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April 26, 2010

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Building a 'green new deal'

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. Today, around half of the world's population - or an estimated 3.3 billion people - live in metropolitan areas. In China alone, every year 20 million people move into cities. This global trend is projected to continue as people move from rural areas to cities in search of better jobs and living standards, or - in the parlance of human development - look to expand their choices in terms of income and access to better health, education services and infrastructure.

With rapid urban expansion also come major environmental challenges. The ecological footprint of cities has traditionally been characterized by inefficient and unsustainable resource use, along with concentrated pollution and excessive waste generation. Environmental degradation can be severe, as more and more people concentrate in a limited area and compete for scarce resources. Climate change threatens to further exacerbate the negative environmental outcomes.

Such trends pose a great danger to future generations. These challenges, however, can be tackled, provided that public and private concerns come together around urban development models based on achieving a better equilibrium between economic growth and social and environmental needs.

Addressing environmental degradation and improving the way natural resources are distributed and used is a beginning. Investment is needed in clean air and water, health, waste management and noise pollution.

We also need to ensure that local leaders have the knowledge and tools to make the right decisions, and bring climate change considerations and adaptation into the center of all development planning and strategies, including urban ones. Many of the most important decisions related to climate change are taken at the local and regional levels. It is estimated that the decisions of regional and local governments influence between 50 to 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Regional and local actors can expedite meaningful, integrated and innovative action.

In hosting Expo 2010, China can send very encouraging signals to the rest of the world. China has good examples of environmentally sound city management, and it has the opportunity to use lessons learned and thereby avoid the mistakes of the past two centuries of industrial development.

Expo 2010 can put the spotlight on how Shanghai - a city of over 20 million people, one of the major urban and economic centers of Asia, and a symbol of cultural vibrancy and dynamism in business - could become a compelling model for a green city and advocate for a new paradigm of low-carbon urban life and development.

Shanghai has forged an environmental strategy encompassing six sectors: water, air, noise, solid waste, radiation and ecology conservation. It has set energy efficiency targets for sounder growth patterns. It has launched the "Environmentally Friendly City" initiative, supported by UNDP China. This is a comprehensive framework for monitoring and tracking environmental performance, incorporating environmental concerns into the city's decision-making processes, promoting public awareness and establishing a platform of exchange between other cities, as well as engaging the private sector.

World Expo 2010 is a great opportunity to demonstrate low-carbon urban development practices, and show that economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing can be compatible with sustainable urban development. The potential gains are tremendous, as are the numbers of city dwellers who stand to benefit from them.

UNDP, together with development partners around the world, aims to promote a "Green New Deal" for sustainable development. Together we can promote the know-how and the best practices from many countries. We can help to build knowledge and transform it into new ideas for better urban living. UNDP will also be looking to take the initiatives showcased and ideas born in Shanghai to other places where they could help.

Let us therefore join hands to promote World Expo 2010 as a turning point toward a greener and more sustainable urban future. I wish the city of Shanghai a most successful World Expo 2010.


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