Mr. Wu Hongbo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development

Keynote Address
Sustainable Urban Development and the Future of Shanghai in 50 Years
Opening of the Global City Forum

Thank you for your kind introduction.

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured and pleased to address the opening of the Global City Forum.

I want to commend the organisers for convening this Forum.

The importance of sustainable cities for China’s future prosperity, and indeed, for the future of global sustainable development, cannot be overemphasized.

In today’s increasingly urban world, more than half of the world’s population now live in cities. 

Consequently, if well managed, cities offer important opportunities for sustainable development.  Cities have always been focal points for economic growth, innovation, and employment. In many countries, cities have become major sites for education, culture, and scientific and technological innovations, enriching our social and cultural fabric.  

Nevertheless, as cities grow, managing them becomes increasingly complex.  In many countries, the speed and sheer scale of the urban transformation presents formidable challenges. 

Not surprisingly therefore, experts working on a broad range of sustainable development issues have come to the conclusion: that the future battle of sustainable development will be won or lost in cities.

Four years ago, this message was vividly captured in the theme of the World Expo 2010 Shanghai – Better City, Better Life.

That said, achieving sustainable city development is no easy task.

Cities are complex, multi-dimensional and interlocking systems. 

Cities epitomize the advancements of our civilization. They are both an engine and a consequence of the fruits of our economic growth.

The concentration of economic activities in cities contributes significantly to national and global output.

Let me share with you some statistics – some of which may be familiar to you.

Worldwide, cities generate some 80 per cent of the global GDP – 60 per cent of which comes from just 600 cities.

This is more or less the case also in developing regions.  For example, in Africa, 60 per cent of the region’s GDP is created in cities.

In China, prefecture-level cities and other large urban centres generate 61 per cent of China’s GDP.

This phenomenon, however, did not happen overnight.

We are aware that cities began to grow after the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1860s. 

Since then, cities have been the reliable engines of the world economy and centres of innovation where solutions to technological and other problems are developed.

The critical challenge over the next 30 years will be to take full advantage of the potential benefits of urbanization in an inclusive way while lessening the negative impacts.

Many of these challenges are particularly critical for Africa and Asia. Continuing population growth and urbanization are projected to add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050, with nearly 90 per cent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. Most of this growth will not occur in the largest cities and towns but in smaller secondary cities and towns where poverty rates are higher and where existing coverage of basic public services is far from comprehensive. 

Will cities in Asia and Africa be able to absorb more than two billion new urban residents?

This is no small question – for local authorities or mayors, this translates into concrete questions such as:

  • Will the city have enough jobs for an ever increasing number of migrants and new residents?
  • Will there be enough schools and hospitals for them?
  • Can the transport infrastructure support the additional urban population?
  • Do we have enough housing to meet growing needs?  And,
  • How can we protect the environment as our cities grow?

These are but some of the questions local governments will have to contend with in the years to come.

But the problems associated with cities are not just the preserve of the developing world.

Across the industrialized world, cities are also home to a growing set of challenges, some familiar and shared with cities in developing countries; others unique to cities in industrialized countries.

First, demographic change. Shanghai, like cities in many developed countries is facing a series of demographic challenges, such as low birth rates, and ageing populations.

Second, aging infrastructure and economic stagnation. Many cities in Europe and also in Northern America are grappling with century-old infrastructure which needs constant repair or replacement, presenting an enormous fiscal challenge in a climate of slow economic growth, together with the threat of economic stagnation or decline.

Third, without inclusive growth, many cities continue to face large and persistent income disparities, and greater economic segregation. Some neighbourhoods are characterised by poor housing, low-quality education, social polarisation and spatial segregation, making it increasingly difficult for low-income or marginalised groups to find decent and affordable housing.

Fourth, higher incomes are associated with a rise in private transport, smaller household size and the spread of low-density settlements, threatening local ecosystems.   

All of these factors underscore the point that managing urban growth has become one of the most important challenges of the 21st Century. 

The impact of climate change also raises the issue of disaster risk reduction for cities. 

According to UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, worldwide, cities have witnessed a four-fold increase and rise in intensity of urban natural disasters since 1975.

This increase illustrates how cities and urban populations have become more exposed and vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events, such as heat waves, intense droughts, and street level floods.

All these impacts can compromise water supplies and human health, infrastructure and urban eco-systems.

For coastal cities, impacts can include enhanced sea level rise and storm surges, as witnessed in New York City during Hurricane Sandy. 

The UN building on the East River was also flooded, leading to several hundred million US dollars in damages.

How well are cities prepared for more frequent and intense natural disasters? 

How will cities protect infrastructure?

How can cities build disaster resilience into urban planning and city development?

Clearly, both cities with century-old infrastructure, as well as new and emerging cities in developing countries, face the same challenge in disaster preparation and resilience.

