Opening Remarks on Science and Technology in Urban Development Conference
May 4, 2017
by Ms. Beate Trankmann, UN Resident Coordinator
Hon. Mr. Enkhbold, Speaker of the State Great Khural of Mongolia, Esteemed Mr. Sandui, Chairman of the Ulaanbaatar Citizens Representatives Khural; Distinguished Mr. Batbold, Mayor of Ulaanbaatar, dear guests:
Mongolia –once a nomadic nation – is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate. More people are now living in its cities than are herding on its steppes. Ulaanbaatar alone is home to half the country’s entire population.
In 2015, UN members – including Mongolia – adopted the Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet. Achieving them is only possible if cities address the challenges they face today. That is why the 17 SDGs include a specific goal for cities, No 11: to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Hundreds of thousands have moved to Ulaanbaatar in recent years, searching for jobs, opportunities and a better life. But this is not always what they find. Many face urban poverty, unemployment and inequality. About half the residents in Mongolia’s capital live in ger districts, without running water, sanitation, electricity or central heating. As a result, many burn coal, significantly contributing to UB’s winter air pollution.
Science and technology are essential in addressing the challenges that Mongolia’s urbanization presents, such as air pollution. Ulaanbaatar has taken positive steps in this regard, providing subsidies for clean energy generation, clean-burning stoves and cutting electricity tariffs to ger districts at night. Further action is needed to ensure they are connected to electricity in the first place. It is also key that in future, the energy creating it comes from renewable sources, such as solar, not only coal.
While cities around the world are often centers of poverty, inequality and pollution, they are also sources of growth and innovation – the economic engines of nations. Capitals like Ulaanbaatar hold enormous potential for creating the technological solutions for more efficient use of energy.
To inspire innovation in their development, Mongolia’s cities and soums must adopt sustainable urban planning aligned with the SDGs & the SDV; listen to and involve citizens; and partner with the private sector, particularly energy and technology companies.
Around the world, one of the key areas for UNDP’s collaboration with cities has been improving energy efficiency and renewing urban environments, where we have worked for over a decade.
In Bulgaria, UNDP between 1998 and 2005 implemented a succession of projects called “Beautiful Bulgaria”, “Green Bulgaria” and “Beautiful Cities”. With an initial UNDP investment of USD 500,000, the project generated 81 million dollars in funding from the EU, various European governments, as well as national and local governments in Bulgaria and private owners. The Beautiful Bulgaria project provided vocational training in construction skills to the long-term unemployed to refurbish buildings of historical importance that were suffering from decay as a result of Bulgaria’s transition. The project provided 53,000 short term and permanent jobs and refurbished 1,600 sites engaging 778 contractors. I mention this particular project because the model combining urban renewal with employment strategies may be of interest to UB. If linked with energy efficiency strategies, an approach like this could generate triple wins namely employment generation, CO2 emission reduction and cost savings.
In Mongolia, UNDP is working to raise energy efficiency, by developing energy efficient building codes and standards for the construction sector. Based on estimates derived from similar projects aimed at improving energy efficiency in public buildings in Mongolia and elsewhere, we expect the reduction potential for heat loss, energy consumption and related costs to be up to 50%. This saves scarce public resources that can be reinvested to benefit some of Mongolia’s poorest families.
We are also working with UB and other urban centers to develop low emission and clean energy solutions for heating, transport and waste management.
For example, every day, Ulaanbaatar produces 1,100 tons of solid waste, without formal recycling systems in place. And in recent years, tens of thousands have moved to Mongolia’s capital, looking for work. To solve both these problems, UNDP joined forces with the Innovation Fund, a U.N. initiative supporting cutting-edge solutions to complex development challenges. Together, with Tehnoj, an NGO based in Ulaanbaatar, we enabled the ‘Turning Garbage to Gold’ project, using trash to produce viable products, such as furniture, utensils and gers. This shows the power of new ideas to solve multiple problems – economic, social and environmental – at once.
Along with enabling more innovative waste management and energy saving, UNDP is engaging with Ulaanbaatar and other urban centers to ensure they are risk-informed. Working with NEMA, we assisted in developing the Ankhar smartphone app, using new technology to provide an Early Warning System (EWS) during emergencies.
Through our work in Mongolia and around the world, we have clearly seen that investing in new energy, strategic science and green technologies equals long-term savings. Buy cheap, buy twice, as the saying goes. In times of austerity, it is therefore essential that the Government continue spending in these areas.
In pioneering innovations for urban development – as well as financing them – the private sector is a vital partner. Globally, we estimate that 70 percent of the financial and technological resources needed to meet the SDGs must come from companies. National and local governments can encourage more green investments in cities, through preferential policies, tax breaks and other incentives.
UNDP stands ready to continue supporting the Government, companies, and communities in harnessing technology for sustainable cities, through policy and technical advice drawing on our global experiences. We look forward to further collaboration with all stakeholders in Mongolia’s urbanization, to achieve inclusive, sustainable development for everyone, in cities and beyond.