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Urbanization and Climate Change: The Key to Sustainable Development

By Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat


Never before in the history of mankind have we witnessed such a rapid growth in global urbanization. At the beginning of the Twentieth century, barely 20 per cent of the population lived in urban areas. Today, this number has surpassed 55 per cent, and by 2050, it is estimated to reach 70 per cent. Urbanization, growing in parallel to globalization, has surprised us with its magnitude and its economic, social and environmental effects, especially in China.  The dual process of industrialization and urbanization in China has driven unprecedented growth, innovation and job creation, lifting out poverty more than 500 million people in the last few decades. Indeed, China’s urbanization is an empirical demonstration of the linkages between urbanization and development, as enshrined in Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda.

Equally important is the relationship between urbanization and climate change. We cannot achieve sustainable development without addressing climate change. Urban dwellers tend to consume ten times more energy than their rural counterparts. Our cities already account for more than 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. UN-Habitat commends the commitment of China in addressing climate change and sustainable urban development, reaffirmed by President Xi at the Nineteenth Congress of the Communist Party.

Urban initiatives, related to electric mobility in many Chinese cities beginning to use renewable energy sources, are important examples of the good direction which China is taking, to address contemporary issues linking urbanization and climate change. Electric buses, cars, and motorbikes, and bicycles not only reflect China’s leadership in this sector, but soon, this commitment will translate into an improve urban environment. China’s advancement in the development of solar, wind and other renewable energies to sustain the energy requirements of cities also positions it as technology leader in these innovative sectors.

Celebrating the global observance of World Cities Day 2017 in Guangzhou, China, is a good occasion to acknowledge these big advances, at the same time recognizing the importance of the remaining challenges. Happy World Cities Day.

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