Rebeca Grynspan: Speech at the 2013 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum

Oct 17, 2013

Speech by
Rebeca Grynspan
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNDP Associate Administrator

at the
2013 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum

“Sustainable Urbanization and Poverty Reduction”

Beijing, China
17 October 2013

Your Excellency Mr. Wang Yang, Vice Premier of the State Council of China;
Your Excellency Mr. Fan Xiaojiang, Director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of China;
Your Excellency Ms. Gaudentia M. Kabaka, Minister of Labour and Employment, Tanzania;
Your Excellency Mr. Meck Phanlack, Vice Minister & Vice Chairman of National Committee for Rural Development and Poverty Eradication of Lao PDR.

It is a pleasure to take part in the opening of the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum today. The United Nations is proud to support this forum with the Government of China and wants to thank the Government of China for hosting it one more year and for showing such a strong commitment to poverty reduction. We all know that China’s contribution to the MDG target of halving extreme poverty by 2015 has been the single most important factor for this goal to have been reached ahead of time.
But we also know that in the world there is another 50% to go, with 1.2 billion extreme poor waiting an opportunity for them and their families, to live better lives.

We also know that extreme poverty is decreasing more rapidly than moderate poverty and that many have gone out of extreme poverty but are still poor and vulnerable. That is why this forum is so important and relevant, more so given the global discussion about the post 2015 development agenda with a strong call for the world leaders to agree on a forward looking and ambitious agenda that will be “poverty centered and planet sensitive”.

But many say that the faith of sustainable development will depend on our ability to have sustainable cities: thus the importance of the theme of today’s poverty forum.

Half of the world population today is living in cities. This was less than 5 per cent a century ago. And by 2050, estimates are that it will reach 70 per cent, representing 6.4 billion people. (6.5 billion people was the world population in 2006, today we are around 7 billion).
Even more impressive is that ninety five percent of this urban expansion will take place in developing countries, mostly in Asia and Africa.

This is a phenomenal change, full of challenges and opportunities at the same time.

There is no doubt that urbanization creates opportunities for more inclusive growth and for poverty reduction.  Cities have long been critical in driving economic and employment growth, through their function as centers of connectivity, creativity, and innovation. By 2025, 600 cities (23% of the cities with population greater than 150,000) may be generating 65 per cent of global growth. From these 600 cities, 73% (440) of them will be in emerging markets..

This growth will be driven in part by the rise of the middle-class, as up to 1 billion new middle class consumers  are expected to be added to cities by 2025. Much of this increase is expected to take place in Asia-Pacific, where towns and cities will have the chance to harness the positive effects of urbanization to boost economic output. The real question is if this growth can be made sustainable and inclusive at the same time. 
I come myself from a region, Latin America, that has experienced a high urbanization rate and that is now the highest urbanized region in the world. And, although the gains from this phenomenon are clear mainly in terms of economic development, access to services and middle class consolidation, we have learned from experience that increasing urbanization also presents considerable challenges and could also mean more urban poverty and social exclusion.
And can also carry more inequalities and poor public services that the recent and still vulnerable middle classes resent. 

Currently, around 13% of the urban population in the developing countries (about 290 million people) live below the dollar a day poverty line, accounting for about a quarter of the poor in the world. (20.6 % of the world still lives in extreme poverty - around 1.2 billion people).

If this trend persists by 2040, urban residents are projected to form a majority of those with less than a dollar a day, in many countries this is already the case.

Poverty in Asia-Pacific is also becoming increasingly an urban phenomenon. While absolute numbers of people in poverty are declining in the region, extreme poverty has been going down more slowly in urban areas than in rural areas in many countries. In South Asia for example the absolute number of urban poor has even increased. 

Unless this urban population growth is accompanied by corresponding increases in the delivery of physical and social infrastructure, environmental responsibility and proper planning, we could be walking towards a scenario of urbanization with poverty, social exclusion, dissatisfied middle classes and environmental degradation. Under this scenario, stresses in society, possible conflict and instability would grow as different urban communities are alienated from each other, with growing urban slums and informal settlements, and with urban–rural links broken.

But this can be avoided.  There is enough evidence from around the world to help cities meet the challenges of urbanization, with upfront investments and bold decisions captured in effective strategies for urban planning and integrated urban development led by local authorities with the proper capacities and tools to deliver according to the increased demand.

Comprehensive urban policies can create enough decent jobs, housing, good energy solutions, transport systems and quality services.  This will require not only inclusive and good governance but also the transformation of values and behaviors in the exploitation and management of resources.

The speed and scale of China’s urbanization is an important experience to look at. 

Prefecture-level cities and above contribute 56 percent of GDP and are expected to contribute 75 percent by 2030, China’s astounding economic success could never have been achieved without its urban dynamism.

But in addition to generating growth, China’s leaders have recognized the importance of ensuring that urbanization brings about prosperity and the well-being of the people. I think here of Premier Li Keqiang’s [LI KEYANG] emphasis on a more ‘people-centered’ urbanization, putting cities designed for people at the heart of policy making. Great cities are not simply the ones with great buildings and great roads, but they are first and foremost the ones that are great places where people want to live.  This brings to mind the concept of ‘Ecological Civilization’, working towards a higher quality and more sustainable economic development.

