UN Habitat III agenda and its relevance for world urban governance to 2030

LGiU Scotland Associate Ivan Minguez Guillem, explores the United Nation’s new Habitat III agenda, and the implications it may have on the governance of world cities 

The recent United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador marks the beginning of a New Urban Agenda with the adoption of UN-Habitat III – a document that will inform delivery of the 2030 Development Goals set by United Nations in 2015. This represents a crossroads for urban governance, placing cities and local authorities at the centre of national and regional strategies for sustainable development, and consequently reclaiming more autonomy and voice for cities internationally. Between 2012 and the final adoption of Habitat-III, local governments around the world played a significant role influencing the post-2015 development goals. Advocating for localized and participative programs to tackle contemporary issues arising from globalisation: rapid urbanisation, social inequality, pollution and global warming, and the tough economic position of local government. Meetings during this period discovered important coincidences regarding challenges and capacities for local authorities in developing and economically developed countries, and identified opportunities for synergistic actions and the need for peer-to-peer learning and cooperation.

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) was a key platform for debate between civil society and the demands and proposals of local governments that are to be defended in international forums.  UCLG is an umbrella organisation that, since 2004, has been integrating cities, local governments and municipal associations throughout the world. Four days before the adoption of Habitat III, UCLG organized a World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia. Mayors from more than 100 countries ratified a Commitment to develop their policy strategies following the evidence provided by the IV Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralisation (GOLD IV). This commitment contains 16 recommendations divided into three areas of action: Local Actions, National Actions and International Actions (analysed in more detail in briefing); some of which are particularly relevant for Scottish local authorities:

  • Put the Right to the City at the centre of urban and regional governance, recognizing the indivisibility and universality of human rights as expressed in the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City
  • Strengthen the capacity of government at multiple levels to protect the common good, attracting the best talents by developing inspiring careers in public office as well as peer-to-peer learning and knowledge networks within and across country contexts
  • Guarantee the empowerment of citizens, making them able to fully participate in local political, social, economic and cultural life, recognizing the value of urban knowledge that other actors cannot possess.
  • Grant visibility and legitimacy to common citizenship practices based on self-management, autonomy and solidarity; implement public policies that nurture cultural practices of communal, associative and cooperative ways of life in city neighbourhoods
  • Develop closer cooperation between regions, cities and rural municipalities to generate economies of agglomeration; strengthen the role of intermediary and small cities, and relieve urbanisation pressures on natural resources, and engage in peer-to-peer learning and the exchange of expertise
  • Engage with the private sector, encourage the ‘civic economy’ and invest in collaborative, social and caring economies, providing decent work and livelihoods, support small-scale businesses and gradually insert the informal economy into the organisation of public service delivery through tailored tendering procedures and training modules
  • Ensure appropriate fiscal decentralisation and equitable sharing of national resources, giving local and regional governments adequate fiscal powers and capacities to mobilize part of the wealth created in their territory as capturing part of land and property added value
  • Set up a global fund for infrastructures, basic services and housing; improve sub-national authorities’ access to finance to tackle climate change. A sub-national window should be included in the Global Climate Fund and other green financing mechanisms.

To conclude, the Bogotá Commitment and Habitat III will be quoted in the preambles and justifications of new laws and projects fostering decentralisation and sustainable development for the next fifteen years. These documents do not reflect a wish list from an ideology, but rather represent political milestones that have been agreed by mayors from different backgrounds willing to use their municipal power to lead the implementation of human rights. By understanding the programmatic points, municipal authorities and civic groups in Scotland can re-frame actions and initiatives already in place, and obtain funds from regional and international agencies to further action towards traditionally neglected policy areas (cultural revitalisation, peace and security promotion, social development, labour-intense growth strategies, etc.). The new role for cities as coordinated actors for international development makes them more likely to be included in talks and negotiations regarding integration policies on national and supranational structures (and in the Scottish context, also negotiations when political integration needs to be redefined, or even reversed).

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