rio+20 Conference has one primary objective – to renew political commitment for sustainable development.

It has been tasked to do this through an analysis of the progress and gaps in implementing existing commitments, and addressing new and emerging challenges.

It has been asked by the UN General Assembly to focus on two themes – a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development; and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

What then should Rio+20 mean for the world?

  • First, it should lead to economic dynamism and stability; promote social protection and inclusion and create jobs especially for the youth; and protect the natural resource base on which the future of our planet depends. It should in short, Integrate the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.
  • Second, it should lead to a more energized implementation of the sustainable development agenda- which has been one of the major gaps over the past 20 years.
  • Third, it should lead to coherent policies and programmes at all levels.

Thus, the three magical words for Rio+20 are integration, implementation and coherence.

The meetings in preparation for Rio+20 have helped in a better understanding of expectations and let me share some of these with you today.

The first of the two themes for Rio+20, the green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, has generated considerable debate, with interest and concerns being expressed.

Some suggest that Rio+20 must clarify what it is not, and through this process it will become clear as to what it is.

One interesting idea is to have a green economy roadmap which would be a pathway to sustainable development.

Such a roadmap with clear goals, objectives and timelines could be a useful product of Rio+20. Also being proposed as part of the roadmap is a toolkit of good practices and lessons learned, and a process for assessing progress on sustainable development.

Linked to the idea of goals is the continuing interest in the idea of sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will help assess progress on the road to sustainable development.

These would need to be balanced and integrated into discussions about a post 2015 development agenda. We all agree on the importance of goals. They represent important markers to evaluate progress. The MDGs provided a set of signposts on poverty, hunger, gender equality, education, health, environmental sustainability and partnerships. But the expiry date on many of these is 2015. Even these goals have not been realized. We need to accelerate progress to meet the aspirations of the poor. But this is not enough. Our future sustainable development goals must encompass the poor and the rich alike.

The UN is starting to work on the post-2015 development agenda (not post-2015 MDG agenda). As part of this, it will have to address the limitations of the current goals and one of these is the lack of sufficient goals on sustainability. Yes there are goals on water, sanitation, slum upgradation, but there are none on energy, sustainable consumption and production, or the other critical priority areas.

At Rio we must ensure that the process leading to the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda addresses the issue of sustainable development goals in an integrated and balanced way, doing equal justice to economic, social and environmental goals. Any development agenda must be a sustainable development agenda, incorporating the unfinished MDG agenda, in what we define in 2015.

As the preparations for Rio+20 gain momentum, I would like to mention a tentative list of 7 priority areas or new and emerging issues, which have been identified.

These include:

  • Combating poverty, including through green jobs and promoting social inclusion;
  • Advancing food security and sustainable agriculture;
  • Sound water management;
  • Energy access including from renewable sources, as well as efficiency and sustainability;
  • Sustainable human settlements;
  • Management of oceans; and
  • Improving resilience and disaster preparedness.

Additional, but related, issues have also been raised by member states and UN agencies, including in the UN System Chief Executives’ Board.

These include such issues as gender equality and empowerment, education for sustainable development and sustainable consumption and production.

The submissions received to the compilation text for the 1 November deadline have raised additional issues.

This list of seven issues is not fixed in stone.

It will evolve as we approach Rio+20, but it serves as a useful guide for your substantive deliberations for now.

Let me now turn to the second theme for Rio+20- the institutional framework for sustainable development. Let’s refer back to the three magical words- integration, implementation and coherence.

We must approach institutional reform through the prism of such an analysis.

Many views and options have emerged, including:

  • Strengthening UNEP and its possible elevation to a specialized agency;
  • Creating a Sustainable Development Council, along with strengthening the CSD and ECOSOC;
  • Strengthening the Regional Commissions and their interface with other regional entities;
  • Reorienting national and local decision making so as to integrate sectoral portfolios and engage stakeholders; and
  • Strengthening the UN system’s contribution, especially at the country level.

The next step in the Rio+20 process will be the issuance of a compilation text with a glossary by late November.

In mid December governments at an intersessional meeting (15-16 Dec) will comment on the structure, format and content of the outcome document.

These comments will help the co-chairs draft the first negotiation text (zero draft) by mid-January.