Not surprisingly, the international community has accorded increasing attention to sustainable urbanisation and sustainable city development.

During the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – also known as Rio+20, Member States underscored the importance of cities. 

They stated that cities can promote economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies if they are well planned and developed, including through integrated planning and management approaches. 

They further emphasized the importance of increasing the number of metropolitan regions, cities and towns that are implementing policies for sustainable urban planning and design in order to respond effectively to the expected growth of urban populations in the coming decades.

In the ongoing work on the United Nations post-2015 development agenda, the issue of sustainable cities is being addressed across a number of focus areas, including climate change, industrialization, infrastructure, economic growth, health, education and the protection of the environment. 

At the centre of this interlocking agenda is the perspective of human-centred approach to sustainable urbanization and sustainable cities. 

Distinguished guests,

How well the world’s largest cities like Shanghai are able to respond to the many challenges associated with sustainable development will not only determine patterns of regional and national development but will offer important lessons for the rest of the world to follow. 

Shanghai is the largest city in China and its population density and concentration of economic and industrial activities are among the highest in the country.  

It is thus a great challenge for a city like Shanghai to maintain its environmental quality.  

So the experience of Shanghai will be enormously instructive for other cities who expect to face similar environmental management challenges in the near future.

The achievements of Shanghai with respect to environmental management are significant.  Shanghai’s rapid development has been matched by large investments in environmental protection. Shanghai has shown how it is possible to balance environmental protection and rapid economic growth.

Similarly, the city has invested heavily in transportation infrastructure.  It has an extensive public transport system, largely based on metros, buses and taxis.

Shanghai’s rapid transit system, the Shanghai Metro, incorporates both subway and light railway lines and extends to every core urban district as well as neighbouring suburban districts. 

Yet, much work still remains to be done.  And continued economic development will exert even greater pressure on the environment.  

How Shanghai responds to these challenges can inform other cities around the world undergoing similar rapid transformations.  So while the city still has challenges to overcome, it also has the opportunity to demonstrate how environment problems are amenable to scientific and engineering expertise. And, how economic growth can be achieved while preserving and even improving the local environment. 

How will Shanghai build on this solid foundation and achieve the goal of a sustainable city? 

Let me venture a short answer, based on the previous work my Department has done.

First, by applying a holistic approach to sustainable city development with a long-term vision and integrated planning perspective.

Cities are more than mere physical infrastructure, important as it is. Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, education, social development and much more. So we need an integrated approach.

Second, by addressing rural development dynamics. Today’s cities have no city walls.  Over the long run, cities will prosper only when the rural areas around them share the prosperity.

Third, by engaging all stakeholders in the planning of urbanization processes.  As I said earlier, cities are complex and interlocking systems.  No single department or individuals can plan and manage such complex systems well, alone.  So stakeholder participation is an absolute imperative.

Fourth, by continuing to develop strong public transport systems and reducing dependency on private motor vehicle use; in this regard, Shanghai has already done a remarkable job and I’m sure the city will continue in this direction building on the intermodal transport systems.

Fifth, by fostering growth in the service sector. Once again, Shanghai is well ahead, compared to other large cities in China. Last year, more than 60 per cent of Shanghai’s GDP came from services industries. Shanghai is also taking action to develop further its financial services, logistics and cultural industries.

Sixth, by encouraging sound waste management practices, including recycling and recovery.  This is a worldwide challenge. Growing prosperity and urbanization is estimated to double the volume of municipal solid waste annually by 2025, challenging environmental and public health management in the world’s cities. Shanghai will not be immune from this challenge.

Seventh, by developing resilience to natural disasters, and reducing settlements in risk prone areas; I spoke about this earlier and I am sure this will remain a major task for the Shanghai municipal government.

Eighth, by providing decent job opportunities, including for rural and migrant workers and integrating them in urban planning; this is another daunting task facing municipal governments across the world.  Shanghai has taken a forward-looking strategy to job creation by focusing on service sector- and innovation-driven growth. I am confident the city will meet this challenge.

Sustainable development has become the centrepiece of development.  And cities stand at the forefront of the challenge of eliminating poverty while preserving the environment for future generations.  The eyes of the world are on cities such as Shanghai for ideas, lessons, and inspiration. 

Distinguished guests,

I would like to conclude my remarks with an appeal.

Sustainable city development is everyone’s business.  It is not just the responsibility of mayors or municipal governments.

It is also our duty, everyone’s duty.

We should all contribute.

We could use more mass transit, reduce water, energy and other resource consumption; reduce waste; do more recycling and participate more actively in local community events.

Let us not forget, the future of sustainable development will be won or lost in cities: Better City, Better Life.

Let us work together to make sure that we take full advantage of the benefits of cities so that we can achieve the future we want for all.

Thank you.