Two extra negotiating days announced for Habitat III

Concerns had mounted that opportunities for hard-nosed negotiating were running short. A new draft of the New Urban Agenda is also supposed to be released by 17 June.

UNITED NATIONS — With recognition that extra time will be needed to hash out the details of a key U. N. document set to be adopted in October, the leaders of U. N. talks on a global urbanization strategy called for two additional negotiating days to take place at the end of the month.

The announcement comes in the context of the Habitat III process, the ongoing attempt to agree on a new global framework for sustainable urbanization. Political negotiations on that strategy, called the New Urban Agenda, are ongoing and set to conclude at a major summit in October in Ecuador’s capital.

Originally slated for 29 June through 1 July, the third round of informal intergovernmental negotiations on the New Urban Agenda will now take place that whole week — from 27 June  through 1 July — at U. N. Headquarters.

[See Citiscope’s Habitat III calendar]

The extra days were deemed necessary because of a delay in the elaboration of a new draft version of the New Urban Agenda, the first draft of which was released in early May. That delay occurred over a stalemate in the selection of “co-facilitators”, meant to oversee the political negotiations and move the process toward agreement. That impasse was resolved last week with the appointment of diplomats from Mexico and the Philippines.

[See: Habitat III impasse resolved with Mexico, Philippines to lead talks]

On Friday, Philippine Ambassador Lourdes Ortiz Yparraguirre announced that the new version of the New Urban Agenda will be ready for distribution by Friday, 17 June.

“We have 45 days until Surabaya,” Yparraguirre said, referring to three days of formal negotiations scheduled for 25-27 July in the Indonesian city. “With five working days for the next informal intergovernmental negotiations, we will have the opportunity for deeper line-by-line negotiations on specific language as well as additional ‘informal informals’ and other consultations if needed.”

In U. N. parlance, “informal informals” are closed-door meetings among a small number of countries designed to work through thorny issues in candid negotiations outside the glare of the public eye.

Rights and implementation

Two such “informal informal” sessions were held this past Friday, during the second round of talks. Those sessions covered the “right to the city” and “means of implementation/follow-up and review”, two key issues likely to generate significant debate in the Habitat III negotiations.

On Friday afternoon, the Dominican Republic, which chaired the conversation on the right to the city, offered a summary of the closed-door session. The Dominican diplomat said that most member states are not opposed to new ideas (the right to the city is not currently enshrined in any U. N. document) but that they are looking for new language that will reflect the concept’s ideas without necessarily using that formulation.

“Most of the member states support some of the concepts that right to the city is proposing — for example, access to basic housing and inclusiveness,” she said. “However, some issues are still open to discussion, such as the legal implications of the word ‘right.’”

[See: Four storylines to watch in the Habitat III negotiations]

The Czech Republic chaired the informal informal on means of implementation/follow-up and review. This covers the question of how to pay for and implement the New Urban Agenda, as well as how to track progress on its implementation.

Here there are clearly some fundamental disagreements, the Czech diplomat said. Member states are not in unison on whether it is too early in the process to discuss follow-up and review, whether the New Urban Agenda should be monitored in a format different from the new Sustainable Development Goals, and other related issues.

On this latter issue, Yparraguirre acknowledged consistent calls from member states for “coherence” between the New Urban Agenda and the litany of agreements reached in 2015 on disaster risk reduction, financing, sustainable development and climate change.

She also pointed out areas of substance that came up in last week’s talks. “We’ve noted the need to strengthen references to certain themes such as but not limited to disaster risk reduction, cultural heritage, human rights, climate change, food security, rural-urban linkages and many other essential elements of sustainable urban development,” she said.

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

Colombia’s Isabel Cavelier, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 of developing countries, rounded out the afternoon by requesting a “clean” text. This would be no longer than the existing version of the New Urban Agenda but would also incorporate the comments offered by member states in both the first and second rounds of informal negotiations.

With a 104-page compilation document from the first round of negotiations, followed by written comments submitted last week, there is indeed a wealth of material for the co-facilitators, the Habitat III Bureau and the Habitat III Secretariat to sift through in what will surely be a busy week as they prepare for the latest iteration of the New Urban Agenda.

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