Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Countries adopted a global, non-binding agenda for making cities safe, sustainable and resilient, at the close of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador.

The New Urban Agenda aligns with many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and calls for effective linkages with the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and for an independent assessment of UN-Habitat, which will consider the possibility of establishing universal membership of its governing body.

The UN University (UNU) notes the value of “resilience” as a concept uniting stakeholders, but cautions against approaches for "taming nature" rather than transforming urban land use and restoring ecosystems.

21 October 2016: Countries adopted a global, non-binding agenda for making cities safe, sustainable and resilient, at the close of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). The Conference, which convened in Quito, Ecuador, from 17-20 October 2016, had the largest turnout of any event in UN history, according to UN-Habitat.

Habitat conferences take place once every 20 years. Since Habitat II took place in Istanbul in 1996, the world has changed from having a mainly rural population to having more than half the world’s people living in cities. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that, by 2030, 60% of world population will be urban dwellers.

The New Urban Agenda adopted at Habitat III aligns with many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 11 on making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In preambular text, the New Urban Agenda also sets out aims to end poverty and hunger (SDG 1 and 2), reduce inequalities (SDG 10), promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth (SDG 8), achieve gender equality (SDG 5), improve human health and wellbeing (SDG 4), foster resilience (SDGs 11 and 13), and protect the environment (SDG 6, 9, 13, 14 and 15). The Agenda promotes a vision for cities that is grounded in human rights, and recognizes the need to give particular attention to addressing multiple forms of discrimination, including discrimination against people in slum settlements, homeless people, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and migrants, regardless of their migration status.

The ‘Quito Implementation Plan for the New Urban Agenda’ comprises the major part of the outcome document. The Plan includes three sections: transformative commitments for sustainable urban development, effective implementation; and follow-up and review. The section on implementation emphasizes the need for establishing strong urban governance structures, planning and managing urban spatial development, and accessing means of implementation.

Habitat III agreed to hold a two-day high-level meeting of the UNGA during its current 71st session to follow up on implementation.

On follow-up and review, the New Urban Agenda calls for effective linkages with the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to ensure coordination and coherence in their implementation. Habitat III agreed to hold a two-day high-level meeting of the UNGA during its current 71st session to follow up on implementation. The UN Secretary-General is asked to report on implementation of the New Urban Agenda every four years, with the first report to be submitted during the UN General Assembly’s 72nd session (2017-2018). Habitat III proposed to hold the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat IV) in 2036.

The Agenda also calls for an independent assessment of UN-Habitat, which will consider the possibility of establishing universal membership of its governing body. The assessment is expected to come up with recommendations to enhance the UN-Habitat’s effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and oversight.

At the opening of Habitat III, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted that transforming the world for the better means transforming towns and cities through better urban governance, planning and design. He emphasized that cities and towns have “an immense role to play” in ending poverty and building inclusive societies. UNGA President Peter Thompson acknowledged that urban planning has not kept pace with mass urbanization, resulting in one billion people living in slums without basic services such as water, sanitation and energy. He expressed appreciation for Ecuador’s hosting of the conference within months of being struck by an earthquake, welcoming its commitment to a resilient and sustainable future.

At a panel discussion during the conference, Robert Glasser, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), highlighted examples of disaster events that have affected airports, hospitals, schools and other public facilities in the past 20 years, which he said “are signs that we really do need a new urban agenda…firmly founded on the priorities for action contained in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.” UNISDR’s 2015 Global Assessment Report called for the New Urban Agenda to promote the development of resilient infrastructure and reduce disaster impacts, especially in slums and informal settlements.

At the close of Habitat III, UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos stated that the New Urban Agenda should be viewed as an extension of the 2030 Agenda. He encouraged national, sub-national and local governments to use the NUA as an instrument for planning and policy development for sustainable urbanization.

Many organizations welcomed the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, and expressed their commitment to implementing it. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and UN-Habitat, in a joint statement, pledged to cooperate on project development, and to create a platform for policy dialogue that will initially focus on financing cities in Africa.

