UNDP Resident Representative, Frode Mauring keynote speech at the Cityscape global conference 2016

Sep 6, 2016

Dubai (UAE) – speakers at the Cityscape global conference 2016.

Frode Mauring, UNDP Resident Representative a.i. to the United Arab Emirates -also covering the states of Oman and Qatar- Speech at the Cityscape global conference.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Since we are in the city of Dubai, let us reflect on the advantage of being in a city that has seen visionary leadership that has transformed a small town to a world city in little more than a generation.  I am here representing the global governance of United Nations.  But you can rest assured that I will avoid bombarding you with too much jargon of multilateral organisations.  But there are a few points that I hope you will recall after my address:

1.     That cities and urbanisation are part of megatrends that grows in importance

2.     While cities have been a driving force in bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class, there are questions to the sustainability

3.     That there is a lot that can be done, that you can do, to make cities sustainable.

4.      That the resilience of a city is increasingly at risk due to climate change.

5.     Consider the UN a partner in identifying solutions and network global expertise.


To shape the future of the world we live in, we need to know where we come from.  We need to identify the megatrends. When we talk about cities and sustainability, this is the big picture perspective:

1.     Population growth -  When I was born, the world’s population had not reached 3 billion people.  Before the end of this year we will pass 7.5 billion.  In fact, during my speech to you this morning the world’s population will increase with around 5,000 people, less if I speak faster.  Although the growth rate is gradually coming down, this has huge implications.

2.     Urbanization – People gravitate towards the cities.  At the start of my life, 1 in 3 lived in urban areas.  2008, was the first year more than half of the world’s population were living in towns and cities. By mid-21st-century two out of three will be urban.  And remember, this doubling of the urban population share in about a life time, comes out of an ever increasing overall population size.

There is no doubt we are well into the “Urban Millennium”. 
Take this region as a case in point.  The countries in the Arab region, had a growth in their urban populations by more than four times from 1970 to 2010.  It will more than double again from 2010 to 2050.  In the UAE, more than 85% of the population is residing in urban areas.  Again using my own life span as yardstick:  The city you are in had 40,000 inhabitants when I was born.  Look what it has become.

3.     Growth of the middle class.

Don’t get me wrong.  The move towards cities has brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, it has spurred diversity, creativity and innovation.

The cities have been engines of progress and positive change.  Much of the achievement on the Millennium Development Goals was helped by the move to the cities, and this in spite of cities and urbanisation was not at all an explicit part of the millennium development agenda.  

However, the move to the cities has caused other challenges.

The positive move out of poverty has obviously expanded the middle class.  And the new, emerging middle class wants the same things as the old middle class:  things like cars, better food, more beef, more living space, air-conditioning or heating, modern appliances, and consequently more energy use.   Not only does this aspiration entail more consumption, but also higher inequalities.  Many city governments are outstripped of their fiscal and technical capacity to build and expand urban infrastructure, deliver basic urban services, and ensure adequate shelter and services for all.   And the planet is on its knees in coping with this.

That is why it must now fall on us to look more closely into the consequences of these megatrends.  How can we continue reaping developmental gains for new millions without a too heavy burden on the environment, on our planet and on future generations?

You might have heard, how many scientists claim we are now living in the Anthropocene, the era in which human activity has been the dominant influence on the planet, on its climate and the environment; we are reshaping the land, oceans, air and wildlife.  Rapid urbanization is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health.

Cities scarcely occupy 2% of the total land on the planet.   However, this small percentage of land is responsible for more than 60% of global energy consumption, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of global waste.  

Urban centres are also responsible for disproportionately high CO2 emissions in developing countries, when compared to national averages.

Studies have repeatedly underlined the challenges the global “growth spurt” has presented. However, we believe that instead of working to halt growth, we must focus our efforts to making our cities more sustainable.

We should be looking at the challenges cities face in ways that allow them to continue to thrive and grow, while improving resource use and reducing pollution and poverty. I’m positive the future we want includes cities of opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.

Sustainable development is a term that is by no means new, its modern concept was introduced in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission, appointed by the UN to unite countries to tackle their interdependence and to pave the way for a sustainable path.  It is the Brundtland definition of sustainable development we still mostly use today: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  In other words, economic development that is inclusive, and environmentally sustainable.  However, we must not let “sustainable development’ drown in a sea of buzz words.  It is a concept that we must internalize and channel to our daily lives.  

In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio broke ground as it developed an initial global framework for addressing environmental degradation through sustainable development.  It pressed Governments to rethink economic development and to find ways to halt the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of the planet.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the Millennium Declaration was adopted by all UN member states at the time, and for the first time the world had time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions: income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion: all while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability.  They were the most successful global anti-poverty push in history.  Governments, international organizations, and civil society groups around the world worked in unison to cut in half the world’s extreme poverty rate, to send more girls to school, to prevent the spread of life threatening disease and to reduce developing countries’ debts, among other important achievements.   Cities were vital to the success of this agenda.

