Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, Fifth OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers, Closing Session, Marseille, France, 5 December 2013
(As prepared for delivery)
Distinguished Ministers and Mayors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am thrilled to be in Marseille to close the Fifth OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers. I would like to thank Mayor Gaudin and the City of Marseille as well as President Vauzelle and the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region for hosting us in such beautiful facilities. I would also like to thank the French government, and Minister Lebranchu in particular, for this unique opportunity to convene the Roundtable back-to-back with the OECD ministerial meeting on regional and urban policies.
Cities matter! That’s why we are here
The facts are simple: the bulk of people live in cities and an overwhelming percentage of economic activity originates in cities. So we must find ways to empower cities to set positive trends and lead the way toward stronger, more resilient and inclusive growth.
Times continue to be hard, and this Roundtable comes at a critical juncture in the recovery process. We continue to navigate a global crisis that has touched every city, from Athens to Zacatecas!
The legacy of this crisis has been heavy, especially when it comes to unemployment. Some cities are suffering record levels of unemployment. The statistics are quite shocking: in 2012, the number of unemployed in major metropolitan areas in the OECD was up more than 50% from 2007.
Cities are also grappling with other core challenges that were exacerbated by the crisis. For example, inclusiveness: by most measures, cities are becoming more unequal. And resilience: urban decay, traffic congestion, pollution, climate change, poverty and insecurity, threaten human health and well-being. The OECD projects that, absent new policies, the health impacts of urban air pollution will become the top cause of premature deaths worldwide by 2050.
While we cannot blame the crisis for all these problems, it has certainly made them more evident and it has reduced the resources we have to address them. It has also taught us that our policies must therefore be more innovative than ever. At the OECD we are looking in depth at how we can learn from the crisis and improve the way we respond (and prevent) these deficits. We call this exercise NAEC, or New Approaches to Economic Challenges. NAEC cannot be developed or fully effective without incorporating cities in our considerations and analysis.
The crisis has also highlighted the critical role of subnational governments in providing adequate responses to the economic and social consequences of the crisis. Faced with fiscal pressures, many cities have found creative solutions, in some cases taking on roles traditionally reserved for national governments.
National governments, for their part, are active in virtually every policy field that matters to cities. Too often, though, they have failed to view sectoral policies with a profound impact on urban development through an “urban lens”. I am glad to say that this is changing. More and more OECD countries are formulating cross-cutting strategies for cities and striving for better co-ordination across ministries and levels of government.
The OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers was created to help foster this type of relationship and provide a forum for this level of exchange. Collaboration also needs to extend to the broad range of stakeholders who are part of the collective decision making process. At the OECD, we do this by collaborating with non-governmental organisations, businesses, and philanthropic organisations to expand our reach and increase awareness. Today, we have representatives from the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation with us bringing expertise and energy to the sessions, particularly those on inclusive and resilient cities. Thank you.
So collectively, how do we get cities right?
First, by understanding how they work. Cities’ economic reach, environmental footprint and social interactions are not bound by administrative borders. The urban, peri-urban and rural areas that make up functioning metropolitan economies share potential – but they also share problems. We need to ensure that they share solutions, as well.
The second key to better cities is designing and implementing policies at the right scale. Cities and national governments are recognising that the metropolitan scale is increasingly relevant. In recent years, we have seen metro regions exploring better ways for cities to work together as partners for growth and well-being.
A third consideration is that leadership from national governments is often a condition for success here. National governments can design metropolitan frameworks and provide incentives for inter-municipal collaboration. They can also reduce impediments to co-operation and policy innovation that are sometimes embedded in national laws and regulations.
In this closing session, I would like to ask you to reflect on the discussions you have had over the last two days. We have a unique opportunity to communicate the key messages that have emerged from these discussions at the Ministerial meeting later today and tomorrow. We will bring these issues to the forefront of international discussions at the highest level. It is critical that we continue to work together to get cities right. The OECD will continue to help you to make this happen.