NEW YORK — At the start of the final week of negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) text, Ecuador has proposed including specific reference to next year’s Habitat III conference on cities.
Ecuador will be hosting the October 2016 summit, which will adopt a 20-year global strategy on urbanization known as the New Urban Agenda. Many advocates see Habitat III as a critical opportunity to cement the implementation of the SDGs.
The Ecuadorian proposal, delivered on 27 July, came in response to the latest draft SDGs outcome document, which was released Sunday evening. In addition to a listing of the full 17 goals and 169 targets, the document includes two sections of introductory material, a preamble and a declaration. Both of these sections include explicit references to cities.
In the preamble, for instance, a call to “promote safe and inclusive cities and human settlements” remains under the heading “Planet”. Meanwhile in the declaration, a full paragraph on cities has been expanded:
We recognize that sustainable urban development and management are crucial to the quality of life of our people. We will work with local authorities and communities to renew and plan our cities and human settlements so as to foster community cohesion and personal security and to stimulate innovation and employment. We will reduce the negative impacts of urban activities and of chemicals which are hazardous for human health and the environment, including through the environmentally sound management and safe use of chemicals, the reduction and recycling of waste and more efficient use of water and energy. And we will work to minimize the impact of cities on the global climate system. We will also take account of population trends and projections in our national, rural and urban development strategies and policies.
(Note that this final sentence is an addition to the draft released earlier in July. Seemingly ancillary points about chemicals and population projections reflect the political concessions of a negotiated document to address the concerns of specific U. N. agencies, such as the U. N. Population Fund and U. N. Environmental Programme.)
This paragraph was the subject of Ecuador’s proposed amendment. Under the proposal, the following clause would be added to the final sentence: “including inter alia on the basis of the previous United Nations Conferences on Human Settlements and looking ahead to the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to take place in Quito, in October 2016.”
Flood of amendments
Such an inclusion would provide parity with the declaration’s paragraph focused on climate change. That section states, “Noting the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations, and looking ahead to the COP21 conference in Paris in December, we call on all States to work for a comprehensive and ambitious climate agreement.”
At press time, no other member states had endorsed Ecuador’s amendment. However, observers agree that getting the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries on board is key to the proposal’s success. It is worth noting that the selection last year of Ecuador as the host country for Habitat III was considered a concession to the G77, which could now bolster support for this new language.
Ecuador’s amendment was part of an avalanche of edits that have flooded the co-facilitators of the SDGs negotiations following a dull first week of entrenched positions.
In a cover letter to the 26 July draft outcome, the co-facilitators pleaded, “As the positions of delegations on the issues in these negotiations are very widely known at this stage, we will be discouraging general statements during this week’s sessions. It is our intention to keep the focus firmly on textual work and on finalization of the draft document.”
As it turns out, this call may have been a case of being careful what you wish for. When asked about Ecuador’s amendment, Ambassador David Donoghue of Ireland, one of the co-facilitators, averred. “I’m not up to speed on this; we’ve gotten hundreds of amendments,” he said. “But I’d be surprised if the final document had more detail — more likely it will have less detail.”
Joan Clos, the executive director of UN-Habitat and secretary-general of Habitat III, is more bullish about the conference’s prospects in the final outcome document. “We hope that Habitat III is recognized as the first implementation conference after the Post-2015 Development process,” he said. “After the success of Addis, we are looking forward to a good agreement and a very good conference in September.”
Clos’s reference to Addis pointed to the Financing for Development summit that took place in Addis Ababa earlier in mid-July. There, the global community was tasked with coming up with new frameworks by which to pay for the new development agenda. (See all of Citiscope’s coverage on the Financing for Development discussion from an urban angle here.)
Grounded in tradition
For avid observers of the SDGs process, there is more than meets the eye in Ecuador’s proposed revision.
“Ecuador’s declaration not only allows us to collectively shift our attention to Habitat III,” said Maruxa Cardama, executive director of the Communitas Coalition, which advocates on behalf of urban issues in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
“The language explicitly mentions the tradition of the Habitat process, and that has enormous meaning toward implementation of the urban SDG and the New Urban Agenda,” Cardama continued. “It tells us that we have a community of people over the decades working on this topic, and a partnership that ensures the urban SDG is on solid ground.”
The urban SDG is the common name of proposed Goal 11. If adopted, this would be the first time the global community has agreed on development strategies specifically around cities.
Among stakeholders formally recognized by the United Nations, the “major group” that represents local authorities greeted Ecuador’s proposal enthusiastically.
“We would very much welcome the inclusion of the reference to Habitat III. As we have been saying over the past years, it would be unthinkable to disconnect the SDGs from the Habitat agenda,” said Emilia Sáiz of United Cities and Local Governments, a global network and an organizing partner of the major group.
“The New Urban Agenda conceived from a territorial perspective and based on solidarity of all levels of government and territories is key for the implementation of the post-2015 objectives,” Sáiz continued. “Without inclusive local governance, our final aim of cohesion and leaving no one behind will not be achieved.”
Given the high stakes in these remaining few days of negotiations around the SDGs, the rest of the week promises to be a long one, with several sessions expected to stretch into the evening.
Last year’s final debate to reach consensus on the first complete draft of the SDGs began on a Friday and did not conclude until 1:30 pm on Saturday. With a mountain of outstanding issues to resolve for a text that must be ready for late-September’s Special Summit on Sustainable Development, the waning days of July will prove sleepless for many.
Greg Scruggs is Citiscope’s Habitat III correspondent.
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