Committed to Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All

In Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC

AMBASSADOR ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY: The 2018 Annual Session of Global Forum on Human Settlements
Source: | Author:gfhsforum | Published time: 2018-11-09 | 4010 Views | Share:
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Chairman of GFHS,
Former UN Under-Secre
tary-General and High Representative

As the Chairman of the Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS) – and this happens to be my tenth year in that capacity - I extend a very warm welcome to all the participants who have joined us from various part of the globe at the 2018 Annual Session of the  Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS XIII) at this elegant UN Conference Centre at the ESCAP headquarters in Bangkok.

We extend our thanks to UN-ESCAP, UN-Habitat, UNEP and other partner organizations for their kind collaboration and to all colleagues for their hard work to make this conference possible. I thank the GFHS Board members for their commitment to the mission of GFHS. My deep appreciation and special thanks go to our dynamic Secretary-General Lu Haifeng for his hard work and for diligently elevating the profile of GFHS particularly over the last decade during which I had the honour and privilege of being its Chairman. 

We live at a time of unprecedented, rapid, irreversible urbanization. Beginning in 2008, for the first time, half of humanity is now living in towns and cities … but this dramatic transition is far from over. In reality the beginning of a new urban era is being felt. It is projected that globally urbanization levels will rise dramatically in the next 35 years to reach 70 percent by 2050 when the world population is expected to hit 9 billion.

Urbanization, like globalization, is an irreversible process. Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of 5 million residents every month. As our meeting venue is hosted at the ESCAP headquarters of ESCAP, let me bring to your attention that Asia is urbanizing rapidly, with approximately 41 per cent of its inhabitants now living in cities. By 2050, Asia will host 63 per cent of the global urban population, or 3.3 billion people. In Asia, the urban transition will occur mainly owing to rapid urban growth rate in China, a country that is expected to be 70 per cent urban by 2050. 

We are encouraged as the world leaders adopted by consensus in September 2015 the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which included among its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a specific goal – Goal 11 - to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” 

Urbanization offers unprecedented opportunities for increasing living standards, life expectancy and literacy levels, environmental sustainability and more efficient use of increasingly scarce natural resources. For women, urbanization is associated with greater access to employment opportunities, lower fertility levels and increased independence. 

At the same time, urban poverty is a severe, pervasive – and largely unacknowledged – feature of modern life. More and more people will end up in the developing world’s growing slums. Securing jobs, shelter, water, electricity, education, health services for all are a truly daunting task. 

If cities are hubs of dynamism, change and opportunity, they are also places of exploitation, disease and unemployment. New tensions are emerging between migrants and established residents, adding to already sharp divisions along class, racial and ethnic lines.

Most significantly, a gendered perspective of urban poverty highlights fundamental issues of equality and social justice by showing women’s unequal position in the urban labor market and their greater exposure to violence. I believe that unless women and communities are involved in decision making and policy development at every level of governance, changes to women’s political and socio-economic status will be minimal, and, as a consequence, the expected improvement of human settlements will be greatly constrained. 

“New Urban Agenda” adopted at Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador in 2016, coming on the heels of the adoption of the SDGs seeks to create a mutually reinforcing relationship between urbanization and development. The idea is that these two global endeavours will become parallel vehicles for sustainable development. 

Beyond the specific technocratic solutions of economics and governance, several core ideas form, I believe, the ideological underpinnings of the New Urban Agenda. Democratic development and respect for human rights feature prominently, for instance, as does the relationship between the environment and urbanization.

Similarly, the New Urban Agenda includes significant focus on equity in the face of globalization, as well as how to ensure the safety and security of everyone who lives in urban areas, of any gender, age and background. 

In recent years, the human rights dimension of human settlements issue, particularly in the context of the Right to Development, has been highlighted. As we observe this year the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we note that the right to adequate housing joined the body of international, universally applicable and universally accepted human rights law. Since that time, this right has been reaffirmed in a wide range of additional human rights instruments, each of which is relevant to distinct groups within society. No less than 12 different texts adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations explicitly recognize the right to adequate housing. Access to drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities are additional basic needs directly associated with the right to housing. 

As has been experienced on many occasions, housing, land and property issues can fuel conflicts and be used as weapons in conflict. Of all the private land in the world, nearly three quarters is estimated to be controlled by just 2.5 per cent of all landowners. 

The state of sheer homelessness in the world today along with the immense crisis faced by millions living in inadequate and insecure housing and living conditions, call for a combination of a humanitarian and a human rights approach.

As globalization expands, more cities will find themselves managing problems and opportunities that used to be the exclusive domain of national governments. 

Let me conclude by underscoring that sustainable urban development is one of the most pressing challenges facing the human community in the 21st century. As more and more people make cities their home, cities will be the arenas in which some of the world’s biggest social, economic, environmental and political challenges will be faced and need to be addressed collectively. Cities have the potential to shape the future of humankind and to win the battle for sustainable development. Cities are at the forefront of the global battle against climate change. In the last two decades, cities and urban centres have become the dominant habitats for humankind and the engine-rooms of human development as a whole.  As such, the leadership role of mayors and city governments is of fundamental importance.

It is therefore significant that GFHS has, since its establishment, been focusing on these challenges at each of its annual conferences. This thirteenth forum in the series is again another timely, relevant and appropriate initiative that is aimed at making the international community alert and proactive to the issues of urbanization in a holistic manner.

For over a decade, GFHS has been working tirelessly to promote, implement and contribute to the realization of MDGs and Habitat Agenda, as well as the formulation and implementation of SDGs and the New Urban Agenda in recent years, through concrete actions including convening annual conference, organizing relevant capacity-building events, hosting sustainable cities and human settlements awards, developing International Green Model City (IGMC) Standards including rating system, promoting IGMC Initiative, running World Best Practices Magazine and other publications, among others. The agenda of GFHS also has been according special attention to “Women and Children in the Rapidly Urbanizing World”.

GFHS strongly advocates for enhanced lasting partnership which not only echoes with SDG 17, but also calls for breaking  the political, economic, social, gender and even geographic hierarchy and build up comprehensive, cooperative, pragmatic and equal partnership. This will facilitate implementation of SDGs and NUA.

Bearing in mind its mission (Building sustainable cities and human settlements for all) and the important role in promoting UN’s sustainable development policies, initiatives and efforts, GFHS has been proactively engaging and supporting stakeholders at the local and regional level in terms of sustainable urban and human settlements, and bring the global sustainability agenda to local levels and boost local actions.

GFHS actively mobilizes resources to facilitate and help the representatives from governments and civil society of small island countries, land- locked countries and least developed countries to participate in its annual sessions and interact with other participants from other countries as well as network with development partners. 

GFHS launched IGMC initiative for the purpose of developing green city pilots and projects and creating sustainable cities around the world. To future guide the IGMC initiative, GFHS drafts IGMC criteria version 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. IGMC Standards 3.0 is an assessment and planning guidance tool for sustainable urban development. It provides technical means and evaluation methods for the specific implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the New Urban Agenda at local and community levels. With cities facing systematic, technical and financial challenges of implementing the SDGs and NUA, IGMC standards offers a comprehensive implementable framework to help put SDGs and NUA into practice at city level. This will considerably support the realization of the global agendas. 

I wish all of you a purposeful World Cities Day and the 2018 Annual Session of GFHS all success in every way.