UN-Habitat & New Urban Agenda

Scene Setter

UN-Habitat, in preparation of the Action Framework for the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (AFINUA) is doing a review of the content of the New Urban Agenda (NUA), in order to facilitate the conversion of the NUA into a pragmatic and efficient framework of implementation. For this purpose, the contents of the NUA have been analyzed in fifteen categories, including the four cross cutting principles of the strategic plan of UN-Habitat, available in the UN Habitat website (http://nua.unhabitat.org/list1.htm#).

The fifteen pillars constitute an ordered framework which begins with a dedicated pillar on UN Principles and Values. The NUA refers in many occasions to the principles and values of the United Nations seen not only on the general framework of the human rights, as one of the three pillars of the UN, altogether with peace and security and development, but also in the agreed language within the UN family, including the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Humanitarian Summit, the Migration Conference and of course, the Habitat I, II and III conferences.

The second column of the concepts and ideas of the NUA refers to the linkages between urbanization and sustainable development. This concept was strongly framed in the Rio + 20 outcome document, and has been further developed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where urbanization has been recognized in goal 11 as a definitive contributor and a driver for development and prosperity. Although urbanization has been in the past linked to development in a generic and unspecific manner, we are currently going through a renewed theoretical recognition of urbanization as a much more powerful tool for development as reflected in publications such as the World Bank Development Report 2009, and the 2017 Africa Cities Report. It is by now not simply considered an associated factor but it has much deeper and stronger links than previously recognized.

The third column refers to the National Urban Policy -NUP-. This is to underline a new approach to the role of National Governments as determinants of the final quality of urbanization. This role has been forgotten in many aspects from the theory of urbanization and is currently accepted from a new point of view, underlining the hugely important role of the National Government in the outcomes of urbanization. The National Government is the level that holds the sovereignty of the nation, and it establishes the rules and functions of the subnational and local governments. In that sense, urbanization cannot escape the very comprehensive influence of the modern Central State. Furthermore, the Modern state is enlarging its scope of action in the day by day life of citizens as a provider of many daily life services such as safety and security, health, education, social benefits, unemployment subsidies and many others. Therefore, the inter-linkage between the Central Government deliverables vis-à-vis the Local Government functions of basic urban services (urban planning, water, sanitation, solid waste management etc), are jointly contributing to the quality of the urbanization.

Columns 4-9 constitute the subprograms of UN-Habitat:  Rules and regulations; Urban planning and design; Financing urbanization; Urban basic services; Housing and slum upgrading; Risk reduction and Urban basic services. They have emerged from a prolonged and deep analysis of urbanization pursuant to the Governing Councils of 2011, 2013, 2015 and were substantiated in the elaboration of the UN-Habitat’s Strategic Plan 2014-2019.  This has been a collective effort focalized on the strategic fundamentals of urbanization.

Columns 11,12,13 and 14 refer to the cross-cutting issues of the strategic plan of UN-Habitat. These issues are highlighted throughout the New Urban Agenda and are essential vehicles for realizing the vision of sustainable urban development and leaving no-one behind.

Human rights (column 11). The NUA presents a vision of cities that foster equal opportunities, through ensuring inclusion and participation of all and the elimination of discrimination.  It makes the provisions that those affected most by urban development interventions and those in vulnerable situations are allowed to meaningfully participate in and benefit from urban development. In order for urban development to be sustainable, it must be participatory and inclusive. It also emphasizes the practices of evictions without due process and proper compensation, which still remain a frequent behavior in some countries.

Climate Change (column 12) is given prominence throughout the NUA, which highlights the unique role that cities can play in addressing the growth and adverse impacts of climate change. The NUA focuses on the dual approach of mitigating and adapting to climate change through urban development. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in cities is essential to mitigation, whilst increasing resilience of cities is essential for adaptation.

Cities are accredited around 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. Transport and air conditioning of buildings are the most relevant sources. Climate change measures both in adaptation (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) and in mitigation (preventing measures to diminish the impact of climate change in cities) will definitely change the shape of future cities. That change will be led in many cases by National Policies, Urban legislation prescriptions, and will change urban plans and financial conditions of urbanization. Urban basic services like mobility, both individual and collective, will be revisited to drastically change its current energy consumption mobility.

The NUA strongly commits to gender (column 13), ensuring women’s and girls’ full participation and equal rights in cities. It recognises the gap between women’s contributions to cities and what they benefit from cities, in terms of representation in urban governance, access to decent work and basic services, housing, and public spaces. As such, the NUA highlights the importance of addressing gender inequalities throughout the urban management and development process. The different distribution of land ownership between genders is one of the most striking imbalance and has been subject to one of the UN-Habitat’s global campaigns.

Youth (column 14). The NUA specifically recognizes the multiple forms of discrimination faced by youth, and works to overcome these vulnerabilities and inequalities. Youth must be considered in urban governance processes, in order to foster equal access for youth to education, employment and infrastructure. Inclusion of youth as stakeholders and beneficiaries in these areas is a necessity to improve the successful implementation of the NUA. Special emphasis should be placed in countries that are urbanizing very rapidly, because they tend to have the higher proportion of young population. Here is where the public administration’s commitment to housing affordability constitutes the truly preventive action against the proliferation of slums.

The fifteenth column refers to the Local Implementation. The General Assembly requested an action oriented New Urban Agenda in order to provide a tool to guide the necessary change for the substantive improvement of urbanization for the next twenty years. The NUA insists in the local implementation of the general theories of development and urbanization. Of course, local implementation cannot be isolated from the national urban framework or the subnational level of the administration (when they do exist), with rules and regulations which also affect the capacity of local authorities. Therefore local implementation should not be seen isolated from the NUP and the policies coming from the subnational government level.

Dr. Joan Clos, UN-Habitat Executive Director