Thank you. As the head of the United States Delegation and on behalf of President Barack Obama, I am honored to participate in today's opening ceremonies.
But first, let me thank Your Excellency President Lula, the Brazilian government, and the Minister of Cities Márcio Fortes for hosting us in Brazil. Let me also thank Governor Sérgio Cabral Filho, and Mayor Eduardo Paes for welcoming us to Rio.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, distinguished Ministers and Heads of Delegation in attendance - it's an honor to gather together with you today.
Many thanks also to UN-HABITAT and Dr. Anna Tibaijuka whose leadership helped make such a success of World Habitat Day 2009, hosted by the U.S. for the first time.
Whether it's her work to help the African Union establish the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development or her leadership on issues like water sanitation and urban poverty - Dr. Tibaijuka is a true pioneer.
So, thank you, Dr. Tibaijuka - and your staff at UN-HABITAT for working tirelessly with the Brazilian people to make this Forum a reality.
And lastly, thank you to the U.S. Delegation - the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture and the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Ambassador Shannon, as well as all the elected officials and representatives from the non-profit community, academia, business, foundations, and research centers. More than 500 people are attending from the U.S., a symbol of President Obama's reengagement with the world.
You remind us that change comes from partnership - and from the ground up.
To be sure, we gather today at a critical moment - when, for the first time in the history of our civilization, more than half of the world's population lives in cities.
In the U.S., this trend has been underway for more than two centuries - as people have moved closer to cities and their suburbs in search of the opportunities-from housing, to transportation, to jobs-that metropolitan living offers.
Today, America's metropolitan areas generate 90 cents of every dollar our economy produces and house more than 80 percent of our people.
The pace of this transformation will only increase over the next several decades, as America's population grows by another 50 percent.
As fast as that seems, it doesn't compare to the enormous demographic shift we're seeing across the globe right now.
By 2050, it is predicted that almost two-thirds of the world's population will call urban and metropolitan areas home. What the U.S. experienced over a period of centuries is occurring around the world in a matter of years.
As a result, millions of people are increasingly vulnerable to the deprivations associated with overburdened infrastructure, inadequate housing, and outmoded health systems.
At the same time, we find ourselves in the midst of a global recession, where home, once the foundation of economic security in the U.S. and many other nations, has been eroded for families around the globe.
And so, we have a choice. We can either accept that within three decades one in three people will live in near total despair.
Or we can embrace a greener, more sustainable future for our metropolitan areas, ensuring families have access to unprecedented opportunities for economic and social progress.
That's why President Obama has fought for more than a year to establish health care for all our citizens. And I am proud to say that in a historic vote late last night, the U.S. Congress approved landmark health care legislation that President Obama will sign into law tomorrow.
That's why I'm honored to lead the U.S. delegation to the World Urban Forum this week - to discuss how we can work together to lift the standard of living for billions of people, promote democracy and human rights, and enhance global health, food security and energy efficiency.
I believe this forum offers three key opportunities for partnership with our nation- to build our communities more sustainably, to restore security to our housing markets, and to embed innovative and sustainable approaches into the way we plan for disaster.
To be sure, the United States is already pursuing a robust domestic sustainable development agenda that bolsters America's metro areas.
Under President Obama's leadership, we're attacking the ravages of concentrated poverty created by economic and racial segregation and we are tying the quality and location of housing to broader opportunities like access to good jobs, quality schools, and safe streets.
Across America's Federal government, we're working together to create green jobs and products, build affordable, energy efficient homes and promote more sustainable development patterns - all so we can meet the needs of the present without compromising the futures of our children and grandchildren.
As part of our economic recovery, President Obama's Recovery Act is making critical investments in affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure to build back our cities stronger and smarter.
With a new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at HUD, we're nurturing sustainable development at the metropolitan level - so that communities that share problems can start sharing solutions.
And with an interagency Sustainability Partnership, we're ensuring that when it comes to housing, transportation and land use, America's Federal government speaks with one voice.
With the President's leadership, we are also committed to reforming our financial services system and regulatory framework to ensure that homeownership remains an asset and ticket to the middle class - so that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again.
To accelerate the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina and to better respond to future disasters, the Obama Administration has assembled a Long-Term Disaster Recovery Working Group - the most far-reaching government-wide effort in my country's history to rebuild smartly and to start implementing sustainable practices before disaster strikes.
As important as this is on the home front, you only need look to the so-called "megacities" of Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America-or more recently to the devastation in Haiti or Chile-to understand that we all have a stake in ensuring that every country can participate in this new era of sustainable economic growth.
The truth is, when we open new markets for green technology, reverse the effects of global warming, and work to ensure that billions of families live not in despair, but in communities of choice, opportunity, and hope - we all benefit.
If we fail to rise to this moment, the impact is clear for our economy and security alike.
President Obama and I believe we can and will - but we can't do it alone. That's why my country is not only leading by example, but also engaging our international partners and supporting their efforts.
As the head of the U.S. Delegation to the World Urban Forum, I know each and every member of our Delegation relishes this chance to listen, learn, and share our own lessons from the "laboratories for change" that are our metropolitan areas.
Together, we can seize the historic opportunity before us to shape the forces of urbanization, creating a healthier, more inclusive future for our cities and metropolitan regions, and charting a more sustainable global future for generations to come.
That is the goal of this year's World Urban Forum, and together, we will rise to meet it.