Regional Development

3rd annual meeting of the OECD urban roundtable for mayors and ministers, “Cities and Green Growth”


Speech by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Paris, 25 May 2010, 

Excellencies, Ministers, Mayors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Congratulations! Once again, the Urban Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers  has proved its relevance. Your exchanges and discussions have been like wind turbines for the green growth agenda; your agreements and conclusions are like solar energy to move towards a cleaner global economy.

Your effort, your work, will be extremely useful for the OECD Green Growth Strategy to be released in 2011. But most of all I hope that a great part of these shared experiences and ideas will go back home with you and help you make a difference in greening our cities.

Key policy messages

This has been a most productive meeting. From your discussions and debates this morning, as well as from the reports by the excellent co-chairs of the two Policy Dialogues, we have identified a series of key policy messages. Let me highlight four which we consider crucial:

1. The first one is that “urban-based” green growth policy can provide powerful answers for today’s economic crisis. We have reached a strong consensus around the conclusion that URBAN, GREEN AND GROWTH can blend and complement each other to become an engine of intelligent recovery. City policies that respond to the negative effects of urban agglomeration can address both environmental and growth priorities. We have to move as a well coordinated group, in a “Blitzkrieg”, on this track.

2. Secondly, we all have recognized that cities and regions are already promoting green growth through an arsenal of innovative policy tools, which must be shared systematically. Our cities consume between 60 and 80% of the world’s total energy output, so it is not surprising that the most innovative solutions are designed in our metropolis.

The variety of these tools is amazing: tools to green public utilities and purchases; to assist local industries in improving eco-efficiency; to train local workers to meet the demand for green job skills; to support research and the development of green-tech clusters that can become drivers of urban green growth over the long term.

From the Los Angeles Green-LA Climate Action Plan to Venice’s Port Maghera Fusina hydrogen power station, from Mexico’s Hoy No Circula programme to Toronto’s deep lake water cooling system or the deployment of ICTs in Korean municipalities to enhance energy efficiency, our cities are “green growth laboratories”. We must share this know-how.

3. Thirdly, policy tools on their own will not do the trick. Moving towards a low-carbon, more sustainable society will require significant up-front investments. Our third key message is therefore related to the importance of developing new financial instruments to power investments in urban green growth.
We need, for example, more local cap-and-trade systems and Clean Development Mechanisms that actually respond to the multi-sectoral reality of urban green growth. We need to move away from financing isolated projects that are disconnected and towards larger urban sustainable growth priorities. We must support our banks that provide innovative financial instruments to finance green start-ups and projects.

4. A fourth important policy message that derives from our meeting is that if we want to make the most of green growth we need to bridge the gap between national and city strategies. National governments have a key role to play in enhancing cities’ capacity to act on green growth. 

Urban green growth policies need national price signals and standards, for example. Green growth only makes sense with a price of carbon emissions and a value of environmental quality. This price and this value need to be set at the national level to avoid creating harmful competition among regions. National support is also needed for large-scale urban infrastructure projects, as well as for technical assistance to help cities measure the economic and environmental impact of green growth initiatives.

We still have a lot of progress to make. In most of our countries, national plans do not yet account for the urban elements of green growth, or for the contribution of cities’ existing activities, or for the cities’ ability to change patterns of energy usage and consumption. We need better coordination among our different levels of government.

The way forward

Looking forward, the future of this planet depends on our capacity to make progress in these and other crucial fields that you have identified here today.

If our governments fail to act, if we waste this opportunity of learning from each other and we keep delaying the adoption of necessary policies, then GHG emissions will grow by about 52% by 2050, raising global temperatures by up to 2.4 degrees Celsius; by the end of the century these temperatures could rise by 4 to 6 degrees. There might be different estimates of the extent of the environmental, social and economic disaster that this would mean, but most serious thinkers agree that it will be tragic.

So we cannot exit the crisis to go back to business as usual. We need to put an end to the false dichotomy between economic growth and environmental sustainability.

We need to continue working hard to develop the necessary tools to measure the co-benefits between environmental and economic policies at the urban scale, particularly in the transportation, building and energy sectors.

We need to develop a common set of urban environmental and economic indicators which can facilitate the comparison of best practices and measure green jobs. Currently, each city uses its own methodology, making it impossible to mutually learn what works or not.

We need to make the analysis of green growth more systematic and pool our knowledge of the best tools to pursue it. The OECD has already started to include this analysis in the Metropolitan Policy reviews of Venice and Guangdong - China’s richest and most populated province. We plan to do the same in the forthcoming review of Johannesburg-Pretoria. We have dedicated attention to the implementation of national green growth policies in urban areas in our forthcoming National Urban Policy Reviews of Korea and Poland. And we will build on your conclusions while moving forward.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The earth as we know it is vanishing. A great part of that loss is already irreversible. Many of our cities are the most anti-natural creation that we can think of. Let’s bring them back to nature, let’s bring nature back to our cities. It is a colossal task that will demand millions of workers, hefty investments, quantum leaps in innovation, effective and far-looking policies, and a major cultural change towards more responsible living patterns. It is a great challenge, but it is not just about cities and nature; it is also what the global economy needs to take off again.

Today we have confirmed that many of the solutions are already there, promoting green growth in a far away city. That’s why you came here today. I thank you all for your commitment. And I invite you to keep in mind the ultimate challenge: how to share this knowledge, our knowledge, among us, but also with the cities of the developing world. Remember that it is there where 80% of the world’s urban dwellers will be living by 2030.  It’s not that far away, and if we don’t help them to foster green-growth now, then their problems, their mega-problems, will be our problems.

Thank you very much. I look forward to meeting you all again at the next OECD Urban Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers.


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