The Future Of Asia-Pacific’s Cities


The Seventh Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-7) opened today with a strong call for cities to take the lead and embrace a “can do” spirit in driving sustainable development commitments across the region.

The Asia-Pacific region became majority urban in 2019 for the first time in human history. With more than 2.3 billion people in the region now living in cities, the need for a sustainable urban future has never been greater. By 2050, an additional 1.2 billion new urban residents will also have profound implications for the region’s economy, society and environment.

“A city should not just happen anymore. Every block, every building and neighbourhood requires careful planning. Cities can play a major role in supporting a more sustainable and inclusive future in our region. Yet, this depends on decisive action in cities and urban centres right across Asia and the Pacific,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana at the Forum’s opening.

Cities in Asia and the Pacific are at the forefront of global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, serving as engines of economic prosperity, innovation and well-being. To ensure the full implementation of the New Urban Agenda, our cities must be better planned, managed and financed for improved resilience and to meet the needs of all citizens, including the urban poor. We must protect the environment and leave no one and no place behind,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

Attended by over 7,000 policymakers, expert speakers, thought leaders from national and local government, private sector, research communities and civil society from 60 countries, the three-day Forum will provide opportunities to mobilize common actions to address critical urban development challenges as well as provide insights into future-proofed urban solutions.

“Across the world, urban centres are assuming a larger role in achieving the SDGs, and this is particularly true with climate change,” said Prime Minister of Fiji Hon. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama. “As concentrated population hubs with high-density living, the world’s cities –– over 90 per cent of which are located on the coast –– are naturally more vulnerable to catastrophic weather events, they have an outsized carbon footprint, and their buildings and infrastructure trap heat, further intensifying the effects of global warming. But when it comes to meeting any of our SDGs, we shouldn’t see our cities as the problem; with proper urban planning, and through innovative, local thinking, they can be the solution.”

“Urbanization is one of the defining trends of Asia-Pacific’s transformation. Cities generate over 80 per cent of gross domestic product in many countries in Asia and the Pacific and are engines of economic growth. The quality and efficiency of our cities will determine the region’s long-term productivity and overall stability,” said H.E. Ms. Hajah Zuraida Kamaruddin, Minister of Housing and Local Government, Malaysia.

H.E. Mr. Chow Kon Yeow, Chief Minister of Penang highlighted the importance of localizing approaches to the SDGs: “In Penang, we have a vision to become A Family-Focused Green and Smart State that Inspires the Nation. This is our Penang2030 vision. It is not a blueprint for development but an approach and a call to stakeholders to participate and contribute in shaping Penang’s future towards a liveable and green city.”

Natural resource management, climate change, disaster risk and rising inequalities are posing major urban development challenges across the region, according to The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities Report 2019 launched today at the Forum.

The Report makes the case for four priorities and four approaches to realize a sustainable urban future in Asia and the Pacific. A sustainable future occurs when planning lays a foundation; resilience guards against future risk; smart cities deploy the best technology for the job; and financing tools help pay for it all. Getting these essentials right in cities today, the Report argues, is vital in order to adapt to the demands of tomorrow. The Report will serve as a vital road map for the next decade of Asia-Pacific’s urbanization and serve as a reference to shape cities of all sizes, from booming intermediate cities to ageing legacy cities, heading into the crucial final decade to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda.

The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities Report 2019 was jointly developed by ESCAP and UN-Habitat, in close collaboration with the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities, The Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations Development Programme.

The Asia-Pacific Urban Forum, which has been held every four years since 1993, is the largest regional gathering of urban stakeholders. This year the Forum is organized by ESCAP and UN-Habitat, in partnership with Urbanice Malaysia and the Penang Island City Council.

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