Fresh draft of New Urban Agenda is released ahead of key negotiations

Despite calls for its reduction, the new version of the Habitat III strategy has grown a bit. Negotiators will now scrutinize its details at what is supposed to be the final round of talks.

On Monday the United Nations released a fresh draft of a 20-year urbanization strategy known as the New Urban Agenda, one week before formal negotiations convene in the hopes of wrapping up the most contentious issues in the text.

National governments have been negotiating on the document since May. The final agenda is set to be adopted at the Habitat III conference this October in Quito, Ecuador. But before it can reach that milestone, negotiators will meet next week in Surabaya, Indonesia, for the conference’s third and final official preparatory meeting, also known as PrepCom 3.

[See: How are governments responding to the revised draft New Urban Agenda?]

At 19 pages and 156 paragraphs, this third version, officially the “Draft New Urban Agenda” (the previous two versions were called “zero drafts”), is only one page and five paragraphs longer than its predecessor — despite recent appeals from many countries to add language back into the document, as Citiscope reported last week. See each of the previous versions of the New Urban Agenda, along with other related source documents, here.

Among two of the main controversial issues, one appears to be resolved while the other will likely generate more debate in Surabaya. The “right to the city” remains mentioned once in the agenda’s opening section, known as the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All, in terms that recognize the concept as one that some countries have enshrined in law while shielding it from the broader applicability that other countries have feared.

“Cities for all is also recognized as the Right to the City in some countries, based on a people-centered vision of cities as places that strive to guarantee a decent and full life for all inhabitants,” the new draft reads.

[See: The challenges of land and inclusions for the New Urban Agenda]

The other hot-button issue is less settled: How to monitor and report progress on the New Urban Agenda. A proposal by the European Union to feed into the existing architecture for review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was not adopted in the new text (see the bottom of this story for the E. U. proposal). That mechanism, known as the High-Level Political Forum, is currently taking place in New York at U. N. Headquarters, but at present it is not slated to become the main venue for discussions of the New Urban Agenda.

“We acknowledge that the follow-up and review process of the New Urban Agenda should have effective linkages with the follow-up and review mechanisms of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development [the SDGs], recognizing that, while both agendas have independent mandates, it is imperative to ensure coordination and coherence in their implementation,” the text reads in its final section, on what’s known as “follow-up and review.”

[See: How will we know if the New Urban Agenda has been successful?]

However, those calling for the New Urban Agenda’s follow-up and review section to strengthen or otherwise expand UN-Habitat’s mandate did not get their wish either, as the new document only “affirm[s] the expertise and existing mandate” of the agency, whose fate historically has been tied to the Habitat conferences.

The issue, in turn, is punted to the U. N.’s parliamentary body. The agenda’s penultimate paragraph now calls for the U. N. General Assembly to establish universal membership on UN-Habitat’s Governing Council, ensure reliable funding to the agency, support capacity-building projects in developing countries for implementation of the New Urban Agenda and empower the agency as the institutional leader on urbanization.

[See: Will the New Urban Agenda define the future of UN-Habitat?]

Broader partnerships

Finally, the two constituencies lobbying feverishly ahead of Habitat III can increasingly see how their efforts have played out.

“The other hot-button issue is less settled: How to monitor and report progress on the New Urban Agenda.”

Local governments have played a major role in the run-up to Habitat III, in part in a bid to receive “special status” within the U. N. system, which currently puts them in the same category as non-governmental organizations. Language recommending such a change is no longer in the New Urban Agenda.

[See: Cities clamour for a seat at the table of the U. N. countries club]

However, “sub-national” and “local” governments are mentioned over two dozen times in the current draft text, albeit often in the same line as “national” governments. In addition, the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, a parallel every-20-year effort on the part of local authorities, also receives a mention.

The other major constituency is civil society, which has organized under an umbrella group called the General Assembly of Partners. They remain recognized by name in the section on “means of implementation” and while their proposal of an International Decade on Sustainable Urbanization has been stripped out, their idea of a Multi-Stakeholder Panel on Sustainable Urbanization remains under consideration.

[See: Habitat III stakeholders offer vision of broad partnership for sustainable urbanization]

Heading into Surabaya, the New Urban Agenda is still very much a “live text”, such that much could change in the political horse-trading and diplomatic overtures that will likely go into the Indonesian night next week. At present, however, the text has not yet been “bracketed” — which is to say, controversial language lacking consensus has not been denoted with brackets, a common practice at U. N. negotiations.

If Surabaya concludes with a heavily bracketed document, it is likely that more talks will be called between now and Quito.

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