Remarks by Angel Gurría
Athens, Greece - 19 March 2019
(As prepared for delivery)
Ministers, Mayors, Heads of delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 7th OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers. Allow me to first thank our hosts: the Government of Greece, particularly the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Development, Yannis Dragasakis; and the Mayor of Athens, Georgios Kaminis, for their hospitality and leadership, we are grateful and honoured to be in your beautiful historical city.
Our thanks also go to the Ford Foundation, a long-standing partner of the OECD, for its generous support to this meeting.
Cities today are on the frontline of many of the most pressing global challenges of our time – globalisation, digitalisation, ageing, migration, climate change and environmental degradation. These so-called megatrends, are already dramatically changing the way we live and work in our cities. Let me provide some context.
Today, for the first time in history, over half of humanity lives in urban areas. This number is expected to rise to two thirds by 2050! In the OECD, cities are also growing older. For example, by 2020, one third of Europe’s population will be over 65 years old and many cities continue to attract large numbers of newcomers.
Another crucial megatrend for cities is digitalisation and the future of work. These phenomena are not only capturing public attention today, but also revolutionising the way we live, work, and connect with each other. Digital innovation can have far-reaching effects on cities, on how we move – think of self-driving cars –, or how we consume energy and water, with smart grids and smart sensors. Digitalisation and automation are also expected to bring disruption. For example, we know from our work that almost 14% of OECD jobs are highly automatable and another 32% could face substantial change in the way they are carried out. In addition, this is expected to be extremely uneven across places, including within cities.
These challenges give rise to a number of important questions: How will these trends affect cities’ capacity to grow and create jobs? Are we developing the right urban infrastructure and services for seniors? Are we making the right decisions to unlock the potential of migrant entrepreneurs? And more importantly, are the current urban policies responding adequately to this evolving global environment?
That is why we are here! We gather today to build the cities of tomorrow, to make the most of the opportunities that we are presented with and to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. In our increasingly globalised world this can only be done by including all stakeholders, by sharing best practices and experiences across borders. Mayors and national governments must work together to fuel effective urban solutions.
And I say “must”, because we know from UN data that 65% of the 169 targets underlying the 17 SDGs will not be reached without proper engagement of sub-national governments. This is why the OECD has launched a programme on “A Territorial Approach to the SDGs” to promote dialogue between local, regional and national governments and share best practices. Just ten days ago, we hosted the 1st OECD Roundtable of Cities and Regions for the SDGs, with more than 150 participants from all over the world.
OECD analysis has found that, too often, national policies alone are spatially blind. Our report “Global State of National Urban Policy”, produced jointly with UN Habitat, also shows that across 150 countries surveyed, only 76 countries have an explicit national urban policy framework. It also found that globally, 39% of countries surveyed are still in the preparatory stage. At this rate, how can we respond to the fast and disruptive megatrends I have described?
A key ingredient for success is a truly whole-of-government approach. This concept has framed OECD work on urban development since the early 1970s and to advance this agenda, we have been working with governments at all levels. This is why we have created the Roundtable for Mayors and Ministers, to provide a global platform and to develop common solutions.
Today, I invite all Mayors and Ministers around the table to debate and work together to turn disruptive megatrends into new opportunities of growth and well-being. The OECD Principles for Urban Policy that you have on the table calls for all levels of government to jointly design and implement National Urban Policies that are fit to face current and emerging megatrends. It includes some very interesting recommendations organised around what we called the “3S”: Scale, Strategy, and Stakeholders:
1. Adapt to the scale where people live and work in real life [beyond administrative perimeters drawn on a map]; 2. Align all policy sectors that play a key role in cities – ranging from economic development and education to housing, transport and land use – into a coherent strategy; 3. Put people at the centre of urban policy, by engaging stakeholders from all segments of society.
Mayors and Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Together, Mayors and Ministers can define a new generation of Urban Policies fit for the future, one that fully seizes new opportunities from megatrends to advance growth and well-being in cities of all sizes.
You can continue to count on the OECD to support you in building innovative, sustainable and inclusive cities for today and tomorrow. Thank you.