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"Sustainable urbanization – the Swedish Experience"----Keynote speech by Ms Mona Sahlin


  Vice Premier Mr Zeng Peiyan, minister Xie, distinguished council members, ladies and gentlemen,

  I am pleased to have the opportunity to be with you today and take part in this annual meeting of the CCICED where sustainable urbanization is the main topic.

  We only got one planet earth, but if everyone used the resources in the same way as we do in the western world, we would need 3 more Earths. Therefore, to achieve a fair and equal distribution, we in the west must adjust the way we live and work to find solutions, which guarantee a world that can be used also by future generations. We already have good access to new technologies and research result, when building and planning. But the big challenges remain.

  I have spent the week in China, partly travelling around in Inner Mongolia and partly in Beijing. I have witnessed a speed of development that is incomparable with anything else in the world. I have realised that Shanghai will complete towers with more space for homes and offices than there is in all the office buildings in New York City .

  The transition of China, achievements as well as remaining challenges, is nothing less than stunning. China is undergoing the largest rural-urban transition any country has ever seen. If you allow me to simplify, I see that this would require construction each month of a city that is larger than the City of Stockholm.

  Global challenge

  Urbanization is a global challenge of our time. In the words of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, we have entered "the urban millennium". Over 90 per cent of this urban growth will occur in the developing world with already today overcrowded cities with poor housing and poor social and environmental conditions. The trend towards mega cities is also distinctive.

  While global urban transition presents unprecedented challenges to us all in today's globalized world, it also brings opportunities, demanding nothing less than vision, innovative and creative thinking, and above all, the political will to make the right choices.

  To put this into context, I would like to first share with you some Swedish experiences and conclude, hopefully, with some lessons that we have learned that might be also relevant to China.

  The Swedish development

  Sweden's modern history has also been one of urbanization and increasing migration to cities and towns, with overcrowded urban areas, housing shortage and slum area development. To combat these problems, Sweden developed the general welfare society, granting equal social rights and security to every person.

  An effective and comprehensive housing policy was established after World War II. In the early 1960's the Million Dwellings Program was launched, with the aim to build one million new homes in 10 years. To understand the scale of the task to us in Sweden, one must put it in relation to our population. The same thing done in China would mean the construction of 150 million homes in a 10-year period. So, as you can see, it was a big task!

  With an urbanization rate of almost 85 per cent, today we no longer see a notable migration from rural to urban areas in Sweden. But, the urban areas in Sweden are not adjusted to the needs of today and tomorrow. The demographic profile and the family structure of our society have changed. One hundred years ago 20 percent of the Swedish population lived as emigrants in the US. Today 20 percent of our population are immigrants from other parts of the world. Today, we are a multicultural society, which creates both challenges and new valuable opportunities. Just like China, we face a situation where old tools must be redesigned or tossed away. New tools must be developed, tested, evaluated and implemented.

  Lessons learned from the Swedish experience

  Looking back some hundred years, what were the key prerequisites for Sweden's transformation from a poor agrarian to a modern industrial society?

  The basis for the forthcoming of the Swedish welfare state can be found in modern planning, large public and private investments in building and construction, and in the urbanization itself. Openness, transparency, public participation and the involvement of local authorities, business and non-governmental organizations have been particularly important factors in this process. There is by no means a lack of challenges – but the essentials remain the same.

  Today, we are bringing those experiences with us when we are going to modernize our cities and towns, form new centres of economic growth and opportunity for many people. In a broad sense, city planning is nothing less than three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social as well as ecological.

  Steps forward

  Decade's back there was a discussion going on in many countries on about whether or not social justice and welfare could be combined with economic growth. Many countries, not least in Northern Europe, have shown that it is not only possible to unite thoughts on social justice with productivity; rather they are each other's prerequisites

  The question is still being asked, whether it is possible to unite sustainable development with growth?

  I am convinced that what we see happening is not just that more people answering, "Yes, they are possible to unite", but also "They are each others prerequisites". I would therefore say: "-Without economic growth, no sustainable development and without sustainable development, no economic growth."

  In recognition of the significance Sweden attaches to sustainable urban development, the Ministry of Sustainable Development was formed earlier this year. The tasks of the previous Ministry of the Environment were merged with new areas of responsibility such as energy, emissions trading, construction, planning and housing. This is my exiting job.

