Opening Address by Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan at the Joint Opening Plenary of the World Cities Summit 2010 and the Singapore International Water Week 2010
Your Royal Highness, Prince Willem-Alexander, the Prince of Orange from The Netherlands
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning, and to all our foreign delegates, a warm welcome to Singapore. Thank you for joining us today at the Joint Opening Plenary of the World Cities Summit and the Singapore International Water Week 2010.
2. This is the second World Cities Summit and the third Singapore International Water Week that Singapore is hosting. We are delighted to welcome over 2,000 political leaders, business leaders, academic experts and professionals from across the world. This is a wonderful opportunity to share their experiences on the sustainable development of our cities.
The Case for Sustainable Development
3. The need for sustainable development has never been stronger. Today, the global population stands at a dramatic 6.8 billion and is projected to reach 9 billion in the next 40 years. Over the second half of the 20th century, while the world’s population has doubled, our food consumption has almost tripled, and our energy use has more than quadrupled. With our global population growing rapidly, the limitation of our natural resources in meeting the needs of the world’s population is increasingly evident.
4. The indiscriminate use of our natural resources over the past decades has translated into the widespread global climate issues many countries face today. It is now well accepted that our economies and population must grow in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Focus on Cities
5. But why the focus on cities? What roles can cities play in sustainable development?
6. The statistics are compelling and familiar. Cities are growing at an unprecedented rate. Every day, about 200,000 more people move into cities and towns. Every three days, a new city the size of Seattle or Amsterdam springs up. By the year 2050, 70 per cent of the global population will be residing in cities, as compared to the 50 per cent today. This means that city planners and developers need to rapidly scale up their urban infrastructure to provide for some 6.4 billion city dwellers, who will need good access to energy, water, mobility and affordable housing.
7. Cities, by virtue of their high human density and economic growth, are the hotspots of climate-changing practices such as high energy consumption, pollution and deforestation.
8. Yet, precisely because of their high human density and economic capabilities, cities own the very resources, the economic and human capital, as well as the technology, to counter the problems that they have caused. In the face of rapid urbanization, it is clear that cities hold the key towards preserving our future.
Building Sustainable and Vibrant Cities
9. A great city must be economically vibrant, foster a strong sense of place, and very importantly, sustain its existence over time. Sustainable development has often been associated with expensive green technology and trading off against greater economic growth. But development does not have to come at the expense of the quality of the living environment for our current and future generations. We must thoroughly examine our options and look deeper to uncover the solutions for economic growth and sustainable development to co-exist.
10. I am pleased that many of the successful champions behind sustainable cities are with us at this Summit. Over the next few days, they will share with us how their cities have successfully built a vibrant and sustainable living environment for their people.
11. Cities differ from one another in size and character. They are shaped by their own demographics, cultures and traditions, their history and geography. But there are some recurring themes in the sustainable development practices of successful cities. Examples of these themes are strong governance, citizen engagement, balancing development and the environment, and international collaborations. Let me take this opportunity to illustrate some of these ideas using examples from cities around the world.
Strong Governance and Citizen Engagement
12. Our laureate for the inaugural Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, the Bilbao City Hall in Spain, showed us the importance of strong governance and citizen engagement in shaping a vibrant and sustainable city.
13. The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize recognizes and showcases individuals and organizations which have made outstanding contributions to the creation of vibrant, liveable and sustainable urban communities around the world through initiatives that display foresight, good governance and innovation.
14. In the case of Bilbao City Hall, using an integrated and holistic approach in urban transformation, backed by visionary leadership, commitment to long-term planning, strong processes and supporting infrastructure, Bilbao City was transformed from an obsolete industrial port to a bustling centre of knowledge and culture within a short span of 25 years.
15. One critical ingredient that differentiates Bilbao’s achievements from other cities is their active citizenry. The formulation of the Bilbao Ria 2000 in close consultation with key public and private stakeholders, instilled in the citizens a sense of ownership and responsibility in the sculpting of the city, catalysing the vast improvements in Bilbao. The active citizen engagement in the success of Bilbao is something which other cities can emulate.
Balancing Development and Environment
16. The next key factor in building sustainable cities is balancing development and the environment. Countries which invest in far-sighted policies that promote energy-efficient transport, reduce urban sprawl and encourage the use of environmentally-friendly sources of energy can reduce their ecological footprint and carbon emission significantly. This could ultimately mitigate, and even reverse the effect of, global climate change.
17. The experiences of next 2 countries, China and Brazil, exemplify how a well-thought through development project, incorporating elements of environmental sustainability, could bring about widespread social, economic and environmental benefits.
18. The Yellow River Conservancy Commission of China is awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize this year for its outstanding achievements in implementing an integrated water basin management system that is unrivalled in scale. In just 10 years, the remarkable transformation of China’s second longest river by the Conservancy Commission through innovative and sustainable water policies and solutions has secured water supply for over one hundred million people, restored extensive areas of wetlands and biodiversity, and protected some 90 million people living in the flood-prone areas of the Yellow River from devastating floods.
19. Curitiba, Brazil, is known to city planners world-wide as a showpiece of urban planning and innovation. Their comprehensive and integrated public transit system and pedestrianised downtown walkways have significantly reduced Curitibans’ dependence on motor vehicles. The driving force behind Curitiba’s fame, Mr. Jamie Lerner, is with us this morning. His vision of “A city for people, not for cars” has not only transformed Curitiba, but also inspired and influenced the transportation policies of many other cities.
20. Last but not least, international collaboration plays a key role in elevating the standards of sustainable development practices, whether within a city, within the region, or even globally. The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Project illustrates how a vision shared by two governments, to build a thriving, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient city based on the concept of harmonious urbanization, by pooling together resources and expertise, has spurred innovations in both technology and methods of governance for sustainable development.
21. To conclude, basic principles like strong governance, prioritizing and proper allocation of resources, stakeholder engagement, innovation and international collaboration are key towards building sustainable cities. Nonetheless, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Cities need to continually innovate and draw up their own set of measures to suit their context, such as their vision, their culture and their resources.
22. We need a global platform for constant dialogue among cities and partners on sustainable development as well as water solutions, just like the way our international community meets at Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. The World Cities Summit and the Singapore International Water Week are organised with this in mind.
23. In this context, I would like to suggest the idea of a Learning Network for Cities, to promote a community of best practices for liveability and sustainability. While the World Cities Summit itself is held biennially, the World Cities Summit Learning Network for Cities will, during the intercessional years, bring together decision-makers, practitioners and experts to share their knowledge and practices on key aspects of sustainable development such as infrastructure-financing and the use of green technology. This network will be discussed at the World Cities Summit Mayors’ Forum tomorrow and further details will be shared during the Closing Plenary.
24. Over the next few days, through a series of plenaries, forums and expert panel sessions, distinguished speakers in the various fields of urban and sustainable development will be sharing some of their best practices in balancing economic development with environmental and social needs.
25. By bringing together people of vision from multiple disciplines, by presenting the best examples from around the world, and by facilitating the exchange of ideas, I believe that participants, through the World Cities Summit and the Singapore International Water Week, will collectively take away useful practices and be inspired to play an active role in creating liveable and sustainable cities for the future.
26. I wish you a fruitful week ahead at the World Cities Summit and the Singapore International Water Week.
Source: Economic Development Board