General Assembly Concludes New Agenda for Cities Meeting by Focusing on Role of Stakeholders in Advancing Sustainable Urbanization Policies

6 September 2017
High-level Meetings AM & PM Meetings

General Assembly Concludes New Agenda for Cities Meeting by Focusing on Role of Stakeholders in Advancing Sustainable Urbanization Policies

Local governments, civil society groups and others working to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — including its targets related to urbanization — required United Nations support underpinned by a “spirit of inclusiveness and a universality of purpose”, the General Assembly heard today, as it concluded its high-level meeting on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

“Member States are united in ensuring an effective and efficient contribution from […] the overall United Nations system to the advancement of sustainable urbanization,” said General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) in closing remarks.  Emphasizing that “time is flying”, he echoed other speakers who underscored the massive challenges to be tackled by the New Urban Agenda in just a few short years.

Referring to the report of the High-level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance the Effectiveness of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) — the Organization’s main body tasked with urbanization issues — he said it was clear that some of its recommendations would require further discussion.  UN-Habitat’s positioning would be part of a broader package of United Nations reforms, he said, which were aimed at ensuring adequate support to the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  All stakeholders should continue to work together to generate the consensus required to “keep the momentum going”.

Having considered the Programme’s mandates and governance structures — as well as many of the Panel’s specific recommendations — during two panel discussions yesterday, the Assembly today convened two additional panels focused on the role of other stakeholders in advancing sustainable urbanization policies.

During the first panel, moderated by Minh-Thu Pham, Executive Director of Policy, United Nations Foundation, participants considered the role of the United Nations system in implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Taking part were representatives of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN-Habitat and World Bank Group, with delegates from other United Nations entities also taking the floor.

The second panel discussion cast a spotlight on the role of multi-stakeholder collaboration in implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Goals.  Moderated by Tomas Anker Christensen, Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly, it featured speakers including the Mayor of Madrid, Spain, and representatives of civil society, in addition to lead respondents from across a range of disciplines and sectors.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 7 September, to hold a High-level Forum on the Culture of Peace.

Interactive Panel III

The high-level meeting opened with an interactive panel on “Implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals — the role of the United Nations system”.  Moderated by Minh-Thu Pham, Executive Director of Policy, United Nations Foundation, it featured presentations by Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice-President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations and Partnerships, World Bank Group; Grete Faremo, Executive Director, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS); Grainne O’Hara, Deputy Director, New York Office, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat).

Ms. PHAM opened the discussion by asking the panellists what their respective entities were doing to help implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda, emphasizing that metropolitan areas would be central to achieving the Goals.

Mr. MARTÍNEZ-SOLIMÁN, underscoring UNDP’s perspective on poverty eradication and good governance, said the Programme focused on increasing the capacity of local administrations as well as processes for legitimate local-level elections.

Mr. GASS, noting the role of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in supporting intergovernmental process, said it brought to the table such elements as analytics and statistics on how urbanization would develop and affect other spheres.  It also supported Members States in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development review process, and facilitated work in specific areas such as transportation.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said the World Bank Group focused on identifying financing gap problems in such areas as affordable housing and resilient infrastructure.  Among other priorities, it also addressed such concerns as data provision, policy frameworks and creating enabling environments at the local level, and technical assistance and capacity-building.

Ms. FAREMO said few people knew much about UNOPS, which did only implementation tasks, such as building schools, hospitals, roads, social housing and sanitation facilities.  It did so using local labour and contractors, in partnership with Governments, other parts of the United Nations family, banks, local governments, the private sector and others committed to a more sustainable future.  She added that the Office was agreeing on a memorandum of understanding with UN-Habitat that would make it possible to take a more long-term perspective on implementation.  She went on to emphasize the value of evidence-based risk assessment.

Ms. O’HARA said two out of three refugees, and four out of five internally displaced persons, lived in cities and towns.  That reality drew UNHCR more closely into the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda while creating challenges in the way it worked.  She said the agency was working closely with UN-Habitat on such issues as shelters, upgrading refugee settlements and decent housing, as well as post-conflict return and land tenure.

