Inclusive cities critical to post-pandemic recovery: Guterres

The United Nations

Making cities more inclusive must be part of global efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message to the World Urban Forum, which opened in Katowice, Poland, on Sunday.

More than 16,000 people are expected to take part in the five-day meeting, the leading global conference on sustainable urbanization.

“Cities are central to virtually every challenge we face – and essential to building a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future. They have been at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the UN chief said in a video message.

“As we look to recover, promoting more inclusive, gender responsive urban infrastructure and services will be critical to give all people – especially young people, women and girls – access to a better future.”

Cities as climate leaders

Mr. Guterres also pointed to another important role for the world’s cities, saying they must be in the forefront of action to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

More and more cities across the world are committing to the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, or before.

The sooner these commitments are translated into concrete actions, the sooner countries will achieve green job growth, better health, and greater equality, he said.

“But cities cannot do it alone,” he stressed. “They need more coordinated support from all levels of government; stronger partnerships with the private sector and civil society; and greater fiscal and policy space to bring solutions to scale.”

Harness the power of urbanization

The Secretary-General underlined the UN’s support to help countries achieve the common goal of green, just and healthy cities.

“We have the blueprints for progress,” he said, referring to the New Urban Agenda, a 2016 framework that promotes sustainable urbanization; the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the 2030 Local Coalition, a partnership between the UN and government leaders to advance the SDGs.

“Let us harness the transformative potential of urbanization and build a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive future for all.”

‘Triple C crisis’

The World Urban Forum is convened biannually by UN-Habitat, officially the United Human Settlements Programme, which works for a better urban future.

Katowice was chosen for the first staging of the event in Eastern Europe, largely due to its successful transition from a centre of the coal and steel industries, to a city based on technology, culture and events.

This year’s Forum, known as WUF11, is taking place at a critical time, as cities tackle the challenges presented by the pandemic, the climate emergency and conflict.

With only eight years left to make cities safer, resilient and more inclusive, the goal of SDG 11, urban areas across the world are already under pressure.

The strain will only mount as the global urban population is set to jump from 56 per cent last year to nearly 70 per cent in 2050, representing a further 2.2 billion people, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.

“While the current reality is undoubtedly very difficult, we must maintain our focus and double our efforts on sustainable development,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the UN-Habitat Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

“We urgently need innovative solutions for urban areas to respond to this triple C crisis of COVID, climate and conflict, which are having a devastating impact on cities, leaving people and places behind,” she added.

Like the UN chief, Ms. Mohd Sharif also pointed to roadmaps already in place, including the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Children wait on a train in Ukraine for evacuation to Poland in early April 2022.
Children wait on a train in Ukraine for evacuation to Poland in early April 2022.

Special focus on Ukraine

Hundreds of government officials and representatives, including more than 50 ministers and deputy ministers, will attend the Forum, co-organized by the Government of Poland and the city of Katowice, which is located in the south of the country.

UN-Habitat said the programme has been significantly modified to reflect the conflict in neighboring Ukraine. More than three million Ukrainians have taken refuge in Poland since the conflict began four months ago.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General expressed gratitude for the country’s “extraordinary solidarity” with Ukrainian refugees.

The conference agenda includes a special session hosted by the Polish government focused on the post-crisis and post-disaster reconstruction of urban spaces and population return.

Grzegorz Puda, Minister of Development Funds and Regional Policy, said his country is proud to host the event.

“This is a region that has come a long way – from communist rule, which had little regard for human life, let alone its quality, to democratic governments working for the common good” he said.

The Forum is expected to conclude with the Katowice Declared Actions, which will outline commitments and plans to support sustainable urbanization.

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