Negotiators resume Habitat III talks following release of revised New Urban Agenda

New details also available on a critical round of negotiations in Indonesia at the end of July.

Flags flutter in front of U.N. Headquarters in New York. (Joao Araujo Pinto/UN Photo)

Informal negotiations on the draft New Urban Agenda began Monday at U. N. Headquarters in New York, the first such talks since a long-awaited revision of the global urbanization strategy was released this month.

Negotiations on the agenda among all U. N. member states began in early May under what’s known as the Habitat III process. The strategy is set to be adopted in October at a major summit in Quito, Ecuador.

A source close to the negotiations told Citiscope that the G77/China — a key bloc of developing countries — met last week to review the document. While the new draft is more concise and streamlined than the initial draft, some countries, led by China, are pushing for “very substantive deletions”, the source says, which some countries have described as “unusual and shocking requests”.

[See: 12 takeaways from government-suggested edits of the draft New Urban Agenda]

The shorter document also reflects recent requests by the United States, Japan and others to remove certain lines and even whole paragraphs. Latin American countries, in turn, are trying to shore up some of the language reportedly on the chopping block.

This week’s talks were originally scheduled for three days but expanded to five at the end of the last round. Even so, the talks will likely be an intense effort that could run well into evening sessions.

The pressure to resolve matters this week stems a separate but related process around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new global framework that went into effect in January. For the first time, certain countries next month will be reporting on their nascent efforts to implement the SDGs.

That reporting will take place through a mechanism — known as the High-Level Political Forum — that some are suggesting could be used for eventual review of the New Urban Agenda. For now, however, many are worried that the High Level Political Forum events will take away diplomatic oxygen from the Habitat III talks.

[See: Cities poised to play a bigger role in SDGs review process]

The topics chosen for closed-door talks, known as “informal informals”, at the end of the last round of negotiations offer some hints on key ongoing tension points. For instance, it is likely that the “right to the city” remains a controversial point, as well as the issue of “means of implementation” and “follow-up and review”.

These latter issues are particularly complex. The discussions focus on how to ensure that a voluntary document such as the New Urban Agenda gets political traction such that its provisions are put into place, including a way for countries to track progress and report back periodically.

[See: How will we keep track of city actions under the New Urban Agenda?]

On this last point, however, the source indicated that few ideas have been forthcoming. While there has been a repeated push from Kenya to expand UN-Habitat’s Governing Council to have universal membership of all U. N. member states, this provision continues to see opposition by the United States and European Union.

Toward Surabaya

Following the current round of talks in New York, the urban world will shift its attention to the Indonesian port city of Surabaya at the end of July for what are scheduled to be the third and final set of official negotiations before the Habitat III conference itself.

The event, known in U. N. parlance as PrepCom 3, will take place 25-27 July in the country’s second city. Its goal will be hammering out the final details of New Urban Agenda.

The first details of those talks recently emerged. The event will reportedly include a keynote speech by the president of Indonesia, a series of field visits through metropolitan Surabaya and a host of side events. There also will be a stage called the “Urban Speaker’s Corner” for 30-minute presentations on urban development. Applications for speaking slots are due by 30 June.

Negotiators, meanwhile, will be sequestered inside the convention centre of the Grand City Convex, a shopping-mall complex. Diplomats will have three sessions of three hours each, with the goal of arriving at consensus on the New Urban Agenda.

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