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Preview: Shanghai Expo Summit Urban Sustainability Forum

by Warren Karlenzig

UK Pavilion, Shanghai Expo 2010 by Heatherwick Studio.

This weekend I'm attending the Shanghai Expo Summit Forum as part of a United Nations delegation. The Oct. 31 event, which will be on "Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development," will mark the close of the largest World's Fair in history: more than 70 million have visited the Expo (the Osaka, Japan, World Fair of 1964 attracted 64 million) where a record two hundred countries are exhibiting through Sunday.

The Shanghai Expo has been targeting sustainable cities throughout its six-month run. Developing nations such as China and India will be the focus of not only emerging strategic sustainability frameworks, but also of large-scale financial, technology system and cultural innovation, all of which will constantly intersect with new ways of managing resources and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

About 2,000 are invited to the fair's closing ceremonies, including heads of state, governors, mayors, Nobel Prize recipients and CEOs: China will be represented by Premier Wen Jiabao, while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appear for the UN. The Obama Administration is sending Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, to present on "Green Development and Ecological Cities." Former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, author of the pivotal 2006, "Economics of Climate Change," (The Stern Review) will also speak.

Stern has asserted that with one-percent investment worldwide in climate change mitigating technologies and development, estimated climate change-related damage to the global economy in the 5 to 14 percent range can be avoided.

Other sessions at the Shanghai Expo Summit Forum will include:

  • Knowledge Innovation and Cultural Cities
  • Science and Technology Innovation and Creative Cities
  • Economic Transformation and Sustainable Cities
  • Community Management and Livable Cities
  • Youth Creativity and Future Cities

This year I've been collaborating with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which has been preparing for the Summit Forum with Premier Wen Jiabao and the National Organizing Committee of Expo 2010 Shanghai China. Together, with the input of other UN agencies and the World Bank, we have been writing the Shanghai Training Manual on Sustainable Urban Development. The publication will come out in May 2011 as one of two "legacies of thematic substance" from the Shanghai Expo, the other being "The Shanghai Declaration," which will be released at the Summit.

The Shanghai Manual will be an instrument for knowledge sharing and capacity building for cities around the globe as they struggle to tackle the economic, social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. The largest challenge will be the result of China's expected increase in urban population from nearly 50 percent of its 1.3 billion citizens to about 75 percent of its total population by 2050: that means 350-500 million people will settle into China's cities in the next four decades, mostly from rural areas of China.

Such unprecedented growth in developing-nation cities prompted the Shanghai Manual to analyze the intersection of sustainability management and urban planning with the emerging green economy, science and technology innovation, management and governance approaches, as well as traditional environmental management sectors, such as transportation and land use planning, solid waste management and wastewater management.

The Shanghai Manual will address topics covered by previous Shanghai Expo urban sustainability forums that have been held in and around Shanghai since its opening in May (which has an overarching theme of "Better City, Better Life,"):

  • Information and communication technologies and urban development
  • Cultural heritage, creative cities and urban regeneration
  • Science and technology innovation and urban futures
  • Low carbon cities: environmental protection and urban responsibilities
  • Low carbon economic transformation
  • Better campus; better living: learning for a sustainable future
  • Economic transformations and urban-rural relationships
  • Environmental change and city responsibility
  • Good urban governance and sustainable lifestyles

Mayors from North America to appear will include Vancouver's Gregor Robertson, who, a year ago, announced a goal of attempting to make the Canadian city "the greenest in the world."

By 2015, according to the UN, Shanghai will be the seventh largest city in the world, after (in order): Tokyo, Japan; Mumbai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; New York, New York; and Delhi, India. The Shanghai Energy and Environment Exchange, based in the city's Pudong District, has 300 companies involved in a market-based trading system for pollution credits that may become the basis for a city-based and even national carbon trading platform.

How fitting that China focuses an international expo on sustainable urban planning in a city that is its largest, most dynamic example of how climate change, financial markets and urban planning are merging into an entirely new global socio-economic model.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.

This post originally appeared on Common Current.

Other articles by Karlenzig in the Worldchanging archives:

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