PrepCom 2: Official statements indicate concerns around participation, financing

The Kenyan delegation attends the opening plenary session during PrepCom 2. In a formal statement, the Kenyan government later urged the Habitat III leadership to “put in place a clear mechanism for supporting participation of developing countries, especially least developed countries”. (UN-Habitat)

NAIROBI — Developing countries and other stakeholders are expressing concerns on two issues in particular as talks in Nairobi push forward the Habitat III process: broadening participation in that process and figuring out how to finance new, still-to-be-developed strategies around urban development.

Some 700 government representatives, multilateral officials and civil society delegates are currently in the Kenyan capital for the second of three major preparatory sessions ahead of next year’s Habitat III conference. The talks run 14-16 April.

The first “PrepCom”, which took place last fall in New York, was largely focused on technical planning. But the Nairobi meetings are offering an early opportunity for all delegates to substantively engage with the Habitat III agenda — and to study each other’s positioning.

That includes the member states that will ultimately be tasked with drawing up the Habitat III outcome document, the New Urban Agenda. Thus, a key prospect for the Nairobi sessions is for all sides to start getting a sense of the contours that will likely colour the debate during the coming year.

Over the first two days of the PrepCom 2, nearly three-dozen individual states, political groupings and multilateral agencies offered formal statements to the process’s leadership. While much of the content here was boilerplate affirmations of the talks, related development negotiations and their goals, some points of repeated tensions did emerge.

Perhaps the most pointed document in this regard comes from the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries, a grouping with which China is also caucusing. This statement, delivered by the Egyptian ambassador to Kenya, Mahmoud Talaat, repeatedly urges a broadening of the Habitat III process in order to ensure substantive input from as wide a group as possible.

“The G77 plus China warned that sustainable urban development would require ‘transformative’ policies, and went so far as to call for ‘new modalities of interaction among nations at the international level’.”

The ambassador “emphasize[d] the importance of providing avenues for the effective participation of all relevant stakeholders”. Likewise, he urged that deliberations on the technical “issue papers”, drafts of which were recently released, begin as soon as possible, in order to “allow sufficient opportunity for discussions”. (This was as concern made by multiple member states, with the United States expressing frustration that the issue papers were made available to national governments only on the event of PrepCom 2.)

Indeed, the G77 plus China warned that sustainable urban development would require “transformative” policies, and Talaat went so far as to call for “new modalities of interaction among nations at the international level”.

The government of Kenya, which is hosting both the PrepCom 2 talks and the Habitat III Secretariat, echoed these calls in its own statement. The acting Kenyan minister for urban development, Fred Matiangi, urged the conference’s leadership to “put in place a clear mechanism for supporting participation of developing countries, especially least developed countries” during upcoming planning sessions and at the Habitat III conference.

Matiangi even implicitly pushed an opening-up within UN-Habitat, the lead agency on the urban issue, stating that Kenya “looks forward to a reformed, transformed and democratic UN-Habitat that has capacity to carry forward the new vision and mandate while at the same time identifying with the aspirations of all member states.”

‘Most critical constraint’

Financing for the new development strategies expected to come out of the New Urban Agenda is also a clear concern, particularly among many of the poorer countries. The G77 and China, for instance, singled this issue out as “the most critical constraint.”

Jamaica, the only Caribbean country to send a delegation other than Cuba, which generally caucuses with Latin America, spoke up on behalf of island states affected by climate change. Morais Guy, a minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, pointed to the devastating impacts of climate change before turning to the financing issue.

“I … ask, now more than ever, that a concerted effort be made to impress upon global financial institutions the need to make concessionary facilities accessible for human settlements developments in lesser developed and developing countries as well,” Guy said in his statement.

Yet even as multiple international discussions are currently focusing on how to strengthen national funding for development aims, the G77 urged developed countries “to fulfill their commitments to support developing countries’ efforts”. This needs to be done, the countries said, through capacity-building, transfer of technology as well as simple provision of resources.

Adequate financing — and, more broadly, implementation — is indeed widely accepted as a bedrock concern for the new development strategies coming out of the Habitat III and other multilateral processes. Yet the developed countries that put forward official statements during the first two days of PrepCom 2 stayed away from the issue.

The European Union’s statement, for instance, emphasized a slate of important policy priorities: rule of law, urban governance, human rights, gender equality, women’s empowerment and more. But on the key issue of finance, the E. U. offered very little, saying simply: “[T]ogether, we should form a global partnership for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.”

Right to the city

Of course, many of the formal statements put forward during the first two days of PrepCom 2 touch on a variety of other issues, as well, indicating the scope and potency of the coming discussions and debates around formulating the New Urban Agenda.

The Mexican representative, for instance, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and the Caribbean (GRULAC), included notable reference to the role of human rights in the new strategies. He brought up a topic dear to Mexican cities and to many advocates following the Habitat III process: the movement behind the “right to the city”.

The Charter for the Right to the City was first drafted in Mexico City in 2010. It recognizes “the right of all persons and civil society organizations to participate … in the determination of public policies” in order to protect human rights.

“We must recognize that, despite many advances, we have not yet fully realized the ‘right to the city,’” the representative said, speaking in Spanish. “And for that, as we formulate a new urban agenda, we must base our focus on human rights, such that the emerging ‘right to the city’ is universally understood and accepted, as reflected in Habitat II.”

For a full list of formal statements to date from individual countries, political groupings, multilateral agencies and civil society groups, see Citiscope’s PrepCom 2 resource page.

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