Ms. KIRABO, recalling her past experience as Mayor of Kigali City, called the New Urban Agenda a tool for achieving inclusive and sustainable development.  When things went wrong, the United Nations should be there not only to save lives during a humanitarian crisis, but also to sow the seeds for post-conflict development.  Member States wanted a coordinated United Nations, she said, adding that when the Organization delivered as one in Rwanda, it worked out well.

Ms. PHAM invited the panel to discuss coordination in more detail.

Mr. GASS said the United Nations system needed to look at cities for lessons and for inspiration on how to work differently while accountable downwards.  Agencies must coalesce around local actors and learn from them.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said “we are all in trouble” if the issue of municipal finances was not dealt with correctly.  A city could have the best infrastructure, but not the finances to maintain it.  The World Bank Group had identified 19 possible revenue sources for municipalities, but only two — including central government transfers — were typically used.  That was no way to do business.

Ms. FAREMO cited the use of solar power in refugee camps in Jordan, which helped to reduce crime and improve security.  That was a small but important example of an idea which, taken to scale, could be achieved by working together.  She added that public procurement was more important than many people realized.  The United Nations spent around $16 billion on procurement, but often in a fragmented way.  Doing more together could extend sustainable development, she said, emphasizing also the importance of transparency, data sharing and access to private funding.

The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) emphasized the contribution that migrants and other mobile people made to urban growth and prosperity.  Migration was desirable if well-governed, he said, adding that it required inclusive and comprehensive approaches.  He underscored the migration dimension and the rights of migrants and other mobile people in the context of the New Urban Agenda.

The representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) said his agency was strengthening its response in such areas as access to food in urban areas and the flow of food into cities from the countryside.  A new WFP urban food policy to be issued in February would aim to strengthen partnerships.  He went on to ask Mr. Mohieldin about the Implementation Facility for Sustainable Urban Development.

The representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said much of the United Nations work was focused on the “who”, but that it also needed to consider the “where”.  To do so would require a confluence of agencies and other stakeholders, she said, adding that UNODC was committed to ramping up cooperation with others on urban crime and security.

The representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) stressed the importance of gender-responsive implementation.  Bold gender-mainstreaming efforts were needed at the local level, she said, emphasizing also the importance of strong accountability mechanisms.

Ms. PHAM asked panellists if the current country team model was fit for purpose in terms of achieving the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. MARTÍNEZ-SOLIMÁN said that was a million-dollar question.  Complexity created coordination challenges that could be addressed through a clear policy as well as the humility to accept that others were better placed to act as coordinator.  He noted that the United Nations now had 159 resident coordinators for 161 country teams in more than 170 Member States and territories, with an average of 16 agencies represented in each country team.  Greater empowerment of resident coordinators, as well as more capacity and perhaps more funding, were needed.

Ms. O’HARA, returning to the question of coordination, said the United Nations system was perhaps a little self-critical about the lack of coordination.  “We have come a long way,” she said, citing the cluster system as an example.  The Sustainable Development Goals created more discipline when it came to common objectives and interaction with Member States.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said the World Bank supported the objective of the Implementation Facility for Sustainable Urban Development, funds for which would be drawn from existing mechanisms.

A representative of South Africa also spoke.

Interactive Panel IV

The final interactive panel focused on the theme “Implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Developments Goals — the role of the multi-stakeholder collaboration”.  Moderated by Tomas Anker Christensen, Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly, it featured six panellists:  Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid, Spain; Aromar Revi, Director, Indian Institute for Human Settlements; Eugenie Birch, President, General Assembly of Partners; Maria Jose Lubertino, Executive Director, Citizen Association for Human Rights of Argentina; Hazem Galal, Cities Sector Global Leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities; and Mirella Amalia Vitale, Senior Vice-President of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs of the ROCKWOOL Group.

