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Draft Habitat III rules clarify role of local authorities, civil society

A proposed U.N. General Assembly resolution would allow accredited local authorities to participate in any part of next year’s cities conference, although without a right to vote. The draft also adds new consultation and negotiation days.

The degree to which local authorities and civil society will have a say in Habitat III, next year’s U. N. conference on housing and urban development, became clearer this week as proposed rules were put on the table at the United Nations, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Since early this month, the Group of 77 (G77) bloc of developing countries, plus China, has been negotiating a proposal for what are known as the “rules of procedure” and “modalities of participation”, the parliamentary guidelines that will structure the format of next year’s summit in Quito, Ecuador.

[See: Drumbeat builds among national governments to adopt Habitat III rules]

At the beginning of November, a body of the U. N. General Assembly — the U. N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Second Committee — held its annual hearing on UN-Habitat. The agency, the lead institution on Habitat III, is also the one tasked with implementing the outcome of the last such conference, Habitat II, which was held in Istanbul in 1996.

The eventual expected outcome of that hearing is a resolution on the agency, which in recent years has included pointed language about the organization of Habitat III. In particular, it has called for the secretary-general of the conference — Joan Clos, who is also the executive-director of UN-Habitat — to ensure that the level of participation by local authorities and civil society meets and exceeds the uniquely strong level established at Habitat II.

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

On Tuesday, South Africa, the chair of the G77, presented its version of the draft resolution on UN-Habitat, which included detailed rules for the format and structure of Habitat III. Multiple sources close to the negotiations confirmed that the 17 November draft resolution has been tabled. The document is now awaiting formal publication. (UPDATE: The document can be accessed here.)

Once the circulated draft is officially published, closed-door “informal” negotiations can begin between the G77 and developed countries, a bloc usually led by the European Union, whose delegation has been vocal about Habitat III since preparatory negotiations took place in April.

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

Formal stakeholder recognition

Since April, a key unresolved issue has been how — and even whether — local authorities and civil society would be allowed to participate in the Habitat III negotiations around the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year urbanization strategy that will come out of the conference. The draft resolution has much to say this issue, according to a copy reviewed by Citiscope.

The draft explicitly recognizes the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), a key umbrella group of Habitat III stakeholders. It also calls out the Second World Assembly of Local and Regional Authorities that will immediately precede Habitat III. The document formally recognizes both of these groupings as representatives of critical Habitat III stakeholders.

“I am pleased that the GAP is recognized in the resolution, because such mention underlines the member states’ recognition of the importance of civil society and non-member-state governmental contributions to the New Urban Agenda,” said Eugénie Birch, chair of the World Urban Campaign and president of the GAP.

[See: Civil society must ensure equitable inclusion in Habitat III]

The proposed rules would allow accredited local authorities to participate in any part of the conference, whether a plenary deliberation or a working group committee. However, they will not have the right to vote. Civil society, meanwhile, will have observer status for the public meetings of Habitat III and will be allowed to make oral statements through designated representatives.

All civil society organizations that were accredited to Habitat II or have existing accreditation through ECOSOC will be accredited to Habitat III. Special accreditation, which was approved for several dozen organizations at PrepCom 2, will also be offered going forward. The deadline to apply ahead of the final preparatory negotiations — “PrepCom 3”, to take place in Surabaya, Indonesia, in late July — will be 1 April and ahead of Habitat III itself will be 2 May. Applications for special accreditation can be made via the Habitat III website.

The draft resolution also calls on the Bureau, the 10-member body of member states coordinating Habitat III, to release the “zero draft” of the New Urban Agenda no later than six months prior to the conference. This would would establish a deadline of 17 April.

Increased negotiating days

The proposal would also expand the number of consultations and negotiating sessions between now and Habitat III. The document calls for open consultations over five days in April in order to provide feedback on the conclusions of several formal processes — expert “policy units” and the series of regional and thematic meetings currently underway.

In addition, the draft proposes three formal intergovernmental negotiating sessions of three days each in May, June and July, something close observers have increasingly warned was necessary. It would also establish two-day informal hearings with local authorities and civil society in May and June, respectively.

The GAP’s Birch said these additional consultation and negotiation periods “will be an important time to share ideas among the interested parties.”

The U. N. missions of G77 chair South Africa, negotiation facilitator Indonesia and chief negotiator European Union all could not be reached for comment. The Habitat III Secretariat declined to comment.

Note: This story has been updated.

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