12 November 2020, Guangzhou/Rome – The Director-General of the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, today called on local governments to make agri-food systems & green spaces part of their plans, policies & actions to make cities more sustainable & inclusive, as well as to create jobs & promote youth engagement, built on a “green industry, a green environment, green products & a green way of lifestyle,” he said.
Qu made the call at the opening of the 2020 World Council of the United Cities & Local Governments (UCLG), hosted virtually by the city of Guangzhou, in China, & the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The theme of the event was The Role of the International Municipal & Regional Movement in COVID Times.
The Director-General highlighted the importance of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic from a long-term perspective.
“In times of emergency, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on addressing the most urgent needs. We need to adapt quickly & face the pandemic in a more holistic way, so that we can build better, more resilient & inclusive urban food systems,” said the FAO chief.
He noted that the pandemic has hit densely populated urban areas “particularly hard”, & stressed the importance of leveraging the potential of local & municipal governments to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
A recent FAO survey on urban food systems & COVID-19, with responses from 77 countries, showed that local governments played an important role in reducing the pandemic’s impacts on the functioning of food systems, & health & food security of people. For example, many cities had adopted measures such as monitoring of food markets, & improving access to food for the most vulnerable through e-commerce or temporary food hubs.
“Giving a voice to local & regional governments acknowledges the importance of their proximity to the communities, their capacity to mobilize local stakeholders & their ability to rapidly identify the most vulnerable,” Qu said.
Why are urban food systems & green areas important?
By 2050, almost 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities. About 70 percent of all food supplies are consumed by urban dwellers – a number that is steadily on the rise.
Many urban & peri-urban communities are exposed to food & nutrition insecurity; at the same time, they suffer from diet-related non-communicable diseases & increasing overweight & obesity rates.
Expanding cities encroach on natural habitats, & account for about 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainable urban food systems & more green spaces, including urban & peri-urban agriculture & forests, are essential for cities, rendering them more resilient in dealing with the impacts of climate change.
FAO actions for a sustainable urban development
FAO’s recently launched Green Cities initiative aims to improve the livelihoods & well-being of urban & peri-urban populations in at least 100 cities around the world in the next three years, looking to have 1000 cities join by 2030.
The initiative will support cities to implement innovative & context-specific urban green actions related to food systems & green spaces, including urban & peri-urban agriculture & forest.
It is linked to FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which aims to end poverty & hunger, with focus on countries & regions most in need.
The FAO Framework for the Urban Food Agenda guides local & sub-national governments to integrate sustainable food systems into local policy, planning & action. FAO is implementing the Urban Food Agenda, which is at the core of the of the Green Cities initiative, in more than 20 countries.
Another important FAO action is the city-to-city exchange, which includes South-South & triangular cooperation for scaling up urban food systems actions.
More about the event
The Council was opened by LIU Qibao, Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference; Mohamed Boudra, President of UCLG; LIN Songtian, President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries; & WEN Guohui, Mayor of Guangzhou.
The opening ceremony was also attended by Antonio Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration; & Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat; as well as mayors from all around the globe. The opening session was chaired by Emilia Sáiz, UCLG’s Secretary-General.
The UCLG 2020 World Council is expected to gather 300 local representatives from cities & regional governments.
During the debates, several participants outlined COVID-19’s disastrous impacts on people’s lives & livelihoods & the economy; acknowledged the vital role of local & regional governments in tackling these; & reiterated the need for global solidarity to fight against the pandemic & build back better – creating more inclusive, sustainable & pluralistic societies.
LIU Qibao, Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said municipal governments have already played an important role, taking actions to lessen the impacts of the crisis.
Mohamed Boudra, President of UCLG, stressed that local & regional governments must be key players in eradicating inequalities & unsustainable patterns of production & consumption. He also called for a rethinking of urbanization & re-evaluation of the relationship with nature.
LIN Songtian, President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, highlighted the need for building the capacity of urban governments.
WEN Guohui, Mayor of Guangzhou, outlined the measures his city took to fight COVID-19 & underscored the importance of cooperation.
Antonio Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration pointed out that the pandemic made it even more apparent the essential role played by migrants in contributing to vital services such as transport, healthcare & agro-food processing. He outlined how his organization was working towards building more inclusive societies & promoting inclusive migration-sensitive governance.
UCLG is a global network of cities & local, regional, & metropolitan governments & their associations, & the largest organization of sub-national governments in the world, with members in over 140 countries. The World Council is the principal policy-making body of the World Organization.