In his message marking World Cities Day, the UN chief highlighted the critical role urban areas have in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs outline global action and targets across 17 critical areas including poverty reduction, gender equality and clean energy.
“On World Cities Day, let us resolve to work with cities to build a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient world for all,” he said.
‘Backsliding’ on SDGs
The SDGs were agreed by countries in 2015, and Mr. Guterres noted that next year marks the mid-point on the path to the 2030 deadline.
However, an honest look so far reveals a bleak picture, he added.
“Across a range of critical goals – from poverty and hunger to gender equality and education – we are not seeing progress, but backsliding,” said the Secretary-General.
“The consequences are dramatic: escalating climate chaos, growing poverty, rising inequalities, and more.”
Change course now
The Secretary-General stressed that “we must change course – and we can”.
In line with the Day’s theme - ‘Act Local to Go Global’ – he said the SDGs are “global in scope, but implementation is local”, meaning that their implementation happens largely in cities.
Currently, more than half the global population lives in urban areas, rising to two-thirds by 2050.
Cities also generate over 80 per cent of global economic activity, and account for over 70 per cent of carbon emissions.
Leading the ‘green’ transition
The Secretary-General pointed out that many cities are already leading the transition to renewable energy, setting credible net-zero targets and building climate-resilient infrastructure.
"I encourage them to work with their governments and sister cities across the world to share experiences and help raise ambition,” he advised.
The UN chief underlined that the actions cities take locally towards sustainability will be felt across the world.
Furthermore, he added that “the transformative policies they pioneer today can catalyze change that will save lives and livelihoods everywhere tomorrow.”
Celebrations return to Shanghai
The global celebrations for World Cities Day are held in a different city each year. Shanghai served as host of the first celebrations back in 2014, and the festivities returned there this year.
Shanghai is China’s largest city, and the country’s President sent a congratulatory letter which was read by Party Secretary of the Shanghai Municipality, Chen Jining.
Other dignitaries who addressed the opening ceremony were the Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Ni Hong, and the Mayor of Shanghai Municipal Government, Gong Zheng.
‘Urban October’ ends
World Cities Day, held annually on 31 October, closes out a month of advocacy for sustainable urbanization, or “Urban October”.
Like the Secretary-General, the head of the UN agency that promotes a better urban future for all highlighted why countries must step up the pace.
"We have only about 87 months, 380 weeks or 2,600 days left to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The best way to do so is by ensuring our cities and communities are sustainable. The time to act is now,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat.
A government priority
UN-Habitat has been advocating for the localization of SDGs since the endorsement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agency’s work in this area is guided by what it calls by a partnership-based territorial approach, human rights, and multilevel governance.
“The priority for any responsible government is to ensure that the quality of life for its citizens and to make cities more child friendly, accessible for the elderly, greener, and friendlier,” said UN Resident Coordinator in China, Siddharth Chatterjee.
The global celebrations for World Cities Day 2022 were held both in-person and online. They were livestreamed at the UN complex in Nairobi, Kenya, the home city of UN-Habitat.
Representatives from China, Eritrea and Kenya attended the Nairobi ceremony, while more than 350 people from around the world joined the hybrid event, with over a dozen UN Member States participating online from Nairobi.
This piece was originally published on UN News.