Ambassador Inga Björk-Klevby
Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations
and Officer in Charge of UN-HABITAT
on the occasion of
the Harmonious City and Liveable Life Conference
in Hangzhou, China,
on Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to address you today on behalf of UN-HABITAT, the agency for the built environment. Because time is of the essence this morning, I will immediately bring into focus the ideas of the very apt theme chosen for this conference.
We at UN-HABITAT and in the wider UN system fully endorse the concept of the Harmonious city and liveable life proposed here in this ancient city of Hangzhou. The theme of the fourth session of the World Urban Forum co-organized by the Chinese Government and our agency, held in Nanjing in 2008, was precisely on Harmonious Urbanization. It is inspired by the ancient Chinese philosophy which espoused moderation and balance in all things. UN-HABITAT has adopted the concept of Harmonious Cities as a useful framework for its urban work.
Time is indeed of the essence because UN-HABITAT projections show that at the end of this century, if no corrective action is taken, there will be 1.5 billion people around the world living in slums and other sub-standard housing. This continent, Asia alone, will account for more than 800 million of these people. This number is larger than the whole population of Europe today. And let us bear in mind that, within two generations, over two-thirds of the global population will be living in towns and cities.
It is unacceptable that today there are still so many people living in conditions of absolute urban squalor. This is a threat to harmony.
Another threat is the matter of climate change., It is no coincidence that global climate change, which is one of the most pressing global problems of our planet, has become a leading international development issue at the same time as the world has become urbanized. The way we plan, manage, operate and consume energy in our cities will have a critical role in our quest to reverse climate change and its impacts.
Seventy-five percent of commercial energy is consumed in urban and peri-urban areas. In addition, 80 percent of all waste is generated from our cities and up to 60 percent of Greenhouse Gas Emissions which cause global climate change emanate from cities.
There have been recent warnings that sea levels are rising faster than forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people living in deltas, low-lying areas, coastal cities and small island states. But the threat of sea-level rise to cities is only one piece of the puzzle. More extreme weather patterns such as intense storms are another. As China itself has experienced in recent months, cyclones and storms have in recent decades intensified with terrible consequences.
Indeed, it is people living in urban poverty who suffer most from natural disasters, especially the women and the children they support. For them, the climate is already out of control and, perhaps equally important, beyond comprehension.
This is one of the main reasons we need better and smarter cities. Many of you in this audience have visited the very inspiring Shanghai Expo 2010. You will have a sense from the Urban Best Practices exhibition and other pavilions of where we should go and where we can go. At the Expo, we get a fascinating glimpse of where and how we can move into a better and smarter urban future where everybody feels they belong in the city, where all have decent homes, safe water, power, services, parks and neighbourhoods where women feel safe on the streets, day and night.
We have the solutions and the science to solve many of these problems, and I know that here in Hangzhou, we have a wonderful example. It is easy to see how liveable this city is if you take a stroll by the West Lake, or down any avenue. In 2001, ladies and gentlemen, the Hangzhou Municipal Government won the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award for radically improving the urban environment through large-scale investment in housing and infrastructure.
This is the most important human settlements honour conferred by the United Nations. The award is presented each year on World Habitat Day, the first Monday in October. I have just come here from the award ceremony which this year of course was held in Shanghai. I therefore wish to congratulate the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Shanghai 2010 Expo Executive Committee, and the Hangzhou Municipal Government for taking up the momentum of World Habitat Day 2010 and for arranging this important meeting.
And so my message to you today is this: Only if we adopt a more positive attitude to urbanization around the world – and this requires a major change in our thinking as is so evident here in China – will we be able to achieve the harmony that still eludes us.