Speech at North East Asian cities Mayors’ Forum

Aug 4, 2016

Speech at North East Asian cities Mayors’ Forum

The role of cities in achieving SDGs and sustainable development

By Beate Trankmann, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative

Esteemed Mr. Sundui Batbold, Mayor of Ulaanbaatar City and Governor of UB City Municipality, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to this important forum. All around the world, cities are fast becoming the frontline of development.

In 2008, for the first time in human history, the world population living in cities exceeded that of people living in the country side. The Asia Pacific region is home to half the world’s urban population. Eleven of the largest 20 cities in the world are located in Asia.

Despite the prominence of megacities in the media, small and medium-sized cities are more significant in terms of the number of people that live there. Cities with populations of 1 million or less are home to about 60% of Asia’s population.

Asia is expected to hit the milestone of half its population living in urban centers in 2026. So Asia is still rapidly urbanizing, with an estimated 120,000 people moving to cities every single day! Rapidly growing cities however also bring unprecedented challenges already today. Urban poverty, environmental pollution, increasing energy demand, and waste disposal are only a few of the big issues any city administration has to tackle on a daily basis.

Problems of urban poverty and inequality are starkly illustrated by urban slums, where residents face risks of eviction; hazards of floods, urban squalor and criminality. Given the lack of access to standard public service systems, slum dwellers are often faced with disproportionally high cost for water, energy and transportation and subjected to poor sanitation creating inequities between urban populations. Today 520 million people live in urban slums in Asia, of which 190 million are in East Asia.

Cities are both the source and victims of environmental problems. Air pollution is the number 1 enemy of many Asian cities. It is estimated that every year, air pollution in Asia causes over 500 thousand premature deaths. The impact of cities on air pollution is not only local, but global – cities are major producers of greenhouse gas emissions, producing 60-80 percent of carbon emissions. Urban buildings, transportation, and the reduction of green spaces as carbon sinks to make way for urban developments - all contribute to making cities major emitters.

Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs and the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 adopted by the UN member states last year is not possible without cities addressing the development challenges they face today. The SDGs embody the global agenda for people and the planet to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and protect the environment. That is why the 17 SDGs include a specific goal on cities. Goal No 11 is about making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Cities are also key for achieving all other SDGs for a growing share of humanity.

While being epicenters of poverty, inequality and environmental pollution, cities are at the same time sources of growth and innovation to address these very same challenges. Cities create jobs. Cities hold an enormous potential for energy savings and for creating innovative technical solutions for efficient use of energy and resources. Cities around the world are testing and implementing innovations to improve efficiency of energy, water use and convert waste to products.

To become the centers of excellence for solutions for sustainable development, cities need to adopt dynamic, sustainable urban planning; listen to the voices of and involve citizens; work in tandem with national governments; and create alliances with the private sector.

Recognizing the critical importance of cities for promoting sustainable development, UNDP is developing its sustainable urbanization strategy to provide integrated solutions to cities that cut across local governance, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.

One of the key areas for collaboration with cities has been improvement in energy efficiency and urban environments, where UNDP has worked for over a decade.

Let me share some examples from our work in Asia and Central/ Eastern Europe with you.

In Uzbekistan and Viet Nam UNDP has worked to improve energy efficiency of public buildings such as schools and hospitals, given that energy savings in these buildings are good both for the environment and for the government budget. In Uzbekistan, where most public buildings were built during an era when energy efficiency wasn’t a primary concern and where a growing population puts pressure on schools and hospitals, UNDP implemented a 7-year project to revise building energy codes and standards and develop national policies to promote energy efficiency. The project also introduced energy efficiency standards into the curricula for architects and engineers and financed demonstration projects for new construction and renovation models. As a result, buildings spend 25 to 50 percent less on energy.

Other sectors – such as transportation and lighting - are also critical for energy savings. In the Philippines, where the transportation sector is the fastest growing CO2 emitter and stands for 37 percent of national energy consumption, UNDP is implementing a project to promote low-carbon transportation. The project helps develop fuel efficient vehicle guidelines for manufacturers and standards for vehicle exhaust tests and is also planning to introduce electric vehicles for mass transit in pilot cities.

Lighting consumes 25 percent of electricity in Vietnam. From 2005-2011, UNDP implemented a project on Energy Efficient Public Lighting. As part of the project, large cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and others piloted street lighting control measures through automated public control centers and other devices to regulate lighting depending on the hour of the day. The system is estimated to save Ho Chi Min City annually about $450 thousand dollars and reduce energy consumption of lighting by about 40 percent.

In Bulgaria, UNDP implemented a succession of three projects called “Beautiful Bulgaria”, “Green Bulgaria” and “Beautiful Cities” between 1998 and 2005.  With UNDP investing an initial 500,000 US dollars, 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. Ten years after the transition to a market economy, Bulgaria was facing high unemployment and urban decay due to lack of investments into the maintenance of public buildings. The Beautiful Bulgaria project provided vocational training in construction skills to the long-term unemployed to refurbish buildings of historical and social importance, restore public parks and squares. It also significantly strengthened coordination among more than 800 government institutions to design and implement public projects. More than 43,000 people got temporary jobs and over 10,000 people found permanent jobs; 1,600 sites were refurbished and 778 contractors have been contracted in 72 municipalities and 28 district centres.

In Mongolia, similarly to the Vietnam and Uzbekistan examples, UNDP has been engaged in increasing energy efficiency by developing energy efficient building codes as well as norms and standards for the construction sector. Just a few weeks ago, we launched the second phase of a project which aims to demonstrate savings from the use of energy efficient approaches and technologies in the construction sector with focus on UB city. Another project on Low Carbon cities is currently under preparation to help UB and other urban centers develop and implement concrete low emission solutions for heating, transportation and waste management.  

From the policy perspective, UNDP is partnering with Ulaanbaatar city to align the city’s development plan with Mongolia’s version of the SDGs – the recently adopted Mongolia Long-Term Sustainable Development Vision 2030 or so called SDV. This is expected to help improve consistency of city goals and policies with national goals and policies. It will also entail helping the city improve its quantitative and qualitative monitoring system to track progress against the goals and to build on lessons learned.

To conclude, let me come back to my initial premise that cities have a key role to play in the implementation of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN in Mongolia and UNDP stand ready to support the Government in implementing the SDGs and Mongolia’s SDV across all levels. As part of these efforts we are committed to working with the UB city and other partners to design concrete solutions for people-centered, environmentally friendly, clean urban development to meet not only SDG 11, but facilitate equitable and sustainable development for Mongolia and all its people everywhere.

Thank you.

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