On this basis, the negotiations will start in earnest, under the leadership of the co-chairs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Forum goes to the heart of the one of the seven emerging issues I mentioned, namely: sustainable human settlements.

In your deliberations, I urge you, in particular, to shed more light on what it means to have a green urban economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Local authorities along with sub-national governments are already at the forefront of sustainable development.

They have to manage increasing waste supply, water and energy, and transportation services.
Energy use and transport systems, for instance, have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

Transforming them presents a strong lever for addressing global climate change.

In many parts of the world, local authorities and businesses are already working together in creating cleaner industries:

  • they use science and technology to develop win-win solutions and bring real benefits to all urban residents;
  • they promote inclusive cities where different cultures are accepted and celebrated;
  • they provide opportunities for public participation in urban governance;
  • they promote balanced urban-rural development by actively promoting urban-rural dialogue and integration;
  • they increasingly feed their populations through the rise of urban agriculture; and
  • they are increasingly doing so with limited budget and resources in partnerships with urban dwellers and business and industry.

However, management challenges in metropolitan areas abound.

Cities struggle every day to meet daily operational needs while at the same time investing in the future – all with limited financial resources.

Perhaps the main challenge currently facing local governments of large cities in developing nations is how to provide essential services – including housing, energy, water, sanitation, health and education – to meet the basic needs of an ever-growing population.

In many developing countries, such growing populations include a significant amount of people who are born in or migrate into poorly managed slum settlements.

Inadequate public services related to health, education and housing are at the core of urban poverty and vulnerability.

Unfortunately, most commitments taken at the international level have not been met.

The provisions of Chapter 7 of Agenda 21 on Promoting Sustainable Human Settlement Development, for example, have largely not been met.

None of the targets for waste treatment are well on track. The monitoring systems for waste are weak (data on solid waste is fragmentary or does not exist in many countries).

The MDG to halve the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water by 2015 is on track, but not the proportion with access to basic sanitation.

The MDG to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers has likely been achieved.

However, the goal was set in absolute value and many millions more have crowded into slums since 2000.

Another challenge for urban centers is risk management.

Risk management is becoming a major priority for city governments because of regional climate change impacts, including drought, extreme heat events, and flooding.

A significant number of large cities are located in areas susceptible to flooding.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated global sea level rises of 0.18 to 0.59 meters this century.

Large vulnerable cities in developing nations include Dhaka, Jakarta, Tianjin, Shanghai and Manila.

The increase of less predictable and potentially more dangerous weather events has the greatest implications for those residing in poor quality housing which is frequently located in flood-prone or geologically unstable zones.

Local authorities must bring their insights and good practices on how to implement sustainable development to Rio+20.

We need your help as we prepare.

We need to learn from you how best to develop partnerships, scale them up and enhance them.

We also need to know what enabling environment at the subnational, national, regional and international level would allow you to speed up the process of developing inclusive eco-cities.

Whether it is in combating climate change or preserving our rich natural heritages, disaster preparedness, achieving efficiency in resource use, spurring sustainable green growth, or advancing social equity and building cities of harmony, we need you.

We need you as partners, teachers and as leaders.

Cities represent the most powerful economic engines in the world.
The transformation of cities to sustainable economic development will be critical to the 21st century global state of affairs.

Already more than 50% of the world population lives in cities and the 100 largest urban areas accounted for 30% of GDP in 2005.

As a result of the geographical concentration of people, infrastructure, knowledge, economic activities, and cultural activities, cities offer an opportunity to lead the eco-efficiency race.

Mayors and associations of mayors are already at the forefront of greenhouse gas and pollution reduction and enhancing ecosystem services.

Compact, densely populated cities with mixed-use urban development are potentially more resource-efficient than other urban approaches.

Integrated design strategies and technologies are available to improve urban transport, the construction of buildings, and the development of urban energy, water, and waste systems, in such a way that they reduce resource and energy consumption.

The recent Plan of Action on Sub-national Governments, Cities and Other Local Authorities for Biodiversity (2011-2020) can help achieve this balance.

As Mayors, you have many options to transform cities to eco-cities.

City officials and traditional urban planners have had to take on the challenge of sustainably growing their economies and managing the physical footprint of their cities. At the same time, they must ensure a liveable urban environment.

