Live from Habitat III: Data-driven Policy and Human Rights Essential for Adoption of New Urban Agenda

Joan Clos and President Rafael Correa Celebrate the Unanimous Adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the Habitat III Closing Ceremony. Photo by Agencia de Noticias ANDES / Flickr.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is reporting on Habitat III from Quito, Ecuador. Follow our daily coverage on TheCityFix.

Thursday marked the fourth and final day of Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Throughout the week, 45,000 people attended and participated in the conference’s proceedings. Each day, a variety of these participants, stakeholders and urban leaders, spoke at the conference’s eight plenary sessions, discussing the New Urban Agenda, and what it means for the future of urban development. By the end of Thursday’s proceedings, participants were able to witness the official adoption of the historic New Urban Agenda (NUA).

As delegates got closer to approving the final text of the New Urban Agenda, final roundtables and plenaries convened a comprehensive discussion of the path ahead for implementing the new vision. Creating more sustainable and livable cities for all will require continued action by all partners. In the final sessions, plenary participants stressed the importance of data-driven solutions, with an eye to enhancing human rights. By day’s end, 167 countries signed on to the historic New Urban Agenda, all working together for a better urban future.

Data-Driven Urban Policy

Data will prove to be a driver of effective action to effectively manage urbanization. During the plenary sessions, participants made it clear that enabling the vision from Quito to come to fruition will require significant improvements to the availability of municipal and regional data, along with technical expertise. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) delegate noted that “the golden thread of prosperity” will require innovations in technology and data. By bringing satellite imagery tools and spatial analysis capabilities to regional and municipal stakeholders, organizations like UNITAR can “tailor-make programs…[that] maximize the use of resources and measure environmental degradation.” Empowering cities with data needed to create robust patterns of evidence-based solutions will be crucial in addressing the complex implications of a rapidly urbanizing world. UNITAR’s representative also outlined plans for training activities around these data tools, reaching all levels of stakeholders — especially targeting subnational and local decision-makers. A participant from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also noted that solutions to urbanization will often be complex, and should be approached with integrated knowledge: There is a “critical need to see the program in a complex manner…with interactions of climate change and disaster risk reduction.” By creating space for data in municipal policy, platforms for data, like multi-hazard early warning systems, can give municipal leaders the foundations for better, locally crafted solutions. To power these systems, however, many countries will need to improve technological capacity. Delegates from the International Telecommunications Union stated that “broadband-driven networks will be crucial to the success of the New Urban Agenda.” These networks will make data more accessible, while also allowing for “participation of all citizens at all stages of urban policy development and design.”

Human Rights Are Not Commodities

The UN-Habitat Conferences occur only once every twenty years. Habitat II and its outcome document, in 1996, focused heavily around equitable and affordable housing, one of the main focal points of this week’s meetings. Why, then, is housing still a central issue in the New Urban Agenda? A representative from The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights points to human rights, or rather a lack of human rights, as the central roadblock to achieving goals in the areas of basic services. The representative believes that basic rights; access to housing, water, healthcare and sanitation; are still considered “commodities,” and not rights. Going forward, “urbanization processes need to be informed by human rights,” along with a strong system for accountability, but this commodification of basic services has thus far perpetuated discrimination. Therefore, the focus must remain cemented in foundations of cities as hubs for improving quality of life for all. Provisions set forth in the NUA will only be realized when human rights are explicitly integrated into resulting actions. The representative concluded his remarks by stating: “everyone needs to leave Quito with one objective: to bring rights home, and to make cities a place of equal opportunity for all.”

Unanimous Adoption of the New Urban Agenda

Over the last two years, more than 100,000 people have been involved in drafting, shaping and negotiating the New Urban Agenda. On Thursday evening, during the closing plenary session, 167 representatives approved the document, facilitating its adoption without objection. “The New Urban Agenda has been adopted by member states, and the journey to the sustainable urban future has just begun,” proclaimed Executive Director of UN-Habitat Joan Clos.

While this week’s plenary sessions featured men and women from different backgrounds, the common thread was shared values of empowered local government, national policy, climate progress and human rights, which were woven together into a unified vision of a sustainable urban future. Although the NUA is officially adopted, there is a long road ahead. Implementation will require effort at all levels of government and support throughout all sectors. President of Ecuador Rafael Correa concluded this week’s historic events — before banging his gavel, calling an end to the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, he left us with one final thought: “‘Habitat III is a milestone to renew hope for a better world.”

Follow our daily coverage of Habitat III on TheCityFix.

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