Last week saw a full calendar of activities at the UN headquarters in New York devoted to preparations for Habitat 3, the first UN conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in 20 years. The summit will take place in Quito, Ecuador, from October 17 to 20. This week’s activities focused on refining the proposed outcome document for Habitat 3, called the “New Urban Agenda.” The document is meant to be a 20-year guide to urbanization at the global level. The first draft known as the “Zero Draft” was released in early May, leading to the start of ongoing political negotiations on its details.
With the Zero Draft now in hand, urban stakeholders were offered the chance to take the floor at the U. N. for two days of informal hearings with member states on June 6 and 7. After that, diplomats turned to the matter of revising and negotiating the document at three days of Informal Intergovenmental Meetings which ran from June 8 to 10. The hearings were attended by Andrew Potts, ICOMOS Focal Point for the UN SDG Process, and Jeff Soule, ICOMOS Focal Point for the World Urban Campaign.
The biggest news of the week arrived on Wednesday when it was announced that a political impasse that had stalled progress on negotiations toward the New Urban Agenda had been resolved with the appointment of diplomats from Mexico and the Philippines as co-facilitators of the talks. Starting immediately, their task is to shepherd the process of transforming the Zero Draft into a text ready to be negotiated word by word in the hopes of reaching consensus before Habitat 3 begins in October. The stalemate had prevented preparation of an updated version of the New Urban Agenda following the first round of intergovernmental negotiations in May. It also created confusion among civil society stakeholders as to when and how to provide feedback on the Zero Draft.
Shortly after being named, the new Co-Facilitators announced that an enhanced draft of the New Urban Agenda would be produced by June 18. In light of the new deadlines, on June 6, ICOMOS pulled together a new draft of its feedback on the Zero Draft. The ICOMOS comments were delivered as a part of its ongoing efforts to mainstream cultural heritage into the New Urban Agenda and the broader U.N. Agenda 2030, of which it is a part. The comments were based on the ICOMOS Task Force on Sustainability’s Cultural Heritage, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the New Urban Agenda. The Concept Note was authored by Jyoti Hosagrahar, Jeff Soule, Luigi Fusco Girard and Andrew Potts, in collaboration with the ICOMOS International Committee on Historic Towns and Villages (CIVVIH).
Kudos to ICOMOS Mexico and ICOMOS Philippines, each of which have already reached out to the respective co-chairs to advocate for a greater role for cultural heritage in the New Urban Agenda and for consideration of the ICOMOS comments.
As the ICOMOS comments indicate, one of the key issues that has arisen is the degree to which the New Urban Agenda will be aligned with other key elements of the UN Agenda 2030. “Agenda 2030” refers to the comprehensive process being undertaken by the UN and other international institutions to set new 15-year global development goals for the planet following the elapse of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Several key elements of the Agenda 2030 process have already been completed, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and, perhaps most importantly, the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and corresponding 169 targets adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 is arguably the most ambitious and holistic development framework ever conceived. Amidst much history that was made in its adoption, not to be overlooked is the unprecedented, explicit recognition given in the document to the fundamental role that heritage and culture play in human development. Of the 7 targets making up the SDG’s groundbreaking new Urban Goal (Goal 11), Target 11.4 calls for
making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Because of the work of ICOMOS and partners, other key elements of the Post-2015 Agenda also include strong references to heritage, most notably the Sendai Framework.
For these reasons, ICOMOS has generally been of the position that the New Urban Agenda should be well-aligned with the SDGs and, in particular, should provide a platform for operationalizing the SDG’s Urban Goal 11. This is a view that seems to be held by a number of State Parties as well. On the other hand, many elements of Civil Society are concerned that the SDGs not create a ceiling on the ambition of the New Urban Agenda. A key point thus is how to assure that Goal 11 and Target 11.4 be thoroughly treated in the New Urban Agenda without prejudicing efforts to go beyond the SDGs.
Another key issue has been the role of local authorities, subsidiarity and local implementation. A major voice for these issues has been the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). ICOMOS and UCLG have been partners for several years via the #Agenda21Culture campaign that has sought to mainstream culture and heritage in the SDGs. Within the localization question, issues include financing for implementation of the New Urban Agenda, creating governance and competencies for local authorities and citizens, and developing sustainable transportation. While ICOMOS has continued to advocate for strong national cultural heritage frameworks, it has generally been supportive of UCLG’s calls for subsidiarity in view of the close relationship between heritage and local authorities in the urban context. This approach also comports well with ICOMOS’s vision of local heritage values as drivers of territorial development.
The new co-facilitators are up against difficult deadlines with the Habitat 3 conference beginning in just over four months. A more immediate deadline is the third and final preparatory meeting — the site of formal negotiations — in Surabaya, Indonesia at the end of July. Many hope the Indonesia sessions (referred to as PrepCom3) will be able to make as much progress as possible on finalizing the New Urban Agenda, in order to avoid having the text come down to the wire in Quito. Given that this past week’s negotiations were not working from a revised text owing to delays caused by the impasse, actual line-by-line negotiations will have only three days of informal negotiations — currently scheduled from June 29 to July 1 — as well as three days in Surabaya.
ICOMOS will continue to work to enhance the treatment of cultural heritage in the New Urban Agenda process.