Over the past century and a half, cities and living standards have grown remarkably –– but that progress has come at the cost of a warming world. Urban regions today are home to around half of the world’s population and are responsible for 70 per cent of total carbon emissions. This old model of development is untenable; if we continue to urbanise on carbon-intensive industries, the world’s cities will crumble into hotbeds of inequality and extreme vulnerability.
I could speak all morning about the suffering that the unchecked rise of carbon emissions will inflict on the world’s urban dwellers, with 90 per cent of urban areas located on our coastlines, cities are particularly vulnerable. But I don’t see fear as our strongest call to action. I’m here to share a different story; a story of hope – hope that cities can emerge as game-changers for climate action while also lifting our people to new and better opportunity.
Thanks to the leadership of future-focussed cities, we know that serving our climate’s long-term interest serves our citizens’ best interests today. Many cities are already proving that climate action means clean air, clean water, cooler temperatures, and better jobs, and these gains are not a generation away, they are improving people’s lives right now.
Small tweaks in design are keeping buildings cooler and shaving dollars off family’s electricity bills. Walkable neighbourhoods are keeping cars off the road, keeping the air clean and keeping people healthy. Turning unused lands into public parks is mitigating flooding and bringing life and activity into communities. Transitioning to renewable power, such as wind and solar, is allowing cities to invest in clean public transport without adding emissions. And lining city streets with trees is cooling climates, restoring watersheds, ensuring clean air, and lowering stress. These are outcomes any leader would strive to deliver for their people. Importantly, these advances are harnessing the green potential of high-density living.
It’s more efficient to supply services to 100 families in a single building than 100 houses spread out over several acres. Urban households – on average – emit less carbon and create less waste. And when we build up and not out, we limit environmental degradation. If we tap into these inherent efficiencies, cities can save us –– standing not as monuments of excess, but as symbols of sustainability.
Fiji is firmly committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050; not because we rank among the world’s high-emitting countries –– in fact, we are one of the lowest –– but because we know that every percentage of emissions reduction matters. No country, no city, no community’s contribution is too small. And I call on every nation, every city and every community to join us in achieving net-zero by 2050. If we force this work on our children and grandchildren, we’ll risk damage to our ecosystems and our global climate that cannot be undone. Join us for the sake of those coming generations; join us for the good of your citizens today.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I speak, a contingent of Fijian engineers from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces are in Australian communities ravaged by the recent bushfire crisis – another climate-fuelled catastrophe. Watching the emotions from the Australian people that the assistance of our engineers has inspired has made one thing abundantly clear: In times of crisis, we see the best in humanity. It is leader’s task to tap into that innate human capacity for kindness and resilience – that instinct to lift up our fellow citizens and to live in balance with each other and the natural world.
Whether you are a Fijian living in our capital, Suva, an Emirati in Abu Dhabi, or any of the 4.2 billion people who call cities home, our futures are all intertwined. Ultimately, I believe we can build sustainable cities because I believe in human cooperation, ingenuity, and resilience. That effort will be led by a new recognition that people’s healthiest, safest, and most prosperous outcomes are only possible in a carbon-neutral world. May we go into this World Urban Forum embracing this recognition as critical for our cities, for our people, and for our future.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.