Habitat Report Recommendations Dead on Arrival?

By Felix Dodds and Jenkins Thomas

On the 5th and 6th of September the President of the UN General Assembly organized a High-level Meeting to discuss the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the positioning of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), as called for in the New Urban Agenda adopted at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).
The New Urban Agenda had called for the UN Secretary-General to submit to a report on the effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and oversight of UN-HABITAT, including its mandate, governance structure, work and financial capabilities. To help this the Secretary General had set up an Independent Panel to Assess, Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat after Adoption of New Urban Agenda. You can read my less than positive comments on the report here.

Governance issues
There were three major institutional issues raised by the report.  I would again say that the time given for the High-Level Panel was not sufficient and I would add to that that they did not have enough knowledge of the UN system to put forward appropriate recommendations.
1. Universal membership
This is clearly NOT going to happen. It doesn’t mean in the future it might not happen but there is no constituency, no proper argument on why this should happen and what it would achieve. As I mentioned in the previous blog UNEA is only this December having its third meeting it’s too early to see if the change has strengthened UNEP or just added further bureaucracy. 
The creation of UNEA took over 5 years of careful consideration by member states and I support others who have suggested that  UN Habitat follow the same process. Set up under two UN ambassadors in New York a consultation process among members states, UN and other stakeholders to report in the 74th General Assembly.
2. UN Urban
The proposal to create UN-Urban was rejected by nearly all as they didn’t have the options explained. Clearly, the advocates were suggesting different things were advocating is this a UN Development Group model, a UN Environment Management Group model? or a UN Water/Energy/Oceans model? Or something different? So here are some background notes that would have helped the discussion:

UN Development Group: 
At the global level, the UNDG serves as a high-level forum for joint policy formation and decision-making. It guides, supports, tracks and oversees the coordination of development operations in 165 countries and territories.
The results of the UNDG are organized according to the UNDG strategic priorities and strategic approaches, capturing what we do and how we do it.
The UNDG current strategic priorities are: Support countries in accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda; Support national partners in implementing human rights obligations and integrate human rights principles and international standards into the work of the UN and; Help build resilient societies and deliver effective support for sustainable recovery in crisis and post-crisis countries.
The UNDG current strategic approaches are: Promote coherent development results across the entire UN development system to improve transparency and accountability; Functioning of the Resident Coordinator system as participatory, collegial and mutually accountable; Accelerate simplification and harmonization of business practices; Develop effective partnerships and multi-stakeholder engagement; Strengthen capacity development as a core function of the UN development system and; Enhance integrated planning, programming and policy.
The implementation of the UNDG strategic priorities and work plan is driven by a core set of working mechanisms – working groups and task teams – with focus on fostering system-wide norms, standards, and policies, as well as operational effectiveness.
The UNDG meets three to four times a year under the chairmanship of the UNDG Chair. The Group is composed of senior representatives at the Assistant Secretary-General / Assistant Director-General level, designated by the executive heads of UNDG member entities. The UNDG Chair also counts on the Advisory Group for guidance on managing the operational dimensions of the UNDG and the Resident Coordinator system.

UN Environmental Management Group:
The Environment Management Group (EMG) is a United Nations (UN) System-wide coordination body on environment and human settlements. It was established in 2001 pursuant to the General Assembly resolution 53/242 in July 1999.
The resolution supported the proposal of the Secretary-General to establish an environmental management group contained in his report on Environment and Human Settlements (A/53/463).
The EMG membership consists of the specialized agencies, programmes and organs of the United Nations including the secretariats of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements.
The group is chaired by the Executive Director of UN Environment (UNEP) and supported by a secretariat provided by UN Environment. The Secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.
The EMG identifies issues on the international environmental agenda that warrant cooperation, and finds ways of engaging its collective capacity in coherent management responses to those issues.
In accordance with its Terms of Reference the EMG works through technical meetings, Issue Management Groups and task forces. Representatives of intergovernmental bodies, civil society and international non-governmental organizations can be invited to contribute.
At the moment it is focusing on the Nexus issue.