Following this line UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and the President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing just over one month ago,  launched China’s 2013 National Human Development Report entitled “Sustainable and Livable Cities: Towards Ecological Civilization”.
The Report analyzes China’s urbanization from a human development perspective. It looks at historic trends and makes projections for the future of China’s cities. Most importantly, it formulates recommendations for Chinese cities to be sustainable and livable, and for the well-being of all urban citizens. The Report expresses the view that as China looks at its future, a compromise between the speed and quality of urbanization appears to be the most desirable and viable option. It also stresses that without strong governance mechanisms and institutions for implementation, the policies needed to act on increasingly complex urban challenges will not be successful.
To get urbanization right, calls for cities to be socially equitable, economically dynamic, and environmentally friendly.

In closing let then emphasize 3 main messages:

1.    First: There are 3 groups that deserve special attention: the young, women and people with disabilities;
a.    Being the largest cohort in history, young people are particularly affected by urbanization processes. Competition for scarce jobs, skills deficit and low education, makes young people in developing countries particularly vulnerable. They are overrepresented among the urban poor, with limited access to credit and business networks.  
They suffer high unemployment rates (about 13 per cent globally), are almost three times as likely as adults to be unemployed in South Asia and East Asia and also suffer from high underemployment with irregular and low-wage jobs in the informal economy.   According to UN forecasts, 60 percent of urban population will be under 18 years old by 2030, making youth a special case for attention for poverty reduction and sustainability.
Public policy can help by increasing productivity in the informal economy, decreasing their levels of precariousness and by implementing basic social protection schemes to mitigate risks associated with poverty.
b.    Second, let me refer to the specific needs of women.  Cities can be really painful for women, special attention to citizen security and gender based violence as well as special measures to tackle time poverty as women struggle to reconcile family and care demands with work and income earning activities.
c.    And third the special needs for people with disabilities and an aging population will put additional stress on accessibility, technology and a more inclusive job market.

2.    Municipal authorities must also cope with both the causes and the consequences of climate change. Globally, cities occupy 2 percent of land but contribute more than 2/3 of greenhouse gases emissions globally. The growth of cities may increase this share in the future. This means that cities will need to be at the frontline of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, especially through finding more energy-efficient transportation and electricity consumption.

At the same time city populations are also threatened by the effects of climate change. For example, many cities have a high proportion of their urban populations living in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to storm surges while cities along major rivers are vulnerable to floods, as seen recently in Jakarta (2007), Brisbane (2010), and Bangkok (2011).

Here again the development of strong local governments characterized by transparency, accountability, and the participation of the citizenry, with greater responsibility with respect to decision-making. And a strong management of public resources becomes strategic.

3.    Urbanization and the fight against urban poverty is one area where very strong benefits can be derived from South-South cooperation and exchange of experiences among countries and cities. International partnerships between cities have been actively used to facilitate knowledge exchange and technology transfer in order to make great strides in development.
To take one example: the City of Bogota in Colombia introduced a massive Bus Rapid Transit System which has created 95 000 jobs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and reduced accidents by 90 percent. Now, in Viet Nam, Ho Chi Minh City has studied and adapted this successful scheme leading to the development of urban Bus Rapid Transit lines there. These will also bring jobs and more environmentally friendly practices to the city residents.
UNDP is actively promoting trilateral partnerships in South–South Cooperation, not only to use its knowledge to facilitate such exchanges, but also to allow them to be scaled up and broadened in scope.  UNDP plans to establish a knowledge exchange platform of priority topics that have potential for scalability. It will match supply and demand, link partners and find financing opportunities. Sustainable cities will be an important topic to include.
Yet UNDP cannot do this without countries of the South innovating and offering their experiences to each other – so let this speech be a humble but steady call for stakeholders to get involved, particularly in the field of urbanization.
China’s experience in urban planning is of high interest to many countries and cities around the world. This Forum provides an important platform for sharing knowledge and experience. It will also be followed by a specific regional policy exchange on urban strategy that UNDP will facilitate with high-level representatives from Asian countries, including Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Malaysia, Mongolia and the Philippines.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Poverty eradication will remain at the fore front of the development agenda both to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and to set goals for the post-2015 period. At a special event on MDGs convened by the President of the General Assembly in New York on 27 September, Heads of State and Government expressed a commitment to meet the MDGs and accelerate progress and to place a particular focus on those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. They also recognized the intrinsic inter-linkage between poverty eradication and promotion of sustainable development, and underlined the need for a coherent approach which integrates in a balanced manner the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental).

The 2013 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum with “Sustainable Urbanization and Poverty Reduction” as a theme, is particularly timely and relevant in that global context, as cities are the world’s engines for business and innovation, and, sustainable development cannot happen entirely if it does not happen in cities. I therefore trust the Forum will be a highly successful event and will contribute to set this agenda forward.

I thank you very much.


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