Speech by State Secretary Stephan Steinlein at the event launching the 2015 Asia-Pacific Weeks

18.05.2015 - Speech

Senator Cornelia Yzer,
Mr Claussen,
Brigitte Zypries,
Honoured guests from the Asia-Pacific region,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me wish you all a very warm welcome to the Federal Foreign Office! I also pass on a warm welcome from Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier; he is in Brussels today and sends his best wishes.

The fact that the Asia-Pacific Weeks once again have smart cities as their main theme in 2015 demonstrates its continuing great significance and topicality.

The 21st century is often described as the century of the city, and rightly so. It is already the case that many more people around the world live in towns and cities than in rural areas. And the trend is ongoing. According to UN estimates, around three quarters of the global population will be living in urban areas in 2050. That’s seven billion people! The increase in urban populations between now and 2050 will take place mainly in developing countries and emerging economies – with the Asia-Pacific region right in the front row.

One of the key tasks facing international politics is to manage urbanisation processes in such a way that they actually benefit people and to curb the risks inherent in uncontrolled agglomeration. Given the complexity of the problems, this is a field of political action that will demand a lot from all of us!

The German Government intends to be proactive and visible in its support when it comes to the global urbanisation process. To that end, the Federal Cabinet adopted strategic guidelines last Wednesday on international cooperation in the interests of sustainable urbanisation, entitled “Partners in a World of Cities”.

The guidelines take account of the growing economic, social, environmental and political significance of cities. Cities are already the principal drivers of growth and development today. More than 80 percent of the world’s economic activity takes place in them. The global reduction in poverty over the last two decades is largely due to the emergence or growth of urban middle classes in developing and emerging economies.

However, opportunity and risk are two sides of the same coin. Large, fast-growing numbers of people need housing, food, water, energy and mobility in limited spaces, plus access to healthcare, education and culture.

Rapid urban population growth and widening gaps in economic and social well-being, concentrated into small areas, have considerable potential to destabilise society. The risk of tensions, political and social conflict and crime also rises.

What’s more, rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation in association with high population density and a lack of infrastructure makes cities more vulnerable to natural disasters. We saw this recently, for example, when flooding hit the rampantly growing and under-equipped cities of Bangladesh and Myanmar. The earthquake in Nepal is demonstrating the deadly risks inherent in unsafe slum structures like Kathmandu’s.

Another aspect of urbanisation, as we all know, is its impact on the natural environment. Seventy-five percent of the natural resources we use are consumed in urban areas. Around three quarters of all the energy generated around the world is spent in cities. They are also the source of 80 percent of all emissions that are harmful to the climate. In other words, if we are to find the right answers to the big questions about our future, like climate change, safe energy supplies and sustainable environmental development, a lot will depend on developing solutions, rules and technology for the urban situation in particular.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is clear from the challenges and risks I have briefly outlined that the global urbanisation process and what happens to cities and the people living in them are not matters for local politics to manage alone. Even national responses would only partially cover the complexities of urbanisation. These issues also, indeed primarily, need to be dealt with at the international level. All over the world, it is in cities that questions of economic, environmental and social development, governability, security, political participation and sustainability are decided.

Accordingly, matters of urbanisation also play a key role in the UN’s drafting of new goals for sustainable development.

We need to integrate government action, economic activity and input from civil society in such a way as to achieve the following aims together in our international partnerships.

Firstly, systems for safeguarding stability and resilience to crisis need to be strengthened, especially in megacities. We therefore have to highlight and boost the importance of cities to questions of security, stability, peace, sustainable development and respect for human rights.

Secondly, we need to put cites and metropolitan regions into a position to better use their potential for successful economic development, poverty reduction and growth that is sustainable and inclusive. Doing that will require intensive economic cooperation with and among the different areas of growth.

Thirdly, if we want the urban development we organise to be sustainable, it will need to act as a catalyst for more efficient use of resources and greater energy efficiency, as well as effective protection of the climate. The need to protect finite and delicate global goods such as water and the climate means we have to take international responsibility for cities and the rural areas surrounding them. The current international system still focuses too strongly on the national level.

Fourthly, in the interests of successful urban development, we want and need to put people at the centre of all our thinking. What this means in real terms is protecting the fundamental rights of the people who live in today’s world cities, primarily by safeguarding their equal and undiscriminating access to food and water. The same applies to basic services such as education, security and healthcare as well as access to the media. In the globalised order we live in, achieving all these things has to be a core component of good urban governance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is no doubt that these are ambitious goals. As we see it, overcoming the challenges I have outlined is going to take a multi-level policy approach that combines all the economic, environmental and demographic/social factors of development.

The policy guidelines that the German Government has now adopted give us what I consider to be a comprehensive tool kit to dip into when it comes to helping shape the smart cities of tomorrow.

The first thing we will do is make international urbanisation a permanent part of our inter-ministerial agenda, link up the ministries’ digital platforms and so create connections with other international players and partners.

Our second main tool will be ongoing, structured collaboration with Germany’s major cities, city associations and private-sector players such as businesses, engineers’ and architects’ offices and chambers of commerce abroad.

Germany has a lot to offer when it comes to managing urban development. Whether as exporters, advisers or investors, its businesses can provide solutions to complex challenges in urban areas. They bring about necessary technology transfer and are already helping spread technical expertise and support labour markets in several countries through equivalent forms of the dual system of vocational training.

In the third instance, we intend to strengthen international processes and organisations which deal intensively with the phenomena surrounding urbanisation. In the coming year, it will be time to agree on a New Urban Agenda – what the initiated know as Habitat III – in the context of the third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. We are working dedicatedly to help prepare the substance of that conference and formulate the New Urban Agenda. The same applies at the EU level, where the European Commission is currently drawing up an EU cities agenda.

For all this, we intend fourthly to make much greater use of our external structures. Our embassies, our consulates-general, the offices maintained abroad by the organisations which implement our development policy, chambers of commerce abroad, branches of the Goethe-Institut – most of them are located in very large cities, some in veritable megacities. All of them can and will play their part in ensuring we learn even more about the urbanisation processes under way in their host countries in order to adapt our activities to actual local needs and coordinate better with local decision-makers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude with these remarks. In view of cities’ rapidly growing populations and incredible cultural diversity, we in international politics will not in future be able to avoid seeing megacities as well as states as players in the international order. There are even urbanisation experts already talking about the necessity of diplomatic relations between cities – “diplomacity”, if you like – as they explode in size. My thanks go to the city of Berlin for taking an active role in that form of diplomacy, not least in the context of the Asia-Pacific Weeks!

Cities have always been places of longing. That was true hundreds of years ago, when a city gate was, not just metaphorically, the gateway to individual personal freedom, and it remains true to this day. Perhaps it is even truer today than at any other point in human history. For many people, moving to a city is associated with hope for a brighter future and social advancement. The more successfully we manage the urbanisation of the future, the more of those hopes and dreams will be realised. With that in mind, let me wish you all the most productive of discussions and many fascinating insights.

Thank you for your attention.

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