China leads the world on development goals, says UN official
China is an important example of what can be done to advance the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and the international cooperation needed to collectively address challenges such as urbanization and climate change, according to the head of the UN in China.
Siddharth Chatterjee, United Nations resident coordinator, underscored the important role "smart cities" and sustainable urbanization can play in bringing about progress toward achieving the SDGs.
He said that urbanization has become a defining characteristic of our times, while addressing the China-ASEAN Mayors' Forum on Nov 20 in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
At present, just over 56 percent of the world's population lives in cities, but this is expected to increase to 68 percent by 2050. Rapid urbanization can present significant challenges, including increased resource demand, environmental degradation, and meeting social responsibilities.
"Sound urban planning is a prerequisite for sustainable urbanization and smart cities can leverage digital technologies to improve resource use and reduce emissions," Chatterjee said.
He believes a smart city must not only possess information and communications technology, but also use this technology in ways that positively impact local communities.
"China has remarkable experience in developing and piloting smart-city initiatives," he said.
"Whether it is the City Brain System in Hangzhou (Zhejiang province), the rapid growth of Shenzhen (Guangdong province) with high levels of ICT integrated into government systems, or the development of an eco-city in Tianjin, there is immense opportunity for China to share and promote these practices in other countries, providing valuable guidance and lessons learned in the development of smart cities," he said.
"To accelerate a transition to sustainable urbanization and smart cities, we must leverage the potential of South-South cooperation", he added.
The UN hopes that China's lessons can be shared with the rest of the world, Chatterjee said.
"Our intention is to make sure that we are not only supporting China's development, but also sharing the important lessons that China has learned with the rest of the developing world. I see this as a great, convergence point of learning, of cooperation, of partnership, of making sure that we are able to advance the entire integration of human society," he said.
China is a very strong believer in the multilateral system and a strong believer in the United Nations, he added.
Reaching the sustainable urbanization goal and the development of smart cities requires an all-of-society approach, including investment from and partnerships with the private sector.
"When I was in Guilin, I saw a company like Esquel that turned a former brick factory into a garden-like textile factory. That is why we need more public-private partnership, more integration," Chatterjee said.
China is also playing a leading role in advancing SDGs in other areas.
He said China has 9 percent of the world's arable land, with which it feeds one-fifth of the world's population, while Africa has 60 percent of global uncultivated arable land but still has to import a large amount of food.
"We're already cooperating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the China International Development Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture to see how we share best practices in terms of food security," he said.
On climate change and environmental protection, Chatterjee said the Kubuqi Desert in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region is a textbook example of the success of combating desertification.
The Kubuqi Desert is the seventh largest desert in China, and its sandstorms sometimes reach as far as Beijing. However over the last 30 years the desert has been converted into an agricultural oasis with crops and livestock. It also generates an enormous amount of renewable energy through solar and wind power projects
Chatterjee believes the transformation at Kubuqi is a model that can be implemented elsewhere.
The UN representative said he sees and experiences evidence of the improvements in air quality when he runs in Beijing.
"I'm a runner. So every Saturday I go running and the air quality is excellent at most times," he said.
Chatterjee said it is important to share the lessons from China's experiences as there are approximately 20 million people around the world dying from air pollution.
"As a resident coordinator in China, I feel quite confident that by 2030 China will hit all the SDG targets," he said.