UN Water:
UN-Water coordinates the efforts of UN entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues.
There is no single UN entity dedicated exclusively to water issues. Over 30 UN organizations carry out water and sanitation programmes, reflecting the fact that water issues run through all of the UN’s main focus areas. UN-Water’s role is to coordinate so that the UN family ‘delivers as one’ in response to water related challenges.
The overarching focus of our Members and Partners is to support UN Member States to sustainably manage water and sanitation.
We do this in three ways:
  • Inform Policies
  • Monitor and Report
  • Inspire Action
UN-Water’s Members and Partners have helped place water and sanitation at the heart of recent milestone agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2015-2030 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the 2015 Paris Agreement within the UN Convention Framework on Climate Change. UN-Water’s consolidated technical advice from UN entities and external organizations helped shape Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. As a result, SDG 6 and its various targets take the entire water and sanitation cycle into account.

3. Stakeholder Committees
The idea of the local government and other stakeholder committees also did not find support in the room nor the idea of the Policy Committee.

Who cares about UN Habitat?
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed opened the two-day event which by the second day was not attended by many member states had said:
“The secretary-general has taken note of these recommendations and will be developing a concrete strategy to ensure that UN-­Habitat is fit for purpose and that the reform of the development system, the peacekeeping system and the management of the United Nations incorporates a new approach to urban areas,”
You would have to say we are a LONG way from UN-Habitat being fit for purpose. I couldn’t see many member state supporters of UN-Habitat in the room or if they were they were hugely frustrated by where Dr Clous has taken the body to the point of exhaustion.
In an isolated move, Kenya, the host of UN- Habitat, indicated guarded willingness to discuss the issue of UN- Urban. Their well-caveated statement read “in the event UN-Urban is created, it must be based in Africa, collocated or even merged with UN-Habitat.  

While in a room close by Achim Steiner was presenting his vision for UNDP which I have to say is one of the best strategic plans put forward by a UN body in the 25 years I have engaged in intergovernmental processes. I will blog about that once the full plan is out on the 15th of September but looking at the power point what a real vision that is relevant to the 21st century and what a breath of fresh air for UNDP.
There is no question that the challenges that we face in our urban areas are critical to the delivery of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement. So sorting out how the UN addresses this agenda will be critical to its relevance in the coming years. The one issue that everyone seemed to have agreed is to “save, stabilize and rapidly strengthen UN- Habitat” as called for in the Panel’s report. But the report neither clarified the sentence nor providing concrete action proposals.  Save for few, most Member States were ambivalent too. Broken it means; adequate and predictable financing to fund programs and staff salaries, recruitment of visionary and inspiring leadership that commands admiration especially by donors and last, concrete road map for instituting changes governing bodies of the UN- Habitat to strengthen accountability and oversight.
The meeting will result in a mere Chairs Summary which is simply non-binding input for consideration by the Member States. Because the real negotiations will be at the second committee, the committee needs to prioritize on quick wins such as securing stable financing as the other issues are considered in a more inclusive and structured manner.
In addition we are still waiting for the call for candidates for UN Habitat Executive Director but we need someone there asap with a vision that can really transform the body if not then it will nto exist in 5 years as it will have failed the human settlement community.


  1. Continuation of the present team at the helm of the agency for indefinte period or making the Dy. head as the Actg head is not unthinkable, according to reliable sources close to G77

    1. hmmm not the g77 people i am talking to cant find ANY support in G77 for that nor in donors. Donors have made it clear they want new leadership. Should go to a developing country preferably a woman see my blog on candidates for UN Habitat. The question people should ask is has the DED been extended until the end of the year because the SGs report in December intends to address the issue of Habitat. Also look out for UNDPs strategic plan out September 15th

    2. G77 wanted the DED to continue until Dec . It is quite likely that Rwanda would want her to become the next ED. There is also a women candidate from Uganda .And then we have a Norwegian candidate for the DED post. Since his party/coalition did not win the election, he may pursue the quest to become the DED. Norway is the only loyal financier for UN-Habitat as of now..I beleive
      Also there is a Nigerian candidate for the ED post I hear..Will look out for UNDP/Steiner's strategic plan.. Thanks

  2. interesting there is zero chance of a second Norwegian head of a UN body so they are out of the running. As far as what Habitat needs it needs a very very good manager with vision who wants to build positive relationships with other UN organizations and stakeholders, someone who understands the UN politics would help and is an advocate for the over 130 targets that are relevant to urban areas and not just SDG11. It will need to be a candidate the donors believe in which unfortunately at this point i think takes out the DED as she is rightly or wrongly associated with the present regime. I believe it needs to be a women from the south not necessarily Africa there are some good Latin American possible candidates i can think of and im sure who from Asia too. Funding will come back with the right person with the wrong person then its probably the end game for UN Habitat


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