Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo
Up for decision: Can local governments participate in negotiations toward the New Urban Agenda?
The U. N. General Assembly opened its 70th session this week amidst multiple burning issues, including sectarian war and violence in the Middle East that have led to a refugee crisis so severe as to have no precedent in decades.
These global emergencies threaten to overshadow landmark priorities of the new session. For instance, in just a week and a half the 70th session will host a special summit to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and related agenda that will guide global anti-poverty and sustainability efforts through 2030 — seeking even to end poverty for good.
The General Assembly’s docket also includes important procedural questions that need to be resolved before preparations can go forward on next year’s Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, better known as Habitat III. This major cities summit, which will set global urbanization strategy for the next 20 years, will take place in October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. Given that timing, Habitat III will offer the first opportunity to implement both the SDGs and any new climate agreement struck in Paris in December.
First, however, the General Assembly must take up a contentious debate over guidelines that will govern Habitat III, the conference’s rules of procedure. Although arcane, these rules will determine who exactly gets to participate in the conference, and how. Particularly up in the air is who beyond representatives of member states will be able to take part in negotiations over the strategy that will come out of Habitat III, known as the New Urban Agenda.
In particular, the status of cities and other local governments remains unclear. Local authorities were indeed given a seat at the negotiating table during the previous Habitat conference, held in 1996 in Istanbul — an unprecedented decision that many stakeholders are now keen to ensure is extended to Quito. Moreover, in its last session, the General Assembly called for Habitat III to meet and exceed the standard of civil society and local government participation established in Istanbul.
The status of cities and other local governments remains unclear. Local authorities were indeed given a seat at the negotiating table during the previous Habitat conference, held in 1996 in Istanbul — an unprecedented decision that many stakeholders are now keen to ensure is extended to Quito.
As Citiscope reported in April, however, major preparatory negotiations held in Nairobi were unable to resolve that key issue and, on the back of that failure, the issue was kicked to the General Assembly. While the General Assembly has a lot on its plate this session, the prospects of a resolution to the Habitat III issue appeared to brighten with recent comments made by the body’s president, Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark.
“I will conduct all activities in as transparent, inclusive and open a manner as possible,” he said in a statement as the 70th session began. “Where it is relevant, I will also engage with and involve civil society representatives and others, such that a multi-stakeholder approach becomes a hallmark of my presidency.”
In the provisional agenda for the 70th session, the implementation of the Habitat II outcome and the strengthening of UN-Habitat is listed as the 21st out of 170 agenda items. While the exact pace at which the General Assembly sifts through its agenda depends on multiple factors, observers anticipate that the question of the Habitat III rules of procedure will come up for discussion sometime in November.