By Joan Clos
China's urban transformation over the past three decades has been impressive. Their impact on the economic and social prosperity of its citizens is remarkable. 500 million people were lifted out of poverty and over 260 million people moved from agriculture to more productive activities. This shift towards industrial manufacturing and services has increased employment, and led to a a higher quality of life. Indeed, high rates of growth in both China's GDP and urban population have been the trends that marked the process. Urbanization and industrialization have been the engines of growth, innovation and job creation in China.
Today China continues to pushing forward the largest urbanization process in the history of mankind. The majority of the Chinese population will live in urban areas by 2050. China has an enormous opportunity to continue driving economic growth, while improving social inclusion and also protecting local, national and global ecosystems. The main issue for China now is to urbanize in a way that it obtains the maximum benefits possible for its citizens and the planet.
The urbanization of China is one of the most significant economic and social transformations humanity has ever seen. Its impact was felt not only in the economic and social spheres but also in the cultural way of life of millions of people. China's impressive transformation has been a clear example of how urbanization can contribute to economic growth and prosperity in parallel to the important industrialization process. The future of China and its growing urbanization will open up a new and largely unknown stage of wealth, international tourism and quality of life not previously explored.
The Chinese model covers new policies on land; on people's mobility from rural to urban areas promoting access to basic public services among rural migrants settling in cities; improving the housing system; starting the building of 'green' cities and strengthening the eco-environment protection system. Despite progress in environmental policies, the cost of pollution to the nation's health is rising as China's population is increasingly concentrated in cities. China is not alone in this. Cities contribute up to 70 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. People living in cities are exposed to the negative effects of climate change. The solutions to the global challenge, whether on mitigation or adaptation, lie largely in and around the cities.
More than ever, the power of well-planned urbanization for development is well recognized. The recent adoption of Agenda 2030, a universal agenda that consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals-SDGs and 169 targets aiming at ending poverty and improving the lives of the world's population by 2030, is a step forward in this sense. The new agenda recognizes the vital role of urbanization in achieving sustainable development. This role is reflected strongly in SDG-11 to 'Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable', and five related goals. If we want to achieve Goal 11, we hope for the support of China.
In UN-Habitat, the UN leading agency in urban development and human settlements, we welcome the importance that the government of China attaches to urbanization and we stand ready for support when requested. We offer a strategic approach of urbanization based on a three pronged approach that ties together urban planning and design, good legislation and regulation, and financial sustainability.
Urbanization is at a crucial crossroads, for both China and the globe, for the reasons we have outlined. In October 2016 the United Nations is organizing in Quito the Habitat III conference, which is the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Habitat III is an exceptional opportunity to rethink and decide on a New Urban Agenda, in which governments can build a new model of urban development, promoting equity, welfare and shared prosperity. Its preparatory process has opened an inclusive debate, involving all urban stakeholders at both national and local authorities. I encourage the Chinese government and local authorities to take active part in the preparations for Habitat III, as China has a lot to offer to the world. Investing in sustainable urbanization in China is investing in the prosperity and wealth of the future generations.
(Joan Clos is the Executive Director of UN-Habitat and Secretary-General of Habitat III.)