The session’s lead respondents were Saul Billingsley, Director-General, FIA Federation, and Executive Director, Global Initiative for Child Health and Mobility, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-United Kingdom; Celestine Ketcha Epse Courtes, Mayor of Bangante, Cameroon; Teresa Boccia, Professor of Urban Planning, University of Naples Federico II, Italy, and Representative, Association Femmes Europe Meridionale, Italy; and Mohammed Ali Loufty, Senior Doctoral Fellow, Institute on Disability and Public Policy, and Executive Director, Arab Disability Forum, Lebanon.

Mr. CHRISTENSEN, pointing out that the panel represented a wide array of “stakeholders on the ground” who were engaged in implementing the New Urban Agenda, opened the session by asking Ms. Birch to discuss the importance of partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Ms. BIRCH responded that “we are moving now from an engagement process […] to the implementation to active collaboration”.  That was where multi-stakeholder collaboration might have the most value, she said, pointing to two self-organized multi-stakeholder collaborations — including the General Assembly of Partners, which had 16 member groups — aimed at discussing urban issues with Member States in an orderly way.  Among other things, such groups had much knowledge to contribute, could help direct the implementation agenda and could assist in monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals as they related to urban issues.

Asked how stakeholders could assist local authorities, Mr. REVI said the core issue was that of implementation.  “We have 15 months to deliver on an almost impossible new agenda”, which included delivering 500 million new jobs and universal basic education to 5 billion people, all while mitigating the impacts of climate change.  “This is a trillion-dollar agenda” on both the investment side and the output side, he said, stressing that the dramatic transformation of the new development agendas was the concept of leaving no one — and no place — behind.  To achieve those goals, integrated delivery at the local level must be combined with the strength of national Governments, which was a “new way of working” both for Member States and the United Nations.

Responding to a related question about funding for urban issues, including innovative new financing mechanisms, Mr. GALAL said the idea of public-private-partnerships should be reconceived as “properly-planned-projects”.  The private sector needed guidance as well as incentive, he said, pointing to the example of Medellin, Colombia, in that regard.  The knowledge and support of the private sector must be harnessed at an early stage in the process while simultaneously ensuring that no private sector monopolies were created.

Asked how the business community could take advantage of the opportunities presented by urbanization in a socially responsible way, Ms. VITALE said “the private sector has been forced to think differently” in the context of the new sustainable development agendas.  Recent natural and man-made disasters, including the tragic fire in a high-rise in London, showed that changes were needed.  The private sector needed to work with the public sector to strengthen regulations, she stressed, adding that citizens must also be brought into the process.

Ms. LUBERTINO, asked to elaborate further on the role of the citizen, said they had long been the pioneers and protagonists of such global movements as sustainability and human rights.  However, all citizens did not stand on an equal footing because some representative democracies “have lost their way” and were not fulfilling their responsibilities.  Changes were needed across Governments as well as at the United Nations, because changes were taking place “at breakneck speed”, she said.  Many of the local challenges faced by cities were the same around the world, including economic issues and affordable housing.  States must better regulate the relationships between markets and territorial authorities while making sure that profits benefited citizens.

Ms. CARMENA, asked how she would prefer to engage with the United Nations on those issues going forward, said the main question was whether the Organization’s work on urban issues was effective.  Noting that had not been the case to date, she said UN-Habitat must not simply engage with States but also with local governments.  A structure for that kind of interaction could be created under the auspices of UN-Habitat or as an independent body, she said, adding that while the role of the private sector was also critical, efforts must be taken to avoid corruption.  Governing at the local level meant taking into account the opinions of citizens, she stressed, noting that in Madrid town hall meetings allowed for such broad participation.

Following the presentations, the lead respondents offered their insights, with Mr. BILLINGSLEY calling for a “responsive, people-centred” delivery of the New Urban Agenda.  Noting that some 3,000 children were injured every day in road accidents around the world — many in urban areas — he said such statistics represented a “policy failure” at both the local and national levels.

Ms. BOCCIA said the idea of leaving no one behind meant that women around the world must be able to enjoy their rights.  The participation of women had been crucial to ensuring that such issues were reflected in the 2030 Agenda and must now be reflected in the New Urban Agenda’s implementation.  Indeed, strong partnerships with women, migrants and others on the ground — who had a close knowledge of the issues — were critical.

