UPDATE: U.N. General Assembly approves Habitat III rules, ending 8 months of limbo

Framework seen as among the most progressive in the U.N. system. New negotiating schedule offers first-ever hearing between local authorities and national governments, official says.

UPDATE: The U. N. General Assembly approved the resolution on UN-Habitat, the implementation of Habitat II and preparations for Habitat III on 22 December. The resolution is available here.

UNITED NATIONS — The committee charged with preparing a resolution on Habitat III, next year’s U. N. conference on housing and sustainable urban development, on Tuesday approved long-awaited guidelines that will govern the summit.

This parliamentary framework, known as the “rules of procedure” and “modalities of participation”, defines how civil society and local authorities will engage with national governments during the four-day conference in Quito next October, which will determine the New Urban Agenda strategy on urbanization.

[See: Draft Habitat III rules clarify role of local authorities, civil society]

According to sources close to the process, the new rules are adapted from those established for the High-Level Political Forum, the body tasked with monitoring the new Sustainable Development Goals. Experts consider those rules to be the most progressive in the U. N. system with regard to the participation of civil society, allowing representatives of entities other than national governments to intervene in official negotiations and have access to key documents.

“This is a really positive resolution, allowing all of us to focus on substantive discussions,” said Ana Moreno of the Habitat III Secretariat. The draft resolution, dated 8 December, can be found here.

The rules for Habitat III have been stalled since April, when diplomats in Nairobi failed to reach consensus on a proposal during “PrepCom 2”, the second of three preparatory negotiating sessions ahead of Habitat III.

[See: PrepCom 2 stalls on rules of procedure; issue to await U. N. General Assembly]

The lack of approved rules in turn slowed down preparations for the conference both inside and outside the United Nations. Key matters could not be resolved until the ground rules were clear, and stakeholder organizations were unable to make definitive plans for the conference without knowing whether and how they would be able to participate.

It was ultimately up to the U. N. General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee, better known as the Second Committee, to address the matter in its annual resolution on UN-Habitat, which in recent years has also addressed necessary business concerning Habitat III. The committee finalized the resolution Tuesday, the last day of its session.

‘Historic’ intersessional

Among the resolution’s key provisions are several additions to the official Habitat III schedule. Most notably, the resolution includes a call for three intergovernmental negotiations on the “zero draft” of the New Urban Agenda, to take place in May, June and July.

The resolution also sets aside five days of open-ended consultative meetings in April just before the release of the zero draft. In addition, informal two-day hearings will take place for local authorities and civil society in May and June, respectively.

“The intersessional process is really innovative,” Moreno said, calling the outcome “historic”. She continued: “It’s the first time there will be a hearing between local authorities and national governments.”

[See: Let’s not forget the legacy of inclusiveness from Habitat II]

The resolution also outlines how accreditation will work. NGOs already accredited to the U. N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as well as those accredited for PrepCom 1 or PrepCom 2 are now pre- approved to attend Habitat III as delegates. Additional deadlines will come during the first half of 2016 to apply for special accreditation to PrepCom 3 — taking place in July in Indonesia — and Habitat III.

Local authorities, in turn, can register under the auspices of an NGO or as members of a national delegation. Member states do have the right to object to the participation of a specific local authority, but such an objection would have to be justified to the Bureau, the 10-member body of countries overseeing the Habitat III process within the U. N.

The resolution also acknowledges the role of the General Assembly of Partners and the importance of the World Assembly of Local Authorities, which will take place immediately before Habitat III.

[See: Surprise accreditation granted to 33 NGOs to participate in Habitat III]

Clearing a key hurdle

With the rules of procedure and modalities of participation out of the way, the path is now clear for robust negotiations in the spring and substantive progress on the text of the New Urban Agenda before Habitat III.

“The good news is that there will be no need to devote time to this during the next preparatory committee in July,” said European Union diplomat Isabelle Delattre. “Now, we still have a lot of work to be done with the outcome of the policy units to be submitted at the end of the year,” she noted, referring to the 10 thematic expert groups that are slated to offer key recommendations on the drafting and implementation of the New Urban Agenda by the end of the year.

[See: Habitat III ‘policy units’ experts announced]

The Second Committee’s resolution on UN-Habitat, with the Habitat III annex, has now been sent to the U. N. General Assembly for formal adoption by the governing body. Adoption is expected by the end of the year.

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