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March 3, 2010

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The challenge of megacities

For the first time in human history society has created since the beginning of this century, many complex urban conglomerates.

Our world is dominated by an increasing number of megacities, where human society has to deal with the living environment of millions of people, supplying them with enormous amounts of energy, drinking water, food and all the material assets that improve our quality of life through multiple services, as well as recreational and working spaces.

Due to their size, coupled with their intense activity, cities no longer impact the environment on just a local level. The urban metabolism has slowly been integrated with that of the planet, to the extent that a simple action such as the use of microwave ovens to heat food has global repercussions as it is carried out billion of times a year throughout the world.

As reservoirs of energy and materials, megacities require the best available technologies to increase their efficiency and reduce their footprint on the planet, especially with regard to climate change. The World Expo Shanghai 2010 will be a unique event to envision better cities that are cleaner and more efficient.

I am confident that the Expo will present new urban concepts based on advanced technologies for the construction of green buildings and green urban communities, specifically designed to preserve the environment in harmony with nature. Sustainable construction is today a profitable enterprise for individuals and governments, but it also brings us closer to a desired and necessary future of sustainability.

China has the highest rate of urbanization of the planet. Millions of people are migrating from the countryside to the city in search for better living standards and quality of life.

Great opportunities

The size of new Chinese cities and their consumption of energy and materials are well above those of most cities in Asia, Africa or Latin America. The world watches with amazement, but also with a certain degree of concern, the growth of China's economy, its determination to advance with new urban models, and its enormous creativity in the development and application of the most recent advances in technology on a large scale.

We see extraordinary business opportunities in the growth of Chinese cities, and witness the creation of new and concentrated markets with high purchasing power. Furthermore, this growth has coincided with the opening up of the country to the world, establishing an active interchange of goods and services that have the positive effect of strengthening and accelerating the globalization process.

From the environmental perspective of the main challenge facing humanity which is climate change, the expectations for Shanghai World Expo are based on the world's hope of achieving massive and accelerated use of technologies with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Billions of people in the world wish to enjoy the urban comforts that many Western and Asian cities have reached by means of the indiscriminate use of natural resources for centuries. Without denying this legitimate desire, today we know that in order to eliminate poverty and achieve an equitable development of modern societies, the global phenomena of pollution and degradation of ecosystems have to be contained and reversed.

This is not an easy goal since we have to achieve it at the same time that we elevate people's quality of life. Therefore, it is urgent that we find new ways to organize and develop cities by using energy and material resources that we take from nature in a rational and sustainable manner. Is this really possible? I am convinced that it is; as a global civilization we have now created many of the tools required for predicting the consequences of our actions, and the challenge is now to use these tools to minimize the negative consequences of urban growth.

Expo Shanghai is undoubtedly a unique opportunity to promote better cities, create a better life and forge a better world.


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