Guangzhou/Rome — The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, today called on local governments to make agri-food systems and green spaces part of their plans, policies and actions to make cities more sustainable and inclusive, as well as to create jobs and promote youth engagement, built on a "green industry, a green environment, green products and a green way of lifestyle," he said.
Qu made the call at the opening of the 2020 World Council of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), hosted virtually by the city of Guangzhou, in China, and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The theme of the event was The Role of the International Municipal and 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 and face the pandemic in a more holistic way, so that we can build better, more resilient and inclusive urban food systems," said the FAO chief.
He noted that the pandemic has hit densely populated urban areas "particularly hard", and stressed the importance of leveraging the potential of local and municipal governments to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
A recent FAO survey on urban food systems and 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, and health and food security of people. For example, many cities had adopted measures such as monitoring of food markets, and improving access to food for the most vulnerable through e-commerce or temporary food hubs.
"Giving a voice to local and regional governments acknowledges the importance of their proximity to the communities, their capacity to mobilize local stakeholders and their ability to rapidly identify the most vulnerable," Qu said.
Why are urban food systems and 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 and peri-urban communities are exposed to food and nutrition insecurity; at the same time, they suffer from diet-related non-communicable diseases and increasing overweight and obesity rates.
Expanding cities encroach on natural habitats, and account for about 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainable urban food systems and more green spaces, including urban and peri-urban agriculture and 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 and well-being of urban and 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 and context-specific urban green actions related to food systems and green spaces, including urban and peri-urban agriculture and forest.
It is linked to FAO's Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which aims to end poverty and hunger, with focus on countries and regions most in need.
The FAO Framework for the Urban Food Agenda guides local and sub-national governments to integrate sustainable food systems into local policy, planning and 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 and 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; and WEN Guohui, Mayor of Guangzhou.
The opening ceremony was also attended by Antonio Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration; and 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 and regional governments.
During the debates, several participants outlined COVID-19's disastrous impacts on people's lives and livelihoods and the economy; acknowledged the vital role of local and regional governments in tackling these; and reiterated the need for global solidarity to fight against the pandemic and build back better - creating more inclusive, sustainable and 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 and regional governments must be key players in eradicating inequalities and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. He also called for a rethinking of urbanization and 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 and 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 and agro-food processing. He outlined how his organization was working towards building more inclusive societies and promoting inclusive migration-sensitive governance.
UCLG is a global network of cities and local, regional, and metropolitan governments and their associations, and 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.