6 September 2017
Governments, Stakeholders Discuss UN-Habitat Reform
UN Photo/Kibae Park/Sipa Press
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During the first day of the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda, participants discussed the measures contained in the Report from the Secretary General’s Independent Panel to Assess, Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat after Adoption of New Urban Agenda.

The UN Deputy Secretary-General said the UN Secretary-General will develop a concrete strategy to ensure that UN-Habitat is fit for purpose and that the reform of the development system, the peacekeeping system and UN management incorporates a new approach to urban areas.

5 September 2017: Representatives of governments, UN agencies, mayors, community administrators, and other stakeholders discussed the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the positioning of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) during a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Convened by UNGA President Peter Thomson, the first day of the two-day meeting discussed best practices, success stories, and recommendations with regards to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

The high-level event is taking place from 5-6 September 2017 at UN Headquarters in New York. Participants also discussed some of the recommendations in the report titled, ‘Report from the Secretary General’s Independent Panel to Assess, Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat after Adoption of New Urban Agenda.’ The Panel proposed strengthening UN-Habitat and establishing an independent coordinating mechanism called ‘UN-Urban’. The Panel also called for UN-Habitat to have, inter alia, a new governance structure based on universal membership, formal involvement of local authorities and subnational governments, and partnerships with marginalized groups.

Opening the meeting, Thomson stressed that two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to live in cities in thirty years’ time. He noted that cities are currently hosting: over 1.6 billion people without adequate housing; 2 billion people affected by water stress; and 2.4 billion people who do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. He thus called for increasing global awareness of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda, particularly among policy makers and the global public, as well as for strengthening strategic partnerships between governments at all levels, community leaders, civil society, and the business community.

Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, underscored that “it is in cities where the battle for sustainability will be won or lost.” She noted that the Secretary-General has taken note of the Panel’s recommendations and will be developing a concrete strategy to ensure that UN-Habitat is fit for purpose and that the reform of the development system, the peacekeeping system and UN management incorporates a new approach to urban areas.

Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, noted that UN-Habitat is the first UN entity to be evaluated in line with the repositioning of the UN development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. He said UN-Habitat fully endorses the UN Secretary-General’s focus on prevention in his proposed UN reform plans, explaining that 75% of refugees and internally displaced persons live in urban areas.

Mpho Parks Tau, President of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and South African Local Governments Association, Co-Chair of the Independent Assessment Panel of UN-Habitat, called for recognizing the mega-trend of urbanization and making it central to more effective forms of territorial governance, paired with a new economic and social order. He called for making UN-Habitat a focal point for sustainable urbanization.

František Ružička, Former Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic, called for harmonizing and clearly linking UN-Habitat’s normative frameworks, operative activities, and governance oversight. He also stressed the need for adequate resources and political support to achieve these objectives.

Ponsto S.M. Sekatle, Member of Parliament for Qacha’s Nek Constituency, Lesotho, called for attention to rural-urban migration and suggested addressing the phenomena by moving some urban services into rural areas. She underlined that the New Urban Agenda is a transversal agenda, explaining that urban aspects need to be integrated in the work of all UN entities.

Dian Triansyah Djani, Permanent Representative of Indonesia, noted that the UN-Habitat governance council currently meets once every two years, and said a new governance structure based on universal membership would lead to greater ownership by Member States, and thus increase participation and financial contributions. He also explained that the proposed entity called ‘UN-Urban’ would not have a dedicated secretariat.

Peter Calthorpe Architect, urban designer, urban planner, and founding member of the Congress for New Urbanism, stressed the importance of a new governance structure based on universal membership, which should also integrate all stakeholders, at all levels, in its activities. Sheela Patel Founder and Director of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), called for the entire UN system to make urbanization a central point of focus.

During the High-level Segment and Plenary debate, many countries and groups of countries, including Djibouti for the African Group, Botswana, Ecuador for the Group of 77 and China (G-77), Ethiopia, Finland, Italy, Poland, South Africa and the US opposed the proposal to create a new mechanism called ‘UN-Urban.’ They recommended instead enhancing policy coordination and integration.

The Czech Republic noted, inter alia, irregularities in the report and a small number of respondents to the research questions upon which the Panel based its recommendations (less than 50% of the UN’s membership). Djibouti, for the African Group, also expressed reservation with regards to the Panel’s proposals and called for caution in considering them. He said the reform package is “ineffective, complicated and expensive, and would not contribute to enhancing the efficiency of UN-Habitat.”

Barbados and Maldives, for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called for a central focus on climate change in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. AOSIS stressed the need for capacity building support and access to finance for small-island developing States (SIDS), and said the Panel’s proposals do not take into account the specific needs of SIDS.

El Salvador, for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Mexico and the Dominican Republic supported a proposed change of focus from a territorial approach based on a hard rural-urban dichotomy to one that takes into account the complex rural-urban continuum.

The EU welcomed the proposal to stress the capacity of subnational authorities. She welcomed the proposal to strengthen the focus on partnerships and expressed flexibility with regards to creating a policy board. However, she stressed that the other governance proposals will require further thinking. Cabo Verde also supported a strengthened focus on partnerships. In addition, he expressed support for a new governance structure with universal membership.

Regarding the proposal to shift UN-Habitat’s role from an operational to a more normative one, the EU, Italy and US supported the proposal, while Guatemala, Singapore and Japan said a proper balance and an effective linkage needs to be ensured between these two functions. Japan stressed that, while an increase in non-core funding would be needed, UN-Habitat also needs to increase its effectiveness and transparency. The US called for clearly delineating the tasks of UN-Habitat.

The meeting continues on 6 September 2017. [UN Press Release][Event Webpage][Remarks of the UNGA President][Remarks of UN Deputy Secretary-General][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Independent Panel’s Report][SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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