World Cities Day China Observance / News

UN-Habitat Executive Director shares feelings about Chinese city tours |  Updated:2023-11-07

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, or UN-Habitat, talked about her tours of Chinese cities.

Q: We know that in these days you have visited Shenzhen, Beijing, and now Shanghai. And during your visit, you have seen some projects like urban renewal, smart city and renovation of old communities. Do you have any experiences and feelings to share with us? What do you think of the urban development in China?

A: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Let me introduce myself. I'm Maimunah Mohd Sharif, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of UN-Habitat. I would like to say thank you to the government of China for having me in China, and also to theMinistry of Housing and Urban-RuralDevelopment for having us here. This is not the first time that I'm in China. I also came to China a few times when I was the former mayor of Penang in Malaysia. We started our trip, our mission, in

Shenzhen. The reason why I chose Shenzhen is that we would like to see the smart solutions and urbanization in Shenzhen because Shenzhen is a young city, 40 years of development from a fishing village to an urbanized city.

We had the opportunity to visit a few projects on smart city. We visited the construction bureau office on zero carbon. We visited BYD and also Huawei. I alsohad the opportunity to visit the historical cities, Nantouheritage areas. At the same time, we had the opportunity to also visit the local river. My first impression was that the city is well planned, well designed, and well managed, asDirector Shu mentioned that they put people at the center, so it is people-centered, and has integrated planning.

And I would say that the Shenzhen is very lucky, because it's a very young, only 40 years old. It also takes the opportunity, with all the innovation andtechnology that implemented in the city planning and also in the mobility at the same time. My first impression was that it is a very green city. Then from there we came to Beijing and now in Shanghai.

Q: This year marks the 10th anniversary of World Cities Day. So, over the past decade, what role do you think World Cities Day has played in sustainable urban development and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda? And also, I’m interested in your expectations for World Cities Day in the field of human settlements.

A: World Cities Day is the decision at the General Assembly started in 2014.Now, it is the 10th year. And, as you say, cities play a very crucial role in economic growth, and cities also have opportunities, and cities also face a lot of challenges. Why? I say that citiesare the center of talent, citiesare also economic growth. Cities are where the jobs are, and also concentrate a lot of energy, and also emit energy. Cities have the solutions and cities have the challenges. So the world it is. The purpose is to bring together the experiences and to bring together the better practices from other cities, whether in terms of city solutions, or the challenges to come together and discuss.

And when we get the new innovation or technology that can solve or can mitigate the problems in the cities, that's where we can replicate, add up and add up in other countries. And we don't have to follow the long process. We can shortcut because there are already city sports. Example like Shanghai or Shenzhen or other cities have already experienced and implemented the green solution. For example, the role of cities is crucial, because by 2050, 70% of the global population will be in cities. So the future is urban. SoWorld Cities Day is very, very important. And this year the theme is on finance, local finance. We have been talking about this since the JulyHigh-Level Political Forum in New York, the General Assembly in New York in September. The element of financing is the top, crucial parity brought up by the member states in order to accelerate the implementation of the New Urban Agenda to achieve the SDGs and also to tackle the climate emergency that always happens in cities where the most of the population, the most vulnerable population will live, especially the informal settlements.

Q: We know that with your great support, UN-Habitat and the Shanghai municipal government have established Shanghai Award this year. Could you please tell us what is the original intention of this award? And could you introduce the judging process for the award and what are your expectations and requirements for the award to play a greater role, especially in exchanging and sharing of experience among cities around the world?

A: In UN-Habitat, we have a few awards? One is the UN-Habitat Scroll of Honor. This one is more on projects. By me, either by individual, by the NGOs or by cities, and they can submit to us, and we will have a task panel to look into it. We also have the Dubai Award together; we also look into the best practices. This ShanghaiAward is inclusive, more integrated, because it talked about the global sustainable cities award, meaning that looking at the cities, not at one particular project.

This is the first time I would like to congratulate the government of China, especially the Minister Ni Hong for initiating this ShanghaiAward, and also the municipality of Shanghai. Because, tomorrow, this will be the inaugural part of this award. And I'm very happy to see that, globally many cities participate in this award, and there are five of them will be coming here tomorrow. And all these five cities have been assessed by a panel very thoroughly and they would like to be here and they are already here. What I wish is that each of these cities definitely will have the sustainable solution. And tomorrow is a platform for them, because we also have the mayors forum in the morning for them to share, not only the solutions, to share the journey for each city and also to share the challenges, because maybe the challenges in the city, and maybe you can have the solution from another city, because as a former mayor, I realized that the challenges are all the same in human settlement.

Solution helps solve a problem, maybe in terms of jobs, but the only difference is the skill.

So I think this is the opportunity for the mayors and for the governments to share and also to learn and relearn and think and rethink the way that we manage our cities.

Q: Young people are an important force driving urban construction and development. We know that UN-Habitat has been committed to the mutual development between young people and cities. In China, more than two hundred cities have moved toward to be friendlier to young people and have unveiled a strain of policies. What do you think? Are there further measures to be taken to mutual benefits and development between young people and cities?

