General Assembly taking up Habitat III rules; November adoption possible
At issue is whether local authorities and civil society will be allowed to formally participate in negotiations around the New Urban Agenda.
NEW YORK — Critical rules governing Habitat III, next year’s once-every-20-year summit on urbanization, are under negotiation at the U. N. General Assembly and may be adopted as early as late November, according to several foreign missions to the United Nations with knowledge of the process. There is reportedly a draft circulating among member states, although details are not yet publicly available.
The guidelines in question — formally, the conference’s rules of procedure — govern the participation of stakeholders such as civil society and local authorities in the negotiation of the Habitat III outcome strategy, the New Urban Agenda.
These rules were originally discussed at preparatory negotiations in April held in Nairobi, but diplomats at that meeting failed to reach agreement. Instead, final decision was sent to the U. N. General Assembly, which is currently in session.
The rules of procedure are a necessary tool for the formal negotiation of the New Urban Agenda to take place next year once the strategy’s “zero draft” is released, likely in late April.
Last week, the Habitat III Bureau — 10 countries designated by the General Assembly to represent member states in the preparation of the conference — met in a closed meeting at U. N. Headquarters.
On Tuesday, the General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee (better known as the Second Committee) is slated to take up UN-Habitat as its main agenda item, which will be the next opportunity for these issues to surface. UN-Habitat is the lead U. N. agency for the Habitat III process.
According to a spokesperson for the Slovenian Mission to the United Nations, whose permanent representative Andrej Logar is the Second Committee’s current chair, the rules of procedure will not be adopted at Tuesday’s meeting, an annual event. Instead, the spokesperson indicated that the meeting will focus on the General Assembly’s traditional two broad themes when it addresses UN-Habitat: strengthening the agency and implementing the Habitat Agenda, the strategy agreed upon in 1996 at Habitat II.
“Debate on Tuesday will nonetheless surely touch upon the upcoming Habitat III conference and priorities of member states in this process,” the spokesperson said.
“Implementing Habitat II and working towards the elaboration of Habitat III cannot be done by national governments alone.”
Slovenian Mission to the U. N.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, another close observer of the process described Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity for member states to exchange views and hear presentations. This implication here is that no decision will be made immediately.
Although the Slovenian mission indicated that it was “not aware” of any proposal for draft rules of procedure in circulation, a Czech diplomat suggested otherwise.
“They were discussed at the Bureau meeting with a conclusion that negotiation among U. N. member states must take place with all the procedural requirements for those rules of procedure to be adopted,” said Milan Konrad, a Second Committee expert at the Czech Mission to the U. N., one of the Bureau members. “I believe that someone has been working on such a proposal, but I personally have not seen it.”
Another diplomat close to the process indicated that such a proposal is currently under analysis by the G77 group of developing countries. Several other members of the Habitat III Bureau and the Second Committee Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.
Each year, the U. N. General Assembly passes a resolution on UN-Habitat, and in recent years those have laid the groundwork for Habitat III.
This process began with a 2009 resolution requesting that the UN-Habitat executive director prepare a report on global urbanization as a prerequisite for hosting a third Habitat conference. In 2011, UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos delivered that report, which led to a General Assembly resolution that same year authorizing Habitat III to take place in 2016.
The subsequent Resolution 67/216, adopted in 2012, “requests the Secretary-General of the conference to make proposals to the Preparatory Committee on improved participation of local authorities and other stakeholders in the preparatory process and the conference itself, building on the positive experience enabled by the rules and procedures of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat and the inclusive engagement modalities of Habitat II.”
This language has formed the basis of a widely held opinion that Habitat III must not only meet but also exceed the uniquely inclusive standards of participation for civil society and local authorities set at Habitat II.
Several foreign missions affirmed this stance. “The Czech position is consistently in favor of substantial participation of local authorities in the Habitat III process as part of a common position of the European Union,” said Konrad. “All E. U. Bureau members and E. U. member states are in favor of a substantial voice for local authorities in the process.”
In a statement, the Slovenian Mission said: “Implementing Habitat II and working towards the elaboration of Habitat III cannot be done by national governments alone.”
Slovenia “has high expectations of the role to be played by the local authorities as we see them as the closest partners to citizens, historically linked with the fulfillment of their basic needs,” the mission stated. “An increasing co-operation, based on agreed principles, between all levels of government, civil society organizations and the private sector, is therefore required to work effectively on urban development.”
Distinct governmental status
In turn, local authorities have been agitating for an enhanced role in Habitat III through the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments.
According to the Taskforce’s Emilia Saiz, the group’s demands are “improved participation of local authorities building on the rules and procedures of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat, acknowledgment of the distinct governmental status of local and regional authorities, and acknowledging the organization of the Second World Assembly of Local and Regional Authorities.” The first such assembly took place on the sidelines of Habitat II.
In comments to Citiscope at the Montréal Thematic Meeting on Metropolitan Areas, held last month, Clos, who is also Habitat III secretary-general, said that local authorities “are a very important actor”.
“At the same time, we are a U. N. conference,” he continued. “We are going to find a pragmatic solution that will recognize this and hope that during the conference [Habitat III], we will do what the General Assembly has asked me to propose.”