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Habitat III Prepcom II…….? What Happens Now?

One of the conferences I engaged in in the 1990s and have fond memories of is the 1996 Habitat II Conference, which adopted the Habitat Agenda. I remember it in part because it achieved the most progressive stakeholder engagement in a UN Conference ever. I also have very fond memories of it because I made a lifelong friend in the Chair of the Conference Pakistan Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel who went on to be Deputy Executive Director of UNEP. In Habitat II I was the coordinator of the NGO negotiating team working under the International Facilitating Committee (IFC) a Major Group platform that managed their engagement in the conference. 

So this was my personal background to attending the second preparatory conference for Habitat III last week.

Are there lessons to learn? I think so.

Perhaps it is best to start by explaining what happened in Habitat II and you can make your own minds up.

Preparatory process

The preparatory process for Habitat III similar to Habitat II has three preparatory meetings but there the difference finishes. In 1994 -1996 the number of days for Habitat II were as follows: Prepcom 1 was 3 days, followed by a further 5 days inter-sessional meeting in Nairobi. Prepcom 2 was 10 days followed by another 5 days inter-sessional in   Paris   3 was 10 days in New York. In total Habitat II had 33 preparatory days. For Habitat III Prepcom I was 3 says, Prepcom 2 was 3 days and Prepcom 3 is supposed to be 3 days. So in total the General Assembly has assigned 9 days to HabitatII 33 days – a shortfall of at the moment of 24 days.

For Habitat II by Prepcom2 there was a full text – for Prepcom 2 of Habitat III they were still discussing on the rules of procedure and did not even solve those.

It is clear that there will have to be an additional 15-20 days added to the intergovernmental diary in 2016 probably shared before pPrepcom 3 for Habitat III in July and after that to prepare for the conference in October 2016.


There should now be an informal inter-sessional meeting in New York to solve the rules of procedure issues before the end of the year for the UNGA to adopt them.

Some of the key problems in Nairobi a few weeks ago were around the issue of local government and civil society participation.  Habitat II in 1996 had had some of the most progressive engagement rules of procedure adopted in the first preparatory meeting in Geneva in April 1994:
Rule 61 stated: 
“Representatives of local authorities, designated by accredited international associations of local authorities in consultation with national associations, invited to the Conference may participate, without the right to vote, in the deliberations of the Conference, its Main Committees and, as appropriate, any other committee or working group, on questions within the scope of their work.”
Originally tabled by Algeria on behalf of G77 and China and Turkey. This also applied to other stakeholders with in fact three seats in the negotiations one for local government, another for civil society and a third for Foundations .

One of the other innovations of Habitat II was there were two committees besides plenary. The usual first committee was for formal negotiations and the unprecedented second committee was nine half day dialogues between different stakeholder groups and member states. It is worth reading the outcomes from those dialogues.

The approach at Habitat II inspired Rio+5 in 1997 to do a similar thing with the major Groups this then led to the stakeholder dialogues which were introduced in 1998 at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. For those who do not remember the first two days of the CSD were given over to 4 sessions on different aspects of the CSD agenda for a stakeholder dialogue with member states. That is 12 hours, can I just repeat that 12 hours chaired by the Chair of the CSD and the outcomes fed into the negotiations that then occurred.

Substantive issues

To help put together the zero draft for Habitat III the approach has been closer to the 1992 Rio Conference than the 2012 Rio+20 Conference. In the preparation for the Earth Summit in 1992 UN Agencies and Programmes working often with experts from ICSU produced the first text for the chapters of Agenda 21. This ensured a high level of knowledge a common structure for the text and enabled member states something to consult about. For Rio+20 the zero text was developed through input from governments and not around a common structure that arose during the negotiations.

For Habitat II, the zero draft was prepared by the Secretariat comprised of the thought leaders of UN-Habitat at the time.

Member states today were a little worried about just an expert led approach and so have created a hybrid version where member States will have the prerogative to nominate experts of their choice.  
What will happen now is the 22 two-page issue papers will be developed into full papers and then into the zero text under the six policy units:
  1. Spatial development issues
  2. Urban Housing and Basic Services
  3. Social Cohesion and Equity – Livable Cities
  4. Urban Economy
  5. Urban Frameworks
  6. Urban Ecology and Environments

The Policy Units will bring together high-level expertise to explore state-of-the-art research and analysis - identifying good practices and lessons learned; and developing independent policy recommendations on particular issues regarding sustainable urban development.
The main tasks of the Policy Units are to:
  • Identify the challenges, including the structural and policy constraints, to the New
  • Urban Agenda within the issues discussed by each policy unit;
  • Identify the policy priorities and critical issues for the implementation of the New
  • Urban Agenda within the issues discussed by each policy unit; and
  • Develop action-oriented recommendations for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Final Comment

The Habitat III Conference is a critical one for all stakeholders interested in making the SDGs have impact. By focusing on a geographical area it will help to engage all stakeholders to help deliver the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda – which by the way should be built on the SDGs.
Local and Regional Governments, civil society and the private sector will play a critical role in facilitating the implementation of both and one of the key outcomes that we need out of Habitat III is a new partnership agenda worthy of the 21st century.
For another view on Habitat III read Nicholas You’s article in Citiscope – Let’s not forget the legacy of inclusiveness from Habitat II
ICLEI have a library of material from Habitat II


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