2018 reporting period will prove critical for New Urban Agenda, advocates say

National governments, city leaders, civil society groups and other urbanists are meeting this week in Nairobi. (Gregory Scruggs)

NAIROBI — Although 2017 is not yet halfway over, advocates for the New Urban Agenda on sustainable cities already are looking to next year as critical for embedding the agreement aims among national governments.

That’s because the recent Habitat III conference set up a timeline for how countries will report on their progress toward the global, non-binding agreement. But the summit, held in October in Ecuador’s capital city, was light on specifics.

Instead, next year’s biannual United Nations-sponsored urbanism conference, the World Urban Forum, will serve as the first chance to lay the groundwork for tracking countries’ progress toward the New Urban Agenda. The forum, to be held from 7-13 February in Kuala Lumpur, will come early enough in the year to influence the first of what will be quadrennial reports on the New Urban Agenda, to be delivered in July.

“World Urban Forum 9 will be the place to craft this whole reporting process,” said Shipra Narang Suri, vice-president of the General Assembly of Partners, a stakeholder umbrella group that advocates on behalf of the New Urban Agenda. “WUF9 will be the biggest stakeholder engagement milestone after Quito.”

The 2018 report will come less than two years after the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, but the timing is intentional: It lines up with the U. N.’s annual review of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, which in 2018 will look at Goal 11, the so-called “urban SDG.” The hope, then, is that the New Urban Agenda will receive greater attention by being linked directly to Goal 11, as national governments are heavily invested in the SDGs.

[See: Six months after Habitat III, is the New Urban Agenda gaining political traction?]

While the SDGs already have a standard set of indicators for measuring progress, the ones for Goal 11 remain under debate. Meanwhile, advocates believe that the New Urban Agenda, which was created through a process that incorporated significant input from groups working outside government channels, will allow them to weigh in and counterbalance self-reporting from national governments.

“National governments will report on indicators agreed in the U. N., which are a standardized, lowest-common-denominator set of indicators,” said Suri. In order to capture the real dynamics of contemporary urbanization, she continued, “We have a role to play in reporting qualitative narratives to confirm or contradict the numbers that are coming in.”

Pivotal WUF

The General Assembly of Partners hopes to play this role through a process known as multi-stakeholder reporting. Under this approach, civil society groups and research institutions would offer independent and arguably more objective information compared to what governments provide. For example, government census data typically undercounts informal settlements, so NGOs such as Slum/Shack Dwellers International conduct their own censuses to supplement official counts.

“There is no other platform for [stakeholders] to bring their expertise at the level of the World Urban Forum. As UN-Habitat, we should create some structure — we need to give the opportunity to [stakeholders] to present those reports. Not to have their inputs would keep us blind to New Urban Agenda implementation.”

Ana Moreno
Coordinator, World Urban Forum 9

Whether stakeholders will be allowed the opportunity to offer formal input to the reporting process remains to be seen. But early indications will come this week at the conclusion of the UN-Habitat Governing Council, which is taking place here in the Kenyan capital. Following talks, U. N. member states are expected pass a resolution on the World Urban Forum.

[See: UN-Habitat reforms will hold up New Urban Agenda implementation]

“There is no other platform for [stakeholders] to bring their expertise at the level of the World Urban Forum,” said Ana Moreno, the conference’s coordinator. “As UN-Habitat, we should create some structure — we need to give the opportunity to [stakeholders] to present those reports. Not to have their inputs would keep us blind to New Urban Agenda implementation.”

Moreno, who also was a key organizer in the Habitat III conference, called the New Urban Agenda “the only U. N. agenda talking about preventing problems, not about managing crises.” As a result, she is encouraging advocates to be “proactive, not reactive” in their independent reporting and to focus on what could be the potential outcomes for cities and countries if they act on the agenda’s principles. “You don’t monitor what you’re doing. You monitor how successful you’ll be if you do that,” she said.

However, backward-looking reporting also is an aspect of existing reporting mechanisms. Last year, a research group led by the New School in New York measured countries against the 1996 Habitat Agenda, the precursor to the New Urban Agenda. The researchers found minimal progress over the past two decades.

Likewise, the Habitat International Coalition watchdog group for decades has been maintaining independent reports covering the Habitat conferences, which began in 1976. Those studies include a database of forced evictions and other violations of the Habitat agreements — which has sounded two alerts since the New Urban Agenda’s October adoption, warning of housing rights violations in Nigeria and Argentina.

[See: Habitat III struggled to deliver — but nonetheless, a new global urban agenda is upon us]

But should New Urban Agenda reporting going forward incorporate such watchdog efforts that catalogue existing abuses? Moreno argues instead for a forward-looking approach.

“You are not going to solve [forced evictions] in the New Urban Agenda,” she said. “You need to understand why this forced eviction is happening, most probably related to land legislation and housing issues that you cannot solve now. But the New Urban Agenda gives you tools and strategies.”

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Gregory Scruggs is a senior correspondent for Citiscope. Full bio

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