Investments in the built environment in cities will continue to be high in coming decades. This is especially true for China, where rapid urban-rural migration will continue for some time.

It is estimated that between 2005 and 2025, some 200 trillion dollars will be spent globally on fixed urban assets.

Most of this expenditure will occur in developing countries, where population and urbanization is growing.

Just in China, investments are estimated to reach 46 trillion dollars over that period.

New and innovative sources of financing will be needed.

Following proven successes for the urban investment model in Hong Kong, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Sydney, international banking and financing institutions are in the process of shifting focus from the national level to the city level.

Large cities such as Shanghai and Mumbai provide attractive centres for international investment as they emerge as centres of global financial services.

In India, for example, cities are forecast to garner 85 per cent of the nation’s total tax revenue.

This will be the primary source for financing economic development on a national scale.

Some member states and other stakeholders have proposed several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to cities.

This gathering may want to consider and discuss some of them.

These proposals include, achieving by some target date, possibly 2030, measurable goals related to:

  • improved living conditions in urban and peri-urban areas,
  • adequate incomes, diets, housing and services for urban dwellers,
  • environmentally sound urban development and expansion
  • promoting sound land utilization, through public policies; and
  • sound management of waste, including recycling.

For their part, NGOs and other stakeholders also proposed the following six targets for cities at the 2011 NGO conference, which was organized by the UN Department of Public Information:

  • By 2030, cities have developed and are implementing action plans to address transport, public health and environmental needs in a harmonious and integrated way.
  • By 2030, from the local to national levels, government policies foster compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented, urban development that minimizes energy use and maximizes residential health and that reflects the concept of a society for all ages.
  • All new buildings meet green building standards by 2030.
  • By 2030, city transport needs are or remain predominantly met by mass transport, walking and bicycling.
  • Quality of life is also improved for residents by 2030, providing access to green buildings with urban rooftop gardens, clean water, clean energy, waste management systems and sustainable transport.
  • By 2030, urban areas with significant storm water pollution issues reduce impervious surface area by 30% below 2012 levels.

Member states and stakeholders are no doubt interested in mayors’ reaction to all these proposals.

I hope this Forum can shed light on their adequacy and feasibility.

We should also consider what new models can emerge to manage and measure strategic changes needed for urban sustainability planning.

Two tools for describing, measuring and managing city sustainability are strategy maps and “scorecards.”

This strategic approach has been widely used in the corporate sector in China, North America and Europe.

For municipal government sustainability functions, some cities are starting to explore the scorecard approach to monitor sustainability-related initiatives using relevant metrics for greenhouse gas reduction, transportation and land use planning, wastewater management and natural system conservation.

There is also an eco-city tool to assess where a city stands in terms of economic, social, environmental, and cultural indicators, and a roadmap to get to an eco-city.

At the world Eco-city summit in Montreal earlier this fall, local authorities acknowledged the need to facilitate the learning and sharing of experiences across cities.

My question to you is what type of decisions in Rio+20 would best foster this learning and sharing of experience?

Let me further challenge you with additional questions to guide your deliberations:

  • What outcome would cities like to see at Rio+20?
  • How is the transition to a green economy affecting your city?
  • What governance models would allow you to speed up the race to eco- and inclusive cities?
  • What should be the renewed role of UN Habitat and other stakeholders in new governance for eco-cities?

Even after this Forum, you can continue to provide your views on these issues through the Local Authorities Major Group, one of the nine major groups of society recognised by Agenda 21 and the UN as key stakeholders in sustainable development.

As you know, ICLEI, one of the organizers of this Forum, is the organizing partner for the Local Authorities Major Group.

I urge you to bring the message of this Forum to national dialogues and forums, including the intersessional meeting in New York on 15-16 December and of course to the conference itself.

As you know the City of Rio is organizing a local-authorities event jointly with C40, ICLEI, UN-Habitat and others.

The same partners are organizing a Global Town Hall at Rio where you can share your ideas and best practices and exchange with member states how to implement sustainable development.

As Mayors and local authorities, your active engagement in the preparations for Rio+20 greatly enriches the debate and influences Conference outcomes.

We are counting on you.

Thank you.