Opening Statement at the 7th Asia-Pacific Urban Forum

Honorable Mr. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji,
Honorable Ibu Hajah Zuraida Kamaruddin, Minister of Housing and Local Government, Government of Malaysia,
Honourable Mr. Chow Kon Yeow, Chief Minister of Penang,
Honorable Mr. Dato Ar. Yew Tung Seang, Honourable Mayor of Penang,
Honourable Ibu Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat,

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join you in the beautiful city of Penang for the seventh Asia-Pacific Urban Forum. I am delighted to be with you alongside partners from UN Habitat, Urbanice Malaysia and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government of Malaysia.

These are partnerships we value greatly at the United Nations. Not only to make this forum possible, but to give our analytical work the breadth and depth needed to shape practical policy solutions.

These solutions are vital to respond to the call made by world leaders at the UN General Assembly and Sustainable Development Goal Summit last month. A call enshrined in a political declaration to make the 2020-2030 years a decade of action for sustainable development. An ambition which can only be achieved if enough attention is given to the levers of transformation. The five key levers are securing sufficient financing for development; unlocking youth’s full potential; empowering women; leveraging technology; and building good governance and strong institutions.

Many of these levers, combined with the imperative for local action, will be at the heart of the issues on which this forum will focus. The role cities can play in quickening the place of sustainable development is critical. 2019 is the first year during which the majority of Asia Pacific’s population became urban. We are now home to 60 per cent of the world’s urban population. Another 1.3 billion people will live in Asian and Pacific cities by 2050.

Yet today many cities are blighted by the consequences of unmanaged exponential growth: inadequate infrastructure, poor solid waste management, traffic congestion and air pollution, insufficient basic services and rising inequality. Our challenge is to align inclusive growth with climate-sensitive, resilient and low-carbon urban development.

This means making the right decisions now. Decisions which the joint report on The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities; Transformative Pathways towards Sustainable Urban Development is designed to inform. Allow me to highlight three overarching priorities closely linked to the SDG levers of transformation.

The first is sustainable planning. To lay the foundations for sustainable future, cities need strong governance and institutions making evidence-based decisions to support green growth while absorbing population expansion. To assure urban growth enhances the quality of life for all, inclusive planning processes are key. Planning which engages all urban stakeholders to cater for their needs and mitigates future risks, and which applies low-carbon development standards and scaled up nature-based solutions.

Second, Smart Cities enabled by new technologies present tremendous potential for investment, green jobs, and people-centered solutions. To make the most of our region’s innovation, frameworks are needed to fully exploit our cities’ great innovative potential to make cities more efficient, while narrowing the digital divide. Investing in smart mobility solutions and promoting cybersecurity and safety in both digital and physical infrastructure development must be part of the approach.

Third, financing will be key. Many emerging cities cannot afford to build the infrastructure needed to meet current or future demand. We must facilitate the transition to localized housing finance solutions, including through public-private partnerships and community schemes. People-centered urban infrastructure could be supported by land-linked financing mechanisms. Charging for negative environmental externalities is key to combating air pollution.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Many cities are already benefiting from forward-looking urban solutions. Strong partnerships are now needed to bring solutions to all cities. Our ambition is for the 7th Asia Pacific Urban Forum to strengthen these partnerships and accelerate progress. Together, we can lay the foundations for safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities and take sustainable urban development a step further in Asia and the Pacific.

I wish you all a successful forum.