Distinguished Ministers, Mayors, Senior Officials, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel great to be here with you today, in the Province where I was born, and in the great City of Nanjing, where I attended University, back in the last century, if not 100 years ago, when I was a young man.
Nanjing is in my blood and in my heart. Even though my work has kept me living very far from here for many years, I always feel as one with the people of Nanjing – and at home – no matter where in the world I am.
Nanjing’s history testifies to the endurance of the human spirit. An ancient city, and a city of innovation, Nanjing is a source of pride for China and an example for the world. I am delighted to congratulate the City of Nanjing for receiving the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Special Award, for cleaning the Qin Huai River, in a participatory and integrated way.
The World Urban Forum meets here in China at an historic moment. This year, China marks the 30th anniversary of its transformative policy of reform and opening up. China has the largest urban population in the globe, about 580 million people, which puts it in the forefront of addressing the challenges of harmonizing economic growth and environmental protection, the ancient and the modern, the urban and the rural.
This year, for the first time, half the world’s population will be living in urban areas. In future, population growth will be absorbed mostly by the urban areas of developing countries, with the world’s urban population estimated to increase from about 3.3 billion today to over 6 billion in 2050.
Rapid urbanization poses many challenges, with a major one being the growth of slums. Today, one-sixth of the world’s population lives in appalling conditions in urban slums.
Yet, as the Chinese saying goes, every crisis contains within it the seeds of opportunity. Today, nearly 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product is generated by urban areas. The integrated challenges of water, sanitation, waste management, housing, transport, education and health care in urban areas create huge potential for job creation. Tapping that potential will require smart investments in public administrations at all levels. This is needed particularly to build capacity for forging partnerships with civil society and the private sector.
With urbanization, we have a chance to transform the energy of millions of men and women into efforts to improve the health situation of children living in poverty; to promote waste recycling programmes; to facilitate community self-help housing improvement schemes; to organize integrated systems for public transportation; to facilitate sustainable production through small and medium enterprises; to ensure that women and men are actively involved in decision-making; to address the needs of female-headed households while expanding credit opportunities; and to provide hospitable environments for raising children.
We need to intensify our learning from best practices and to develop focused policies to tap this energy in a more systemic, integrated and optimal way, suited to the local conditions. The waters of the Qin Huai River flowing through Nanjing are a vivid example of the way to success.
Fostering exchange of experience and knowledge among governments is a major focus of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In partnership with our friends in UN-Habitat and many others, we strive to advance the role that cities and towns can play around the world in supporting internationally agreed development goals.
I look forward to a productive discussion during this World Urban Forum. But I do not expect it to conclude here. I hope that the dialogue will continue until we meet again at the World Expo in Shangai in 2010, when UN-DESA, UN-HABITAT and other partners will engage with participants from around the world on the theme, “Better City, Better Life”.