As we celebrate the start of the third decade of the millennium, we have an opportunity to reflect on past achievements to inspire and galvanize ourselves to greater and more effective action for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Fittingly, the first major United Nations event of this decade will be the Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10).

A unique, United Nations, all-around stakeholder platform, WUF is a biennial opportunity for Member States, local governments, the private sector and civil society to engage in constructive discussions about urbanization—this century’s mega-trend—which will determine whether we succeed or fail in achieving the SDGs.

What better place to mark WUF10 than in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This will be the first time the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) convenes this pivotal urban forum in the Arab region, which features some of the world’s oldest cities and the most up-to-date manifestations of the urban form.

For nearly two decades, urban practitioners have congregated at WUF to exchange ideas, learn about innovative urban solutions and foster partnerships that benefit the most vulnerable in society. UN-Habitat intends to continue this tradition of bringing together thinkers, innovators, city managers and professional groups to help advocate for people living in urban settings and widen opportunities for them to participate in making rapid urbanization work for everyone, everywhere. For WUF10, my team and I have worked closely with the Department of Municipalities and Transport, our partners in Abu Dhabi, to bring about a forum where key stakeholders can dedicate themselves to a set of declared actions that will contribute towards sustainable urbanization. More importantly, as WUF is a non-legislative stakeholder forum, we hope that communities and civil society will participate actively in forging these commitments.

One outcome I would like to see from WUF10 is collaboration among all stakeholders on decisive actions that are crucial and urgent to addressing persistent and new development challenges. Such problems include extreme poverty, socioeconomic inequality, slums, social exclusion and marginalization, gender-based discrimination, humanitarian crises, conflict, air pollution, climate change and high unemployment.

UN-Habitat is ready to provide a strong and structured response to countries’ needs and priorities in an integrated manner.

The international community has already responded with the adoption of far-reaching global agendas, such as the 2030 Agenda, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement, to name but a few. WUF10 is an opportunity for us to commit ourselves to fulfilling these important programmes.

UN-Habitat is ready to provide a strong and structured response to countries’ needs and priorities in an integrated manner. At WUF10, UN-Habitat will seek support from our partners and all stakeholders for the UN-Habitat Strategic Plan 2020-2023, which emphasizes outcomes and impacts in four key domains of change: reducing inequity and poverty, shared prosperity in cities and regions, strengthening climate action and urban environments, and crisis prevention and response in urban areas.

UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif at the monthly Nairobi County clean up in the informal settlement of Mathare, Kenya. UN-Habitat/Julius Mwelu

We are working with other United Nations agencies by inaugurating a One UN platform, through which we hope to collaborate closely with United Nations Resident Coordinators and other agency heads involved in sustainable urbanization. As the mandated United Nations agency monitoring SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities, UN-Habitat is also unveiling the New Urban Agenda platform to allow Member States and other stakeholders to monitor progress on the implementation of SDGs with urban elements. We are also encouraged by the efforts of local governments to conduct voluntary local reviews, which keep track of the localization of SDGs at the city and community levels.

We are very grateful to Member States as well as our Stakeholder Advisory Group Enterprise (SAGE) for their willingness to contribute their time and resources to help ensure that WUF10 meets its objectives. We encourage delegations to use the Forum as a platform to direct resources towards sustainable urbanization among their members, be they Governments, professional bodies, academia, the private sector or civil society. WUF is truly an inclusive platform functioning in the spirit of leaving no one behind.

Culture constantly evolves as it is being constructed, challenged and contested in urban environments.

No WUF would be complete without a strong thematic focus. Together with the host city, we agreed on the theme “Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation”. In this context, culture is defined broadly to refer to our way of life and traditions as well as modern adaptations that are associated with and shaped by urbanization. Culture constantly evolves as it is being constructed, challenged and contested in urban environments. It is also inextricably bound up with innovation, from the preservation of material and documentary heritage to new ways of thinking and experimenting that result in unique urban environments. It is the city that attracts creative and innovative people and communities, and provides a space for chance encounters, for new ideas to meet with talent and capital, and where the most persistent urban challenges find their solutions.

Ultimately, WUF10 will be an important milestone event in the lead-up to 2030. We intend to establish as its most lasting legacy the opportunity to transform advocates into participants and policy into practice; and the tangible impact and actions that we will report in subsequent Forums until 2030. This would be a fitting tribute during the year marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, as we ensure that no one anywhere is left behind in our rapidly urbanizing world.

About the World Urban Forum:

Established in 2001, the World Urban Forum is the world’s premier gathering on urban issues. The Forum examines the impact of rapid urbanization and its implcations for social, economic and environmental policies in communities, cities and towns. UN-Habitat, the convener of the Forum, is the United Nations focal point for sustainable urban development working for an inclusive and prosperous urban future. The Tenth Session of the Forum in February 2020 will bring together some 12,000 delegates from more than 150 countries. It will provide an opportunity to strengthen relationships and engagement, and demonstrate the feasibility of incorporating sustainable and context-based practices in developed and developing countries.

8 February 2020

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