  With the new ministry in place, the new transformation process has begun, with the formulation of new political visions and strategies. Let me just mention three areas, that is the housing sector, the energy sector and the transport sector.

  1. The housing sector

  About one third of the total energy consumption in Sweden is in buildings. This equals 15 % of the total carbon dioxide emissions in Sweden. Sweden therefore considers measures for reducing energy consumption in buildings as an important tool in fighting climate change.

  The potential for further reduction of energy consumption in buildings in Sweden as well as in other European countries is considered being rather high (30-50 %) and most of the potential can be released in the usage phase.

  A fast economic and demographic growth has to be met by concrete programs for sustainable building and planning. Cities never exist by themselves – they are always interacting with its surroundings and hinterlands. It is therefore important to have a regional perspective in the planning systems.

  2. The energy sector

  Many countries of the world have urgent need of increased energy supply to enable economic and social development. Not least, the economy of China is an increasingly important part of the global economy and of the global energy system. In other countries, the lack of energy supply is an important barrier to development. So the world needs increased energy supply.

  And furthermore, fossil fuels are finite resources. The established energy policy in Sweden already has contributed to a substantial increase of renewable energies, such as hydropower, biomass and wind power.

  In the light of all these factors, we have set a new policy target: the creation of the conditions necessary to break Sweden's dependence on oil by 2020. And there is, indeed, an increased sense of urgency. If we prepare now, the transition to a sustainable energy system can be smooth and cost efficient. If we wait until we are forced by circumstances, the transition may be costly and disruptive! Among the measures the Swedish government will take is to increase energy efficiency, replace oil with bio fuel in the district heating networks, further promote the market based system of electrical certificates, develop special tax strategies for the introduction of renewable fuels.

  3. The transport sector

  Measures to promote the development and use of renewable fuels in the transport sector are under work. Statistics already shows the effects; one out of ten new cars sold in Sweden is now "renewable" fuelled. Measures have been introduced making it a good investment choosing an environment car.

  On a national level, the government has developed a strategy program together with relevant stakeholders with the purpose of strengthening Swedish Car Industry. A national arena for demonstrating new technologies, infrastructure and new transport solutions will be built.

  Looking at other modes of transportation, I would like to mention just one, that is the train Amanda. It is a train that is running on biogas, first of its kind in the world. Among the advantages one can identify no CO2 emissions and that the fuel is locally produced, not at least that is important.


  Much has been achieved and much remains to be done, this is true for both Sweden and China. To me there are several aspects, which are relevant to our continued work on sustainable urbanization. I also hope that they can be of relevance when you pursue your process here in China.

  - First, urban development is highly path-dependent, so it is critical to set-off on the right path, especially during the rapid phase of development. China is now creating the urban infrastructure and culture that will determine how well China can respond to the challenges of the urbanization.

  - Second, reducing the use of energy, particularly fossil fuels are clearly critical and have profound implications for sustainable urban development in the future. Among many things, this will require us to think hard reducing automobile-dependency, making urbanisation more cost efficient.

  - Third, as China is in the midst of transition to a market economy, deciding what to control centrally, what to encourage markets to address, and when and how to encourage and set the rules for local governance and participation, and the protection of human rights are cornerstones in the building of societies. The advantages of public participation and transparency are several, among the most apparent are the minimization of the risks that people feel alienated and it is the best watchdog against bribery and corruption. Furthermore, Sweden has experience of a mixed economy where the political framework is set through democratic institutions and the market is used for finding the most efficient form of implementation.

  Many countries should cooperate with China – but also clean our own backyards.

  We have recently begun implementing joint Sino-Swedish projects together with the Ministry of Construction on "Sustainable City" development in the cities of Hohhot and Wuhai in Inner Mongolia. Sweden is committed to continue a dialogue with China on sustainable urbanization.

  I would like to conclude with a story about Albert Einstein, well known to you all, from his days as professor at the University of Bern. He gave an exam to his secretary to type up and duplicate for his students. But it wasn't long before the secretary returned to see him, concerned. She said: "But professor, these are the same questions the students had last week, you can't give them the same questions again, can you?" "Don't worry," said Einstein, "I've changed the answers."

  Thinking about this subject too, striving for the environment and sustainable development, the questions are very complex. Even though these questions have been around for many, many years and will still be with us for many, many years to come, we must constantly discuss them and sometimes be brave enough to look for rather new answers to rather old questions.

  I wish you a very successful annual meeting. Thank you!

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