A: I'm very happy and also the pleasantly surprised. Whenever from Shenzhen, for example, that I visited the factories of BYD and Huawei, and also here in the ShanghaiMunicipal Engineering Design Institute and also the Energy Exchange.

And I can see that there are many young, ingeniousplanners and young professionals being employed. I even ask how many young people and especially femalesare in the company? They said more than 30%. I'm a female and they say that is mostly that employees are less than 50, 35 to 50. I think this is very important for us to be inclusive, because young peopleare the leaders of today and tomorrow. We have the youth advisory group that gives us some ideas, working together with them at the local level or at the community level, because the mantra is that leaving no one behind and leaving no place behind.

And the young people have all the energy and the innovative and inquisitive mind. I think I'm very happy to see that in Shenzhen, in Beijing and in Shanghai, when we talk to the leaders, they put the young people at the forefront in whatever strategic foresight they would like to implement.

Q: Can you show us some examples of cities in the world that have good practices in terms of promoting the mutual developments between young people and cities?

A: There are many cities, for example, in, let’s say, in Africa itself. In Kenya, they are also putting emphasis on young people, even in my own country Malaysia. Malaysia has the minister of youth and sports, and the minister is very young. This is also the case in LatinAmerica. We had also work with them. I've been to Columbia, I've been to Mexico. There are also young people, especially not only at the government level, also at the private sector, and at community level, at the same time in in Europe, when I went to Germany, there are young scientists.

There are AI and the IoT, and then all these new technologies. In other places, there's not many.

I think this is very, very important to be inclusive and to include young people in the planning, in the designing, in the implementing, and also in the operation.

Q: Thank you. And we know that you value the cooperation with China very much and we know that some of the mutual cooperation results will be announced at this year's global observance of World Cities Day. What do you think of the cooperation between the Chinese government and UN-Habitat? What are your expectations and prospects for future cooperation between the two parties?

A: Just take World Cities Day for example, from the first World Cities Day, we’ve worked very closely with Shanghai and we came out with the Shanghai Manual. Almost every World Cities Day we have the Shanghai Manual to share the best practices of Shanghai and the cities in China.

This year we’ve added another manual, we call it ShanghaiIndex, an index of sustainability to look at the framework that is to me is very important to achieve the sustainable development goals.

And that is in terms of projects and in terms of cooperation in the capacity in human resources, we are very lucky to have young officials from the Chinese government to join us. This is also benefiting both UN-Habitat and also the government and the young officials, looking into working in the multilateral cooperation or multilateral way of doing things in the UN and also, we have the opportunity to tap talent from the young officer that is on the human resource. Of course, finally, in terms of the financial contribution, the government of China continues to support UN-Habitat and we have the office here.

In Beijing, we have the UN-Habitat office and also the information office, and both work very close with the government of China and implement the various projects not only in China, but also outside China.

Q: And the final question. What is your expectation of the major activities in Turkiye? And we know that, in Brazil, the city Salvador has won the ShanghaiAward and how do you evaluate the system, the sustainable development and the city’s achievement?

A: For example, for the Brazil, Salvador, we had an office in Rio. And we look at not only what you talk about sustainability which is not only physical. We are looking at the environment into natural resources, and also buildingenvironment and also the people.

So I think this is important that in Brazil, Salvador, they look into the nature, the natural environment, the building environment, and the people in implementing their program to achieve sustainability.

Q: And what is your expectation of the major activities in Turkiye?

A: Yes, in Turkey, as I mentioned to you, the theme of World CitiesDay will be on local financing on the 30th, we will have a roundtable discussion. We invited experts to talk about financing. How can we come up with the framework? How can we finance the urban agenda? How can we accelerate the implementation of the new urban agenda and also the SDGs, the SDG 11? We just had the report that only two indicators out of 11 to certain extent achieve the target. There is more.

So I hope that one of the reasons that it is being brought forward, also by the member states during the General Assembly is about local financing. How can we finance? How can we bridge the gap between the developing and developed countries and a small island development state? So I really hope that you can come up with the guideline and the framework. How can we help the local authorities, local governments, in implementing the SDGs from there? We would like to bring it to Dubai during the COP28. Because in Dubai COP28, whatever the outcomes of it, on Nov 30, there will be a meeting. And the 31st is the actual day. The outcome of that discussion will be discussed at two. Even during the COP, one is the local action summit Dec 2. The other one will be on the Dec 6,the High Level Ministerial Meeting, where we are bringing in the ministers, the ministers of environment, housing, finance, and local governments, and stakeholders.

Philanthropy is to sit down together to discuss sustainable urbanization and climate change in an integrated way. And from there, hopefully, we can bring the ministerial resolution to be discussed at the COP28, and hopefully, the outcome of the COP28 will be discussed in New York in September next year.

So these are the timeline that we are looking and we're really looking forward for tomorrow's event in Shanghai and continue at the Istanbul on the 30th. And on Nov 1 it will be discussed at the meeting of the advisory group. So there are a lot of things to expect. And I hope that it will be a very fruitful discussion. And let us come up with a clear methodology, clear framework for how to finance the urban agenda, especially at the local level.

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