July a crucial month for input on Habitat III ‘issue papers’

The deadline has been extended for member states, while everyone else will be able to offer feedback via a new online platform during 6-31 July.

This week marked an important milestone for national governments and everyday citizens alike ahead of next year’s U. N. conference on cities, Habitat III.

In May, the Habitat III Secretariat published 22 issue papers that cover the core of the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year strategy on urbanization that will come out of next year’s conference. Member states were originally given until 30 June to provide comment on these documents, while input from stakeholders would be welcomed for a month starting 1 July.

Governments have now been given an extra month, while the feedback period for everyone else has been pushed off by a week.

Admittedly, the issue papers — lengthy round-ups written by most of the U. N.’s technical agencies — are a lot to digest. They are grouped under six broad themes: social cohesion and equity, urban frameworks, urban housing and basic services, urban ecology and environment, urban economy and spatial development.

In the end, Finland was the only government to submit comments by the 30 June deadline. The governments of Germany, Ecuador and the Netherlands, meanwhile, requested more time. As such, the deadline for input from member states has now been pushed back to 31 July. (At the time of writing, comments from five countries were available here.)

Now, civil society organizations will have their chance to dig into the issue papers and provide feedback. The Habitat III Secretariat launched a new website this week designed in part to accommodate that input through what’s being called the Urban Dialogues Online Platform, which will run 6-31 July. The platform requires two moderators per month, and the Habitat III Secretariat is offering a two-hour training session for interested parties.

This feedback mechanism is similar to ones used by the United Nations ahead of Rio+20, the conference that jumpstarted the process toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the drafting of the SDGs themselves. (The SDGs, meanwhile, are to be finalized at a major summit in New York in September.)

This month, the Habitat III Secretariat is also sifting through nearly 700 nominations of experts to serve on the policy units that will provide independent policy recommendations to the New Urban Agenda drafting committee. The issue papers are considered a jumping-off point for the policy units. Ultimately, 200 experts will be selected based on the criteria of the terms of reference, as well as efforts to establish geographical and gender balance.

Proactive civil society groups did not wait until this week’s opening of the comment period to begin their assessments. For instance, the Huairou Commission, which advocates for gender rights, has already run a word count of the terms “gender” and “women” for all 22 issue papers. They found 38 mentions of the former and 90 of the latter.

Some papers, like “Inclusive Cities”, “Jobs and Livelihood” and “Informal Sector”, featured these terms upwards of two dozen times. Others, like “Municipal Finance”, “Urban Rules and Legislation” and “Urban Ecosystems and Resource Management”, did not mention women or gender at all.

“Huairou has since requested the 42 experts it nominated to the policy units to look deeper and analyze beyond the word count on the women and gender perspectives in the issue papers related to the policy units they are nominated to,” reports the commission’s Sri Husnaini Sofjan.

As both member states and civil society slice and dice the issue papers over the coming month, the documents will provide plenty of food for thought for the experts on the policy units. The work of those experts is slated to begin on 31 August, with an expected draft report by the end of the year. The Habitat III Secretariat says periodic draft documents and discussion summaries will be made available along the way.

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