Managing urban growth is an issue for China and the world
Joan Clos says the challenge for China is to urbanise in a way that reaps the most benefits for its citizens but does the least harm to the planet
China's urban transformation over the past three decades has been impressive. The impact on the economic and social prosperity of its citizens has been remarkable; 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty and over 260 million people moved from agriculture to more productive activities.
This shift towards industrial manufacturing and services has increased employment and led to a higher quality of life. Indeed, high rates of growth in both China's GDP and urban population have been the trends that marked the process. Urbanisation and industrialisation have been the engines of growth, innovation and job creation in China.
Today, China continues to push forward the largest urbanisation process in history. The majority of the Chinese population will live in urban areas by 2050. China has an enormous opportunity to continue driving economic growth while improving social inclusion and protecting local, national and global ecosystems. The main issue for China now is to urbanise in such a way that it obtains the maximum benefits possible for its citizens and the planet.
The Chinese model covers new policies on land, mobility, improving the housing system and starting the building of "green" cities. Despite progress in environmental policies, the cost of pollution to the nation's health is rising as China's population is increasingly concentrated in cities. China is not alone. Cities contribute up to 70 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.
More than ever, the power of well-planned urbanisation for development is well recognised. The recent adoption of Agenda 2030, a universal document that consists of 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets to end poverty and improve the lives of the world's population by 2030, is a step forward in this sense. The new agenda recognises the vital role of urbanisation in achieving sustainable development. This role is reflected strongly in goal 11, to "make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable". If we want to achieve it, we hope for the support of China.
Urbanisation is at a crucial crossroads, for both China and the globe. Next October in Quito, the UN is organising the Habitat III conference on housing and sustainable urban development. This is an exceptional opportunity to decide on a new urban agenda promoting equity, welfare and shared prosperity. I encourage the Chinese government and local authorities to take an active part in the preparations for the conference. Investing in sustainable urbanisation in China is investing in the wealth of future generations.
Joan Clos is the executive director of UN-Habitat and secretary-general of Habitat III