– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
13 November 2020
I want to thank Dr. Muhammed Budra, the President of United Cities and Local Governments, for his introduction and also Mr. Uğur İbrahim Altay, Mayor of Konya and the Co-President of UCLG, for inviting me to this event.
The General Assembly is the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. It provides a unique forum for multilateral cooperation on the full spectrum of international issues covered by the United Nations Charter. The implementation of actions initiated by the General Assembly have benefitted the lives of millions of people throughout the world.
But it is through local governments and cities that we can translate our global vision into reality. And for that I thank you. It is through your efforts that we have begun to implement such General Assembly frameworks as the 2030 Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the New Urban Agenda.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the close ties that bind our urban and natural worlds.
At the first UN Biodiversity Summit that I convened at Head of State level in September, I reiterated a clear message from the world’s scientific community: the degradation of local and regional ecosystems, unsustainable agricultural practices, and the exploitation of natural resources, are putting critical pressure on global ecosystems.
COVID19, much like Zika, Ebola or HIV/AIDS, is amongst the sixty percent of infectious diseases considered zoonotic, originating from animal populations under severe environmental pressure.
Despite the virus arising in the natural world, urban areas have born much of the consequences of the pandemic’s spread, with ninety percent of reported COVID-19 cases. Local institutions are our societies’ first line of defense. They provide the most direct forms of governance. We must remember to keep essential and frontline workers, who have kept all our local systems running, foremost in our thoughts, gratitude and support.
While tackling the immediate consequences of the pandemic, local institutions must also address the environmental root causes and create the foundations to ‘build back better’.
Local and regional green recoveries, emphasizing biodiversity protections, in alignment with the 2030 Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, can mitigate future pandemic and environmental risks, and build a more sustainable, resilient world. They can help unlock an estimated US$ 10 trillion in business opportunities and create 395 million jobs by 2030.
Despite the virus arising in the natural world, urban areas have born much of the consequences of the pandemic’s spread, with ninety percent of reported COVID-19 cases. Local institutions are our societies’ first line of defense. They provide the most direct forms of governance.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable – women, children, the elderly, the disabled, those living in slums and informal settlements, the homeless and migrants. Swift action is necessary to respond to the most vulnerable. Our cities are only as resilient as their most vulnerable people.
The pandemic is accelerating urban trends such as digitalization, shifts to remote work, and virtual delivery of essential services. In this context, the digital divide, between developing and developed countries as well as between urban and rural settings, exacerbates exclusion and inequality. For the social value of sustainable cities to be fully realized, identifying and addressing the root causes of exclusion and inequity, is critical for cities and local governments.
The Special Session of the General Assembly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be held on the third and fourth of December. This is an historic opportunity for Member States, the United Nations, and many other stakeholders to engage in dialogue on the unprecedented effects of COVID19, including its multifaceted consequences for our cities and economies.
I am confident that we will all benefit from a diverse exchange of information and views which will enable us to take stock of efforts to date, identify policy and operational gaps and forge a path forward with bold, multilateral initiatives. We must seize this opportunity to devise united, coordinated and people-centered solutions that leave no city behind.
I encourage you to get involved through your UN Representatives and follow the discussions through digital fora, including UNTV where the event will be live streamed.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought problems and inequalities in city planning and management to the forefront. We must seize this opportunity to improve the conditions of millions through innovation and transformation. I believe cities and local governments can turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to “build back better”.
I thank you for the opportunity to address the Opening Session of the United Cities and Local Governments World Council and I wish you all the best in your efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thank you very much.