Second International Conference on National Urban Policy


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Paris, 15 May 2017 

(As prepared for delivery) 



Ministers, Mayors, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m delighted to welcome you to the second International Conference on National Urban Policy. This is a timely conference, with urbanisation at the forefront of the international agenda. It is also an opportunity to take stock, less than a year after Habitat III in Quito, to ensure that we have the tools in place to implement the New Urban Agenda.

Urbanisation brings opportunities and benefits

We all know that well-planned urbanisation can bring great benefits. Cities concentrate economic activity, job creation and innovation. In the OECD, metropolitan areas have generated more than 60% of growth since 2000.
Many cities continue to grow at an unprecedented pace. By 2050 nearly 70% of the world population is projected to be living in urban areas, and by the end of this century that number will be more than 85%. In Africa, the urban population is expected to almost double between 2015 and 2035, reaching 893 million people, the equivalent of 49% of the total population.

Urbanisation on this scale brings economic opportunities, but also important social and environmental challenges. Cities can be hotspots for poverty, inequality, unemployment, infrastructural bottlenecks and high levels of pollution.

Urbanisation also brings important challenges

Across the OECD, inequalities within cities are higher than the respective national average. In London and Baltimore, life expectancy can vary by 20 years across neighbourhoods!

Cities are also major contributor to environmental challenges. Pollution is already taking a terrible toll on health. OECD estimates indicate that globally outdoor air pollution could cause 6 to 9 million premature deaths a year by 2060 and cost 1% of global GDP – around USD 2.6 trillion annually.

We have to act now and work together to harness the benefits of urbanisation, while ensuring it is sustainable and inclusive. This is not just an economic imperative, it’s also a humanitarian and environmental necessity. For this, we need effective national urban solutions.

National urban policy, a tool to address urbanisation challenges

That’s what this conference is all about: working together to achieve better, more ambitious, more coordinated national urban policies.

Cities are by nature complex and interconnected places, and national policy needs to reflect this. However, in many cases, national policies which affect urban development, from fiscal frameworks to transport investments, have been designed and delivered separately.

This has come with a cost. Sectoral policies may, and in fact often do, achieve results that are diametrically opposed to stated aims for cities! Take the example of climate change and pollution reduction. Fossil fuel subsidies negotiated at the national and international level clearly undermine local efforts to develop environmentally sustainable cities.

This is why we need more effective national urban policies. As we have seen in countries as different as Korea and Kazakhstan, national urban policies can provide a framework to enable governments and other stakeholders to “get cities right”, complementing local urban policies, and moving as one towards the same goals. They can align different sectoral policies and ensure all the policies that affect urban areas are coherent in support of cities.

The OECD is working hard and across many fronts to promote national urban policymaking.

The OECD’s contribution

Together with UN Habitat and Cities Alliance, the OECD launched last year in Quito the National Urban Policy Programme to support governments at all levels in three key ways:

  • First, by developing technical capacity at the national and sub-national level in designing and implementing urban policies;

  • Second, by improving data collection for cities and strengthening the evidence base on urban policy and planning;

  • Third, by providing a networking platform on national urban policies for governments and other stakeholders.

We also work directly with individual countries – including Korea, Poland, Chile, Mexico, China, and Kazakhstan – and, now Vietnam (together with UN Habitat and the Global Green Growth Institute) – to assess how sectoral policies at the national level affect cities. The OECD and UN-Habitat have jointly produced two reports on the state of national urban policies – National Urban Policy in OECD Countries and The Global State of National Urban Policy 2017 – which will be launched this afternoon.

Building on the insights of our African Economic Outlook 2016, which focussed on “sustainable cities and structural transformation”, we are also doubling our efforts to promote inclusive and sustainable urbanisation in Africa. We are looking closely at the potential of “secondary cities” for development, and at how to promote more mutually beneficial rural-urban linkages and policy dialogue between the public and private sectors on financing cities.

We are also active in Asia through our Urban Green Growth in Dynamic Asia project, studying sustainable cities in Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, and currently in Malaysia and the Philippines.

Last but not least, we are working directly with local leaders across the world through our Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth initiative. This effort has mobilised more than 50 mayors from cities around the world – from New York to Paris, from Seoul to Cape Town to Medellín – to raise their voices in the global debate on inequalities, and to share their solutions with a growing coalition of local leaders.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

National urban policies are a critical building block in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda agreed last year in Quito. They are also essential for delivering on the international commitments made in 2015: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement at COP21.

I urge you to use the next two days to build the necessary momentum for the development of national urban policies in countries worldwide, putting together your extensive expertise and experience to develop and deliver bold, ambitious and comprehensive national urban policy strategies. Be assured, that you can count on OECD support every step of the way. I wish you a rich and fruitful conference.

Thank you!


See also

OECD work on regional, rural and urban development


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