Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to join you today for the UNECE Ministerial Meeting on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management. I have no doubt that this year’s Meeting will pave the way for meaningful progress towards sustainable and equitable urban environments.
The situation is indeed urgent. According to the 2021 Sustainable Development Report of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, cities have become home to around 55% of the world’s population and 70% of global economic output. At the same time, cities reveal existing inequalities, as poor and rich, spacious housing and slums, green parks and rough concrete surfaces can meet in the smallest of spaces. Our cities are also strong contributors to the environmental and climate emergency – while being at the same time endangered by it. Cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transport and building being among the largest contributors to pollution. On the other hand, changing climate trends hamper cities’ basic infrastructures and housing. The spread of COVID-19 further exposes the vulnerability of our densely populated urban environments: cities count alone 90% of the world COVID-19 cases and they all witnessed thousands of deaths, thousands of businesses closed and tens of thousands lost jobs.
The lack of urban sustainability is a problem just as concerning to Europe as it is to other regions of the world: Europe is a highly urbanized continent and around 73% of the population of the UNECE lives in urban areas. European cities were disproportionately hit by recent climate change-related disasters, including water flooding in Germany and Belgium in July 2021, tornadoes in Czechia in June 2021, and earthquakes in Croatia in December 2020. The social effects of the pandemic additionally widened the inequalities within and between UNECE Member States.
All these trends have inevitable implications for urban living - access to decent, affordable and sustainable housing has become a concern for everyone. In this unprecedented era of increasing urbanization, the way we plan, build and manage our urban spaces is critical to sustainable development.
The UN Secretary-General has just presented the report ‘Our Common Agenda’, which serves as an agenda for action for the international community. I wish to reiterate his appeal for a renewed social contract between Governments and their people and within societies. His words were ‘now is the time to deliver’. People have a right to decent housing and sustainable urban environments.
In practice, the path forward is clear: It is time to rebuild urban centers. Governments need to push for green public infrastructure, expand climate-resilient and affordable housing, support the creation of green spaces, and strengthen transparent land use.
The difficulties of decent housing are not unknown, but in order to solve them, we need renewed momentum. Governments do not stand alone in this fight; the whole multilateral order must be mobilized behind them. We need to engage the private sector with its financial resources and capacity for innovation, we need to empower civil society for people-centred solutions, and we need to strengthen local best practices.
Many UN organizations have already streamlined the topic of cities and sustainable housing in their work programs: UN-Habitat, for example, is at the forefront of building inclusive, safe and sustainable cities and communities. OHCHR fights for the implementation of decent and affordable housing as a basic human need.
As the operational center of the UN system, the city of Geneva also plays a key role in fostering innovative spirit for the future of sustainable housing and urban development. Last year, the Geneva Cities Hub was launched to strengthen ties between cities and city networks around the world. Next year, the second UNECE Forum of Mayors will again bring together mayors to promote the local implementation of the SDGs. The SDG Lab, located in my office, also provides a platform to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs through innovative ideas. I invite you to participate in their “Building Bridges Week” taking place in November which aims to provide important momentum for accelerating private and public funding for the SDGs.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sustainable housing and urban development are fundamental to forge a path out of poverty and climate threat. And urban centers, are in many ways at the center of human life: they are places where real people live, work, study, and flourish. They are made of people by people and for people. Throughout history, people have found ways to adapt their urban livelihoods to external challenges, both natural and manmade. We must use the same spirit of innovation to deliver on the SDGs and offer sustainable housing for all.