Surprise accreditation granted to 33 NGOs to participate in Habitat III

The announcement ends six weeks of limbo for the groups.

A civil society member at a UN-Habitat event following the Nairobi PrepCom 2 meetings, 20 April 2015. (UN-Habitat)

Last month, significant new attention was focused on preparations for next year’s Habitat III conference on cities, being held in Quito. For several days in mid-April, government representatives, civil society groups and hundreds of other urban specialists and activists came together in Nairobi for the second of three major preparatory sessions.

Technically the Habitat process is led solely by U. N. member states, and the outcome of next year’s conference, the New Urban Agenda, will likewise be agreed upon solely by government representatives. Yet it is widely acknowledged that a host of other actors — civil society, the private sector, cities and other sub-national authorities — will need to play an important part in defining this new strategy. Thus, a key agenda item at the Nairobi “PrepCom 2” sessions was to agree on rules for the accreditation of new entities that want to offer formal input into the Habitat process.

In the end, however, that agreement did not take place, and those facilitating the Habitat process instead requested that the U. N. General Assembly take up the issue this fall. The 33 NGOs who were awaiting accreditation suddenly had their plans for engagement thrown up in the air. That, at least, was what many thought had happened after the Nairobi meetings ended and for weeks after.

Yet the PrepCom 2 final report, published last week, indicates that those 33 NGOs in fact have been granted special accreditation. The decision resolves the six-week limbo period during which these groups, many of whom sent delegates to PrepCom 2, were unsure of their status vis-à-vis next year’s conference. The special accreditation only applies to Habitat III and related preparatory meetings, such as PrepCom 3, slated for July 2016 in Indonesia — not for other U. N. conferences.

While this now allows for these nearly three-dozen groups to proceed with their Habitat plans, the final report does not clear up the broader debate over the rules of procedure. That parliamentary sticking point, the source of PrepCom 2’s last-minute wrangling, continues to leave unresolved the level of civil society and local authority participation in Habitat III’s negotiations over the final text of the New Urban Agenda.

Frustrating complexity

The 33 NGOs represent a wide range of interests and a broad geographic scope. Citiscope polled the group to gauge reactions and encountered a spectrum of responses to the events of recent weeks.

WIEGO welcomes the decision of the Preparatory Committee for Habitat III to grant special accreditation to the 33 NGOs and Major Group members that had applied for such accreditation,” says Mike Bird, operations manager at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). “WIEGO intends to remain a full and active participant in the Habitat III process.”

“While the announcement now allows for these groups to proceed with their Habitat plans, it does not clear up the broader debate over the rules of procedure — which continue to leave unresolved the level of civil society and local authority participation in Habitat III.”

Others groups were frustrated by the PrepCom 2 process and its aftermath.

“It is very complex to figure out the reasoning behind all these types of administrative and bureaucratic attitudes,” says Roberto Brutus of the Canadian NGO ACHE International. “Further, there is no real indicator to measure the outcome of some U. N. delegates’ negativities when [dedicated] civil entities on the ground just want to raise awareness about what should be done” to attain sustainable development.

Several of the NGOs caught up in the post-PrepCom limbo are hosts of upcoming Urban Thinkers Campuses. Nearly 20 of these events have been scheduled through the end of this year, aimed at soliciting broad input into the New Urban Agenda.

These groups include the Ax:son Johnson Foundation and Shack Dwellers International, which are hosting the first such campus in Stockholm at the end of June. The Municipal Art Society of New York, the New School and the Sherwood Institute are likewise responsible for the New York City Urban Thinkers Campus in October. And the the Colegio Nacional de Jurisprudencia Urbanística is organizing a Mexico City event in November.

The New York organizers say they stayed the course through the limbo period, continuing to make plans for their 24 October event.

“Our organizations plan to continue working with the World Urban Campaign through the General Assembly of Partners and the Urban Thinkers Campus to offer direct contribution from constituent groups to the City We Need consensus document,” Joana Eaton, the executive director of the Sherwood Institute, said on behalf of the organizing committee.

The City We Need will be a primary vehicle for civil society input into the New Urban Agenda. The General Assembly of Partners (GAP) is a new initiative by the World Urban Campaign to broaden engagement with the Habitat process.

“We know Urban Thinkers Campus and GAP participation to be worthwhile,” Eaton said, “and we hope the member states will ensure an inclusive process by also recognizing these important efforts leading to Habitat III.”

Pushing for participation

With their special accreditation now in place, these NGOs’ attention will continue to turn toward the broader issue of civil society participation — not just for these 33 organizations, but for the tens of thousands of individuals and groups expected to descend on Quito for the October 2016 conference.

“The University of Pennsylvania representatives will continue to participate in Habitat and the preparatory activities preceding it,” says Eugénie Birch, who applied for accreditation as co-director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. (Birch is also chair of the World Urban Campaign.)

“We are, however, most interested and concerned about what the member states will approve in the rules of procedure with regard to the treatment of civil society input at the conference,” Birch continued. “We hope that the member states will provide channels for meaningful contributions.”

Headaches over the procedure for participation in the Habitat process come at a time when civil society is making noise within the broader U. N. system ahead of the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September, where the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be finalized.

This week concludes the president of the U. N. General Assembly’s “informal interactive” hearings with civil society and NGOs over the SDGs. Civil society groups continue to push for more participation in the upcoming High Level Political Forum and the soon-to-be negotiated SDG zero draft.

As for Habitat III, with special accreditation addressed, attention will eventually turn to the still-unapproved rules of procedure, expected to be taken up by the General Assembly this fall. Cities and local authorities continue to await the resolution of their status within the Habitat process, which was mandated by the General Assembly to exceed the then-unprecedented level of participation that was granted in advance of Habitat II, held in 1996.

For NGOs seeking full U. N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accreditation, the deadline to apply for consultative status is 1 June.

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