Press Release20.10.2016, Berlin

Habitat III has ended: Conference comes up short

With the New Urban Agenda adopted today at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), the world’s governments adopted a number of important political goals: improve cities’ ability to shape their future, strengthen inclusive and people-oriented urban development and improve resource protection. However, the conference did not succeed in making urbanization a top issue of world politics.

There has been relatively little global media coverage, particularly when compared against international climate negotiations or the TTIP-process. The urgency for a strategical urban paradigm shift has not been taken into account. States have agreed that the next Habitat conference will only take place in 20 years!

“The New Urban Agenda has substantial deficits, which need to be overcome during its implementation. Foremost, it is missing a long-term vision and concrete targets against which binding commitments of individual states could be measured. Furthermore, important issues, as integrative urban development, avoiding non-sustainable path-dependencies, strengthening polycentric structures or how to deal with informality are not or hardly being touched upon in the text”, says Frauke Kraas, member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU).

“Environmental and climate protection appear only erratically in the Agenda, which on this issue falls far behind other international agreements. The document does not make it clear that we need a paradigm shift on how cities need to be designed and built to make sure that we do not breach the planetary guardrails, protecting our natural life support systems.” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Chair of the WBGU. “It almost seems as if the historic Paris Agreement on climate change has been omitted on purpose.”

With the adopted Quito Implementation Plan, a first step towards realizing the New Urban Agenda has been achieved. Now it is important that pioneer cities start deploying powerful bundles of measures to shape the urbanization dynamics sustainably. International cooperation can help channel this urbanization surge sustainably, too. The German initiative on climate compatible and inclusive mobility investments is a good example.

Unfortunately, only two heads of states were present at this conference with about 30,000 participants; at least, ten ministers from G20 states had travelled to Quito. Only few EU member states sent representatives at the minister level. “Many political decision makers are not even close to recognizing the momentum and importance of global urbanization for the future of human civilization. The number of city dwellers will increase from 3.5 billion today to 7 billion in 2050. The goals of the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on climate change cannot be reached if we are not successful in turning cities into central actors of sustainable development. Habitat III has not been the breakthrough in this policy field people have hoped for” Dirk Messner, Chair of the WBGU, concludes.

Background: The New Urban Agenda

The New Urban Agenda contains a broad portfolio of urban fields of action – from creating good quality of life in all cities over eradicating urban poverty through basic services to the realization of an equal right for all inhabitants of a city to access infrastructure. The key aspects of the German negotiation position made it into the Agenda: enable cities as actors, create livable cities and ensure sustainable urban development.