SDG 11 Review at HLPF Emphasizes Role of Cities in Achieving 2030 Agenda
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The HLPF entered day three of its deliberations, which included a review of global progress toward SDG 11 on sustainable cities.

Many speakers called for justice, dignity and a human rights-based approach to affordable housing in cities.

New York City submitted a voluntary local review to the UN, and declared 11 July to be Global Goals Day in honor of the SDGs.

11 July 2018: The HLPF entered day three of its deliberations, which included a review of global progress toward SDG 11 on sustainable cities. Many speakers called for justice, dignity and a human rights-based approach to affordable housing in cities. Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, argued that housing (SDG target 11.1) is the most significant issue facing cities today, and highlighted the injustice of development that destroys urban neighborhoods and displaces residents.

Marc Pecsteen, Permanent Representative of Belgium and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC), chaired the session reviewing SDG 11. Discussions drew on the joint report by UN-Habitat and partner agencies, released on 9 July, which outlined global progress and challenges for sustainable cities. The report titled, ‘SDG 11 Synthesis Report: Tracking Progress Towards Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements,’ presents UN agencies’ joint position.

Benjamin Rae, Statistics Division, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), stressed that, if States continue to rely on the private sector for housing, then they are obliged to ensure markets provide affordable housing.

Rohit Aggarwala, Columbia University, noted there is no “one size fits all” formula for achieving the various SDG 11 targets, and called for thoughtful and comprehensive management of urban issues and appropriate distribution of powers.

Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, New York City, highlighted that New York is the first city in the world to submit a voluntary local review to the UN, and has declared 11 July to be Global Goals Day in honor of the SDGs. She highlighted commonalities between the SDGs and the OneNYC campaign, including: principles of growth, equity, sustainability and resilience; consultative processes with local agencies, residents and businesses; commitment to leave no one behind; and measurement of progress. Noting that “progress is in fact possible,” she highlighted the city has achieved cleaner air and water, record wage growth, and tripled the number of children accessing quality early childhood education.

Jean Todt, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, observed that urbanization is strongly correlated with the use of motor vehicles. He highlighted the economic and social cost of road accidents, and argued that road safety (SDG target 11.2) should be considered part and parcel of sustainable mobility and transport, citing a combination of necessary policy elements, including affordable public transport and infrastructure for motorized and non-motorized transport.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat, noted that, while the percentage of slums, informal settlements and inadequate housing has decreased, their absolute numbers nevertheless has increased. She defined three key challenges for implementing SDG 11: housing affordability (SDG target 11.1), accessibility and adequacy of housing; management of urban sprawl (SDG target 11.3 on sustainable human settlement planning); and access to public spaces (SDG target 11.7). She added that monitoring progress will depend on having common definitions and units of analysis, and drew attention to UN-Habitat’s National Sample of Cities as a model for aggregating data from different cities within a country so as to discern dominant patterns.

Meera AlShaikh, Project Manager, Smart Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), highlighted the high ecological footprint of urban areas and presented Dubai’s strategies for providing solar energy, increased use of recycled water, and various technologies including blockchain, AI and ICT services to enable Dubai’s transformation as a smart city.

Other speakers emphasized the need for finding new approaches to citizen participation, participatory governance by the urban poor, cities’ connections with rural ecosystems, post-disaster management to “build back better,” and the need to stop gender-based violence.

Many UN Member States, major groups, UN agencies and international organizations made interventions from the floor, highlighting country and programme experiences. Delegates linked improvements in urban spaces to poverty alleviation, and some countries, including Brazil and Sierra Leone, stressed the right to housing as an integral part of sustainable cities. They noted the particular needs of women, persons with disabilities, youth, and elderly persons, and drew attention to conflict as a driver for migrants and refugees moving to cities. Several delegates gave examples of “smart city” approaches that not only promote the use of digital technologies but also increase social inclusion, environmental sustainability and quality of life for urban residents.

Many also cited air quality as an important element of sustainable cities, noting the benefits of electric vehicles for reducing air pollution. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) noted that only 12% of cities meet World Health Organization (WHO) air quality standards.

Concluding the session, Abeywardena highlighted that “this is not just about SDG 11,” but about the roles that cities will play in achieving all the SDGs. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on SDG 11 Synthesis Report] [IISD RS Coverage of SDG 11 Review]

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