Op-ed by Ambassador Yohannes: Cities Can Lead the Movement for Inclusive Growth

The following op-ed was published in French in La Tribune on November 17, 2016, on the occasion of the second meeting of the Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth hosted by Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

Like climate change, rising inequality is a complex global challenge that requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about and pursue economic growth.  In the case of the climate movement, cities, NGO’s and businesses took the lead in policy experimentation and advocacy, laying the groundwork for action at the national level.  I believe this model can serve as a roadmap in the battle against inequality and help catalyze a global movement for inclusive economic growth.

Inclusive growth is about creating more equitable access to healthcare and education, improving skills training to optimize employment for all age groups, and addressing discrimination against women and minority groups. It goes beyond simply addressing income inequality because its goal is to allow all segments of society to contribute to, and benefit from, economic gains.

Cities are central to the inclusive growth movement.  Just as carbon emissions are concentrated in cities, inequality tends to be higher in urban areas, where populations are often divided along income lines.  The issue is all too real for local governments, which is why they are experimenting with new ways to boost inclusivity.  In the United States, for instance, the city of Austin, TX is using state-of-the-art mapping technology to guide its affordable housing investments, while Saint Paul, MN has revised its formula for transportation funding to prioritize projects that benefit vulnerable populations.

Moreover, the climate example demonstrated that cities can effectively drive the global policy agenda.  Climate change galvanized cities, leading them to collaborate across borders through structures like the C40.  We are starting to see similar mobilization on inequality.  In March, the OECD launched a network of Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth (PDF 188 KB – Download Adobe Reader), with support from the U.S. Departments of State and Housing and Urban Development.  This group includes 50 mayors from all over the world, including New York, Dakar, Mexico City, and Paris.  While cities in the network may look different, they face similar challenges, from reducing income segregation to guaranteeing access to quality education.  This makes knowledge sharing highly valuable.

The Champion Mayors have pledged to work with the OECD to identify concrete ways cities can reduce inequalities.  Next week they will meet at the Cities for Life conference hosted by Mayor Hidalgo to launch the Paris Action Plan. The Action Plan will serve as a roadmap for collective action in critical areas such as education, employment, housing and infrastructure.

President Obama was right when he called rising inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” With populist and extremists movements on the rise, the issue has taken on even more urgency.  The time is right for us to come together and reverse this trend.  The Paris Action Plan will signal that cities are ready to lead the way.