Helen Clark: Speech at the High-Level Roundtable “Leaving No One Behind: Urban Inclusion and Prosperity” UN Habitat III Conference

Oct 17, 2016

By 2030, sixty per cent of the global population will be in cities. We can achieve the SDGs if our cities become inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. Photo credit: UNDP

UNDP welcomes the topic of this roundtable: “Leaving No-one Behind: Urban Inclusion and Prosperity”. 

In the twenty years since Habitat II in Istanbul, urban populations have grown rapidly. More than half the world’s population now lives in cities, including in most parts of the developing world. Urban centres cover only a small proportion of the planet, but their physical, economic, political, and ecological footprints are much larger. 

The World Bank estimates that by 2035, most of the world’s extremely poor people will be found in urban areas. The characteristics of that poverty differ in some respects from those of rural areas.  For example, urban dwellers may have to pay for things which rural dwellers obtain for free – albeit often with considerable effort, like building materials, water, and food. This means that approaches to measuring poverty and eradicating it need to be revised, if the aspiration of the 2030 agenda to leave no one behind is to be achieved.

Both push and pull factors draw people to cities. Throughout a good deal of human history, cities have been seen as places of hope and opportunity.  Some believed their streets were paved with gold!  So often those hopes have been dashed as people find that the reality is living in an informal settlement with few services and poor livelihoods.  We have much to do to make all our cities inclusive, peaceful, and resilient places.  

Where it exists, high and extreme inequality in cities is a driver of violence and unrest.  In Latin America, for example, UNDP analysis has identified a close correlation between urbanization and rising crime. Municipal authorities have often not been able to meet the needs of marginalized groups.  We do see many cities in Latin America and elsewhere acting to improve the lives of the urban poor. But there is much more to be done to ensure that no one is left behind.

A high proportion of the people and of the economic activity affected by extreme weather events is also concentrated in urban centres.  The impacts of these disasters often fall disproportionately on the poor and marginalized there, where their dwellings are located on unstable land or on land prone to flooding and other effects of storms.  The savage impact of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti showed this recently. Leaving no one behind will mean making our cities much more resilient than many are today. 

As cities address major challenges like poverty and exclusion and the growing threat of climate change, it will help to share experiences and best practices, and shape a collective voice on the issues which matter most to cities.  UNDP and the wider UN system are well positioned to support this. 

We are guided by a policy paper produced for the UN Chief Executives Board on “Urbanization and Sustainable Development”, which calls for an integrated approach to interlinked urban challenges. The aim is to ensure coherence in our efforts and maximise our impact in support of sustainable development in cities by working better together.  

UNDP is committed to working with partners around the world to ensure that the cities of 2030 can be sustainable, inclusive, and resilient. 

Here in Ecuador, we have partnered with the Quito municipality and the private sector on an economic inclusion initiative.  Two hundred families and their micro and small businesses initially benefited, including from the provision of training and skills development. This experience has been able to be replicated with 800 additional families in the province of Manabí, as part of the recovery process after the earthquake in April this year.  Good practice like this can be replicated widely and scaled up.  

By 2030, sixty per cent of the global population will be in cities.  We can achieve the SDGs if our cities become inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.  UNDP commits itself to helping make that possible.

UNDP Around the world