The millennium development agenda came to a close in 2015.  Last year, the 2030 development agenda was adopted by the world’s heads of states and governments, and the Sustainable Development Goals came to life.  17 SDGs as they are now called, were adopted. This agenda is the product of an inclusive, participatory process, including the voices of almost 10 million people.

This is a Plan of Action for People, Planet, Prosperity, Partnership and Peace (the 5 P’s).

These goals completely replace the previous Millennium Development Goals; building on experience and achievements, and shifting the approach from eradicating poverty to a broader scope and a more inclusive approach to promoting economic growth, social development and environmental protection.  

Over the next fifteen years, the world will devote its efforts to achieve the commitments made in this new global agenda, based on three key principles: Universality, meaning these goals and targets are relevant to all governments and actors; Integration, which ensures policies strike a balance between the social, economic and environmental dimensions; and finally the principle of “no one left behind”, advocating for countries to go beyond just averages and ensure that progress on the SDGs benefit all.

The Sustainable Development Goals take stock of the fact that development is most successful—and most sustainable—when it balances economic growth that benefits all people; social development that enables people to take part in their own governance; and environmental protection that ensures we have a decent world to live in.

And yes, this time around cities are included in the development agenda:  Goal number 11 aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

In order to achieve this goal by 2030, ten specific targets were adopted. They take on high-priority issues such as housing and access to basic services; sustainable transport systems, access to green public spaces, the protection and safeguard of the world’s cultural and natural heritage, cities resilience, environmental impact of cities as well as the adoption of integrated policies towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change.  As you explore Cityscape, you will undoubtedly come across issues of relevance for reaching these targets.

Going beyond SDG 11, cities also play a crucial role in achieving the other 16 SDGs as well.  As 60% will live in cities by 2030, they have to be the major driving engines of Sustainable Development overall.  We need to look at cities as hubs for social and human development.  And, as I mentioned earlier, cities are centres of wealth and engines of economic opportunities and growth.  Cities bring people together and are breeding grounds for new ideas, education and innovation.  With suitable policies and the necessary commitments and actions agreed upon at the national, regional and global levels, cities and towns can act as effective and efficient drivers of sustainable development.  They continue to be at the forefront of global challenges like climate change, sustainable consumption and production, disaster risk reduction, sustainable energy and green economy just to name a few.  

In simple words: Urbanization can be positive and negative.  I am sure you are here to find ways to emphasize the positive.  To shape a positive future, you have to contribute.  Urban design and planning has to have sustainability as driving principle.  It has to be done in such a way that it minimises transport distances, and ensures public transport possibilities.  It has to ensure energy efficiency in the planning and also in green building codes.  In the UAE, for example, 80% of energy is consumed by buildings, including climate control. New technologies can reduce that by 30-80%. As cities are main drivers of climate change, they are also affected by it.  So, they have to adapt to the consequences, whether this is hotter temperature, more rain, or less rain, and increasing ocean levels.  All of you have to ensure that the resilience of the cities is ensured.

Beyond the domains of the cities alone, the main factor in mitigating climate change is the issue of energy production.  Although this is not a theme for the conference directly, more of the energy has to come from non-carbon sources such as the sun that this region has plenty of.  Also in buildings, the rapid developments in photovoltaic solutions should be part of the design solutions.  We are counting on your innovativeness here.

With sights set on advancing on SDG 11 and on optimizing cities’ roles as drivers of economic growth and social development and formulating a new urban vision, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held later this year in Quito, Ecuador. The conference will encourage United Nations member-states to adopt a new global urban agenda and reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization, in an inclusive and participatory process.

Habitat III will be the first United Nations global summit after the adoption of the 2030 Development Agenda and after 172 countries adopted the Paris climate change declaration last December.  We are confident the nations can rally together once more to consolidate a new urban agenda that will take developments in technology and accrued knowledge to promote a new model of urban development that fosters equity, sustainability, welfare and shared prosperity.

The Arab region has already achieved a significant compromise with the adoption of the Cairo Declaration on Housing, and Sustainable Urban Development in the Arab region, which was the outcome of the first Arab Ministerial Forum for Housing and Urban Development.  The declaration calls upon the Arab countries to formulate national plans to contribute to achieving the goals of sustainable development. The Cairo Declaration also confirms the interest and commitment in the Arab region towards the New Urban Agenda as the outcome of Habitat III, putting human beings at the centre.

Dubai is indeed an appropriate venue to hold this essential discussion on the prospects for the urban future of the region, as it has been able to grow 20-fold since the UAE became an independent nation 44 years ago.  Visionary leadership has been the driver of this growth, the city of Dubai has also seen important partnerships between government and the private sector as well as academia; partnerships that have fostered creativity, innovation, and cutting-edge solutions.

As phrased in the 2012 Manifesto for Cities “the battle for a more sustainable future will be won or lost in cities”.

On behalf of the United Nations, please rest assured you can always count on our partnership and facilitation of knowledge-sharing to be able to make substantial progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.  We know these goals are highly ambitious, but the alternative is even more daunting: a world characterized by even more turmoil and instability than we have today.

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