WUF11 convened against the backdrop of the “triple C crises” of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, and emerging conflicts, compounded by the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution, all of which are pushing already marginalized city populations further into poverty and present serious obstacles to sustainable urban development.
In the ‘Katowice Declared Actions: Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future,’ Forum participants declare their “voluntary actions and commitments for the next two years and beyond,” including a move from incrementalism towards fundamental shifts in urban environments, systems of governance, and forms of habitation and a focus on imminent urban crises.
The eleventh session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11) highlighted that fast action is needed for cities to recover from multiple crises and embark on a rapid transition towards sustainable urban development. To respond to these needs, WUF11 participants declared their “voluntary actions and commitments for the next two years and beyond,” including a move from incrementalism towards fundamental shifts in urban environments, systems of governance, and forms of habitation, in line with human rights treaties.
Organized by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), with the Polish Government and the host city, WUF11 convened in a hybrid format in Katowice, Poland, from 26-30 June 2022, under the theme, ‘Transforming Our Cities for a Better Urban Future.’
Discussions were guided by the thematic objectives of: equitable urban futures; building resilience for a sustainable urban future; future urban economy and finance; integrated governance in spatial planning for a more just, green, and healthy urban future; transforming cities through innovative solutions and technologies; and greener urban futures.
The world’s race towards the SDGs will be decided in cities
Much like previous sessions of the Forum, WUF11 aimed to raise awareness of sustainable urbanization among stakeholders and constituencies, improve the collective knowledge of sustainable urban development through inclusive, open debate, and increase coordination and cooperation on the advancement of sustainable urbanization. However, unlike before, WUF11 convened against the backdrop of the “triple C crises” of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, and emerging conflicts, compounded by the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution, all of which are pushing already marginalized city populations further into poverty and present serious obstacles to sustainable urban development.
As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting notes, participants agreed that “the world’s race towards the [SDGs] will be decided in cities, and it will be decided soon.” The challenges of providing affordable, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient housing, the need to improve stakeholder engagement in urban planning and to co-create sustainable and resilient cities, and the role of smart technologies and other tools in preparing cities for future crises while putting people first emerged as some of the central themes.
All hands on deck to achieve the SDGs and New Urban Agenda
Prior to the Forum’s official opening, assemblies of major stakeholder groups convened. These included grassroots organizations, children and youth, women, business, and local and regional governments. As part of the WUF11 official programme, seven dialogues were held on:
- Urban crisis response and recovery;
- Equitable urban futures;
- Building resilience for sustainable urban futures;
- Future urban economy and finance;
- Integrated governance in spatial planning for a more just, green, and healthy urban future;
- Greener urban futures; and
- Transforming cities through innovative solutions and technologies.
A series of roundtables brought together local and regional governments, business and industries, parliamentarians, ministers, older persons, persons with disability, women, academia, professionals, philanthropies, youth, trade unions, civil society, and the UN to share perspectives on the future of sustainable urban development.
Special sessions convened to address issues ranging from urban recovery frameworks, and urban data and circular economy to tackling urban housing and health challenges, and localizing the SDGs. National Urban Forums as tools to implement the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and ways to rebuild communities and neighborhoods after war and natural disasters were also discussed, with the war in Ukraine taking centerstage in many conversations.
According to the ENB summary, WUF11 was also “lauded for its efforts towards accessibility, with full interpretation in international and Polish sign language, and numerous improvements for the visually and physically impaired.”
Declared Actions to transform our cities for a better urban future
During the WUF11 closing ceremony, President of the UN-Habitat Assembly Martha Delgado presented the WUF11 Declared Actions, which draw on the five days of discussions and debates among the diversity of stakeholders on the most pressing challenges cities are facing today.
In the ‘Katowice Declared Actions: Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future,’ Forum participants declare their “voluntary actions and commitments for the next two years and beyond,” including:
- Move from incrementalism towards fundamental shifts in urban environments, systems of governance and forms of habitation, in line with human rights treaties;
- Focus on imminent urban crises such as climate and biodiversity emergencies, pandemics, violence and conflicts, and other natural and man-made disasters, that all converge in cities and surrounding territories;
- Reconfirm culture as a core component of local identity;
- Reconfirm that accessibility and universal design are an integral part of the solution to the challenges of urbanization; and
- Encourage all development actors to mobilize their capacities in the UN Decade of Action, and appeal to governments to better fund UN-Habitat.
The outcome document also includes an annex listing 26 countries, territories, and areas affected by conflict and disaster. These are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Fiji, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Lebanon, Libya, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Kosovo.
Stakeholders are encouraged to submit additional Declared Actions until 31 July 2022 through the Urban Agenda Platform.
“Only 2,743 days left”
“We only have 2,743 days left to implement the New Urban Agenda and achieve the SDGs,” said UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif during the closing ceremony. This sense of urgency was palpable throughout the meeting, as was the acknowledgement that, given the current trajectory, the world is not on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by 2030.
As the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLFP) explores ways to build back better while advancing the full implementation of the 2020 Agenda – a theme agreed prior to some major shifts in the world’s geopolitical landscape – cities remain at the forefront of the multiple converging crises.
The 27 June fourth revision draft of the HLPF ministerial declaration, spanning 30 pages and 136 paragraphs, includes only one paragraph on cities where ministers “reaffirm that, by readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed and managed, the New Urban Agenda will continue to contribute to the implementation of the SDG.” Whether or not the final outcome document has more to say about sustainable urbanization, urban development would likely require a great deal of “readdressing” to meaningfully address the “triple C crises” and achieve “fundamental shifts” in urban governance required to meet the 2030 deadline for SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and other Goals.