Helen Clark: Opening Speech at the Urban Stage: The World is Coming to Town event launching the UNDP Sustainable Urbanization Strategy at Habitat-III Conference

Oct 17, 2016

Ensuring that the cities of today and tomorrow offer an inclusive and sustainable future for all. Photo credit: UNDP

Thank you to UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors Fernando Velasco and Michelle Yeoh for their introduction. On behalf of UNDP, welcome to the launch of the UNDP Sustainable Urbanization Strategy.

As we meet here in Quito today for the Habitat III conference, we are also celebrating the International Day for Poverty Eradication. 

Many of the world’s poor now live in cities where the most pressing development challenges are found. In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to ensure that the urban poor are not left behind.

The New Urban Agenda, which is due to be adopted here at Habitat III, aims to ensure that the cities of today and tomorrow offer an inclusive and sustainable future for all. The UNDP Sustainable Urbanisation Strategy lays out the support which UNDP as a global development organisation can provide to help achieve that.

Around our world, people are moving to cities in very large numbers.  Cities are seen as places of opportunity and hope, where hard work and determination can transform lives. 

UNDP has developed its sustainable urbanisation strategy to support cities to deliver on the hopes of their citizens and to implement the New Urban Agenda.  Many people in cities, particularly young people, lack work and say they currently feel excluded from opportunities. For women and girls, cities can be dangerous places where they cannot walk in safety and may risk exploitation in dangerous and demeaning jobs.  Natural disasters – including those exacerbated by climate change - and conflict and citizen insecurity can turn back the clock on hard won development gains.  

UNDP’s experiences of working in towns and cities around the world have shaped this first UNDP sustainable urbanisation strategy, and will guide our efforts beyond Quito.  Allow me to share three of our lessons learned:

1.    For cities to be succeed, they need to meet the needs of all their residents.  Truly dynamic cities make space for all, and serve the needs of all.  Inclusivity is one of the main principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which UN Member States pledged to leave no one behind.  The needs and aspirations of poor and marginalized people in the world’s cities must be addressed to fulfill that ambition. 

2.    Cities must be resilient to natural and man-made disasters and crises. Urban areas are now home to more than half the world’s people, and they also host most of the world’s critical infrastructure, key development assets, political institutions, and major socio-economic architecture. If disasters and crises rock cities, the spillover effects are great. In the first half of 2016 alone, natural disasters caused US$71 billion in damages worldwide, with most economic loss concentrated in cities. Political instability and conflict also have major costs. 

3.    Cities are at the forefront of the battle against climate change and environmental degradation.  They produce more than seventy per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and use eighty per cent of the world’s energy.  How cities grow and develop in the coming decades will play a significant part in determining whether the world can live within its planetary boundaries. 

Delivering the sustainable, inclusive, and resilient cities of the future requires that we work together in partnership, as UNDP is committed to doing.  Our partnerships are diverse: 

•    Here in Ecuador, we have been part of the efforts to help local communities recover and rebuild in Manabí province following the 16 April earthquake this year. 

•    In Soacha, Colombia, a town close to Bogota, UNDP and UNCHR have been working together on a programme called Building Sustainable Solutions. It supports the local municipality with land registration and title, promoting economic development with the support of the private sector, and with community and institutional strengthening.

•    In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, UNDP has worked with local community groups to improve access to municipal services.

•    In Bangladesh, UNDP has supported municipal leaders to improve the livelihoods of millions of urban dwellers through our large scale Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction programme.  

Initiatives like these, taken to scale through partnerships and strong urban leadership, will be critical to implementing the New Urban Agenda and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

With these few words, let me now invite you to listen to Golpe Urbano, whose percussion music reflects the vibrancy which flourishes in great cities like Quito, and whose performance graces this launch of UNDP’s Sustainable Urbanisation Strategy.

UNDP Around the world