PrepCom 2 brings 700 to Nairobi, kicks off Habitat III engagement

A delegate walks past a programme for the second session of the Habitat III Preparatory Committee, taking place in Nairobi 14-16 April. (UN-Habitat)

NAIROBI — The Gigiri neighbourhood was buzzing early this week as some 700 registrants from around the world gathered here to move forward on defining the New Urban Agenda — the goal of next year’s Habitat III conference and a landmark opportunity to set the world’s collective strategy on urbanization for the decades to come.

Those who have travelled to Nairobi represent a broad scope of interests. Far-flung delegations, mayors of global cities, thought leaders at NGOs and universities, activists from grass-roots organizations, staffers from U. N. agencies, and representatives from multilateral institutions and foundations have all converged on the United Nations complex.

On Tuesday, they formally inaugurated what will be an intensive two weeks of activity centred on the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), which has its headquarters here. The second preparatory committee, or PrepCom 2, for Habitat III runs 14-16 April. It will be immediately followed by the 25th session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council, on 17-23 April.

These major back-to-back meetings come as the Post-2015 Development Agenda calendar enters a new, breakneck phase. The combination of events could favourably position the run-up to Habitat III within a very busy year of redefining the global development landscape.

Major events during the last six months of this year alone include the Financing for Development conference in July, where member states are to agree on new financing mechanisms for the Post-2015 Agenda; the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September, where the international community will agree on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and the COP 21 climate negotiations in December.

“This is a very important PrepCom toward Habitat III because of the calendar,” said Joan Clos, the executive director of UN-Habitat and secretary-general of Habitat III, speaking at the start of this week’s Nairobi events. “We’re following very closely the debates of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

Clos particularly acknowledged the key role of the government of Kenya in this process.

“The Kenyan permanent representative [to the U. N.] in New York is facilitating the intergovernmental negotiations. We are supportive of Kenya because they support Sustainable Development Goal 11,” Clos said, referring to the urban SDG. “This is a crucial movement because it is immediately followed by Financing for Development in Addis Ababa.”

“People are sorting out how they are going to participate … [But] leadership can emerge.”

Given the timeline, the Habitat III Secretariat is also well aware of the significance of the Nairobi events.

“PrepCom 2 marks the start of an intensive year of consultative events to engage a full range of actors, from member states to civil society, to discuss a new paradigm of global urbanization, culminating in a draft outcome in April next year,” said Ana Moreno, Habitat III’s coordinator.

“This includes regional and thematic meetings, the creation of policy units, open debates and targeted platforms of stakeholders, partners and networks to feed into the intergovernmental negotiations.”

For civil society representatives, the PrepCom platform is an opportunity to make their voices heard in the same chamber as member states. Janice Peterson, the global chair and director of the Huairou Commission, which advocates for women’s rights, says she believes there is potential for dialogue in Nairobi.

“Leadership can emerge,” she said, pointing to the bottom-up process that her organization initiated at PrepCom 1, which took place in New York in September. “New York got them going.”

Here in Nairobi, “People are sorting out how they are going to participate,” Peterson noted.

In particular, she pointed to the General Assembly of Partners, a creation of the World Urban Campaign aimed at soliciting broad stakeholder input for Habitat III. The assembly had its inaugural meeting Monday.

At that meeting, chairs and co-chairs were established for 14 interest groups and other stakeholders, roughly mirroring the structure of the U. N. Major Groups. There are also some additional categories: research and academia, grass-roots organizations, parliamentarians, foundations and philanthropies, professionals, and media.

New momentum

Meanwhile, the Habitat process is now picking up significant momentum. In the months ahead, the Habitat III Secretariat and the Bureau of the Preparatory Committee will continue to receive national reports from member states, some of which have already been submitted.

These offices will also be gathering the materials needed to write the “zero draft” of the Habitat III outcome document, a process that will ultimately result in the New Urban Agenda. That drafting process is set to begin in May 2016.

Action is also slated to pick up outside of the formal Habitat III structures. National and regional urban forums are now being organized around the world, as are thematic meetings. In addition, a dozen global “Urban Thinker Campuses” have been announced, to take place before the end of the year.

Finally, World Habitat Day, the World Urban Campaign and the General Assembly of Partners will ensure that Habitat III watchers will stay plenty busy before PrepCom 3 rolls around in July 2016.

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