At the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in Bogotá, Colombia, prior to Habitat III, the OECD launched a report on curbing inequality in cities. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría warned that, while cities are generators of growth and wellbeing, poor planning can turn them into “inequality traps.” The report, “Making Cities Work for All: Data and Actions for Inclusive Growth,” draws attention to high levels of inequality in the world’s cities, and calls on governments to design urban housing, transport, schooling and jobs strategies to deliver benefits for all. Eight multilateral development banks – the Asian Development Bank (ADB), African Development Bank (AfDB), the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and the World Bank – pledged to cooperate on programming, and to foster coordination across the urban, national and regional scales. In a joint statement, the banks agreed to support the NUA through direct financing and other measures, such as strengthening domestic financial markets, and attracting co-financing. The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) promised to facilitate a harmonized regional approach to implementing the Agenda in Africa that will prioritize inclusive growth and structural transformation in the world’s fastest-urbanizing region.

In its analysis of the New Urban Agenda, the UN University (UNU) notes the value of “resilience” as a concept uniting stakeholders with many different aims, but cautions that inconsistent definitions of the term can mask contradictory approaches. For example, some may consider that activities such as dike building as a way of “taming nature” count toward building resilience, rather than adopting strategies to transform urban land use through resettlement of communities or restoration of ecosystems. UNU’s analysis warns against addressing resilience through a technocratic approach, noting that conflicting strategies can be deeply political, involving struggles of fairness, justice and “rights to the city.”

In the lead-up to Habitat III, several large meetings took place, including the Second World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments (also known as the World Mayors Assembly), involving around 400 mayors, and a Business Assembly of private sector leaders. At the Business Assembly, Thompson drew attention to the need for around US$5-7 trillion annually to finance investments into sustainable infrastructure, transform production and consumption patterns, and optimize the sustainability of buildings, energy, water and sanitation systems. He called on all concerned to forge new ways of collaborating, and build mutual trust and transparency.

Other international organizations launched initiatives and reports on the sidelines of Habitat III. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched a Sustainable Urbanization Strategy for working with local and international partners to address urban poverty, unemployment, climate change, disaster risk and gender disparities, as well as helping countries monitor and report on progress. UNDP Administrator Helen Clark stressed the need for governments, businesses and communities to take an integrated approach to sustainability, inclusiveness and resilience, in order for countries to implement the 2030 Agenda.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) launched a publication titled ‘Renewable Energy in Cities,’ which highlights the role that cities can play in a clean and sustainable energy future. The report outlines priority areas in which cities can adopt renewables: for heating, cooling, cooking and other appliances in buildings; in transport, such as through electric vehicles and biofuels; and in the creation of urban energy systems. In a call to action, IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin urged cities to “grow with renewables, leapfrog dirty technology, and create cities of the future that people are proud to call home.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a report on integrating health into urban planning, investments and policy decisions. The publication, titled ‘Health as the Pulse of the New Urban Agenda,’ highlights the potential for health authorities to advise on the implications of urban policies, noting that the physical and social structures of cities, including their governance structures, are instruments for improving public health and wellbeing. [Habitat III Website] [New Urban Agenda] [UN Summary of New Urban Agenda Commitments] [UN-Habitat and OECD Joint Statement] [UNECA Press Release] [UNDP Press Release] [UN Habitat III Opening Press Release] [Habitat III Opening Statement by UNGA President] [Habitat III Opening Statement by UN Secretary-General] [UNDP Remarks on Sustainable Urbanization Strategy] [UNU Analysis] [IRENA Press Release] [‘Renewable Energy in Cities’ Report] [UNISDR Press Release] [WHO Press Release] [‘Health as the Pulse of the New Urban Agenda’ Report] [ADB Press Release] [MDBs’ Joint Statement] [OECD Press Release on Cities and Inequalities] [‘Making Cities Work for All’ Report] [UN Closing Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on World Mayors’ Assembly] [UNGA President’s Statement at Business Assembly]


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