Ms. KETCHA EPSE COURTES, asked what challenges her town faced in implementing the New Urban Agenda, welcomed the proposal made by the High-level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance the Effectiveness of UN-Habitat to establish a global assembly on urban issues with the universal participation of all United Nations Member States.  The decentralization of UN-Habitat should be rolled out across the African continent, she said, adding that “urbanization is an African issue”.

Mr. LOUFTY said that, in the context of urbanization, like in other arenas, persons with disabilities were not only recipients of their rights but also actors in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda.  “This is an opportunity for a transformation of mindset” for the promotion of inclusion, he said, including at both the micro and macro levels.  Priorities should no longer be categorized based on the interests of particular groups, he stressed, adding that persons with disabilities must not be left behind simply because countries claimed to have other priorities.  He also asked the panellists how stakeholders could better work together to ensure that “inclusion becomes a strategic choice” for all actors.

When the floor was opened for comments and questions, many representatives of Member States shared national experiences with local urban planning and policy development.  Several described their establishment of inclusive, participatory structures that had successfully linked municipal authorities with national Governments, while others spotlighted challenges — such as armed conflict, natural hazards and the exclusion of marginalized groups — where more action was needed.

Qatar’s representative, outlining the work of the Red Crescent Society in his country, said the organization carried out direct work with local communities across the Middle East and Africa.  Pointing out that conflicts added to human suffering and destroyed communities, he asked the panellists to address ways to rehabilitate cities emerging from conflict and work more sustainable in post-conflict zones.

The representative of the Philippines warned against overlooking the practical needs of Member States, including assistance and long-term guidance in the context of the current “shifting political landscape”.  Typhoon Haiyan had demonstrated the need for stronger cooperation with local governments, he said, adding that the issue of housing was absent from the High-level Panel’s report.

The representative of the Dominican Republic asked Ms. Carmena to provide more information on the concept known as the “culture of the city” and to address how it could be integrated into local planning processes.

Singapore’s representative described his country’s experience implementing the New Urban Agenda, including its recent hosting of the International Leaders in Urban Governance programme.  Carried out in several universities in Singapore in conjunction with UN-Habitat, the programme had involved participants from 42 cities and leaders representing 14 cities around the world.  Singapore had also been organizing sustainable cities summits to bring leaders from many sectors together to discuss the challenges related to urbanization as well as the peer-to-peer city leaders programme.

A representative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network said young people often felt excluded from their Governments’ planning and asked the panellists whether and how youth were being included in the New Urban Agenda’s implementation.

The panellists then responded to those question and comments, with Ms. BIRCH noting that the interventions had all spotlighted the need for inclusive dialogue and multi-stakeholder platforms.  In that context, she stressed, partnerships needed to be smart, measurable, specific and time-limited.

Mr. REVI said that multiple levels of implementation needed to be carried out simultaneously.  Today’s partnerships needed to address the modern-day questions of how to share capacities, finances and political representation, he said, adding that those issues should be elevated to the Head of State level.

Mr. GALAL, addressing questions about the inclusion of persons with disabilities, described a positive mindset change in that area in Sochi, Russian Federation, when it hosted the Olympic Games.  However, cities did not need a major event to act as a catalyst for such a shift.  Regarding the transition from peacekeeping to post-conflict reconstruction, he said he did not yet feel that system was agile enough or business-friendly enough.

Ms. VITALE, warning that “we’ve lost sight of what success looks like”, called for goals — not just partnerships — that were smart, realistic and specific.  Urban policies should always focus on providing social and economic benefits to city-dwellers, she said.

Ms. LUBERTINO emphasized that, even as new discussions were taking place, Member States should still be encouraged to ratify international human rights treaties as well as to reform their constitutions to enshrine more inclusive policies and processes.  She also called for stronger national legislation for the provision of public services.

Ms. CARMENA said local governments were unique in their capacities and their ability to develop their own agendas.  Every national Government and municipal authority needed to deal with such local issues as traffic-accident-related deaths proactively and in a data-based manner, she said, urging them to develop solutions that prioritized prevention.

For information media. Not an official record.