While international attention will be
on Washington next week for the inauguration of the new U. S.president,
a quieter transition of power took place this month just a few hundred miles
from the White House. Portugal’s former prime minister António Guterres
officially became the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations at the
beginning of the month, taking over from Ban Ki-moon.
The Portuguese politician, who starts a
five-year term but could be in the position for the next decade, takes over the
global body at a time of extraordinary challenge. The international community
is continuing to figure out how to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Syria,
the rising threat of the Islamic State and the mass migration that such
instability has created. The world now has more displaced people than at any
time since the official record-keeping on the topic began — and it’s a topic
that Guterres, who for a decade headed UNHCR, the U. N.’s refugee
agency, knows well.
Less clear are the new
secretary-general’s views on urbanization. The issue is a hot-button topic that
the U. N.took up at last year’s Habitat III conference,
where member states adopted a new 20-year vision on sustainable cities called
the New Urban Agenda. The future of cities is also
on the U. N.’s social agenda, embedded in the new Sustainable Development Goals, and many
experts view cities as key to solving the climate change challenge addressed by
last year’s Paris Agreement.
Guterres’s transition team declined an
interview on these issues in December. So, Citiscope asked five experts and
opinion-makers for thoughts on what the new secretary-general should prioritize
during his first term with regard to the urban question. Their responses have
been edited for length and clarity.
Global Director, WRIRoss
Center for Sustainable Cities
From the start of his new role as U. N.secretary-general,
António Guterres has reinforced his reputation of inclusion and collaboration
by meeting with civil society groups. If we are to create cities where all
people can live, move and thrive, this kind of leadership is exactly what the
Last October the world came together in Quito, Ecuador, to
adopt the New Urban Agenda, which recognizes that sustainable, livable cities
for all are not only a moral imperative but also a scientific one. Secretary-General
Guterres can continue this momentum that has been building by integrating the
global climate, sustainability and urban agendas.
And Mr. Guterres can make a bold start
by insisting that the measurement and reporting of progress towards climate
goals, the Sustainable Development Goals and New Urban Agenda are implemented
in a coherent and coordinated fashion.
The new secretary-general brings a
unique perspective, having been a head of state and headed aU. N.organization. I can’t imagine that he
will engage too much in the first 100 days on the New Urban Agenda, and I’m not
sure he should.
What he needs to do is secure ongoing
funding for the U. N. from President Trump. Hopefully [the
incoming U. S.president] isn’t just going to reduce
funding across the board, though that must be a worry at any time, because he
acts irrationally. The second priority he will need to address is ensuring that
the United States stays in the Paris Agreement — and that’s a tough one, too.
Finally he will need to focus on solutions in the Middle East and the
rebuilding of Syria to stop the flow of refugees.
The SDGs should be led by his deputy Amina Mohammed, who played
such a critical role in securing the SDGs when she was special adviser to U. N.Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on
post-2015 development planning. We should look to her to keep the momentum up.
Co-Chair, World Urban Campaign
We would like to achieve effective
partnerships at all levels — from partnerships withU. N.agencies
to member states to local governments. We want partnerships that go down to the
organized grass-roots communities. The urban poor are the ones who will be
affected by the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. As a result, effective,
inclusive partnerships with us are a necessity.
We would like to
be part of decision-making when it comes to local government policies and
implementation. We want partnerships that create effective financing mechanisms
to support urban poor communities. Anywhere you go, poor people are being moved
away from the city. We don’t want to own big houses — we want to be recognized
in governance and finance structures. This is what matters. We don’t want to
own the cities, but we want to be part and parcel of planning and decision-making.
The New Urban Agenda will inform the
policies and resource allocation of governments, and these will be drafted to
deliver services to people — to communities on the ground who are vulnerable.
If the New Urban Agenda is attached to the reality on the ground, then it will
work for our communities. But if it’s only on paper and the policies on the
ground are contrary to this, then we won’t achieve anything meaningful. If the
member states and governments accept our inputs, then we will achieve a lot.
We need a United Nations that belongs
to the people on the ground. We need practical implementation of housing on the
ground — not only as policy on paper. Inclusion of the people when it comes to
housing delivery, allowing the people to house themselves, and supporting them
technically, financially and otherwise, will be very helpful to the grass
roots. Over and above everything in the New Urban Agenda, if these issues are
not adequately addressed, we will not achieve this agenda.
Secretary-General, United Cities and
Ignoring the role of cities, local and
regional governments and their associations in the urbanization era would be an
irreparable mistake and missed opportunity that could put the livelihoods of
future generations at stake. The fulfillment of the global agendas will depend
on an enhanced partnership between local and regional governments and the
international community. TheSDGs, HabitatIIIand Paris
Agreement are powerful tools, which necessitate full action at the local level.
In recent decades, local and regional
governments have shown the positive influence we can have on the global
development agenda. The nature and scale of the challenges we are facing now
demand new steps and increased room for consultation and advice from this
important constituency at the global table, in particular with the United
The concrete actions and bold
commitments of local leaders around world, taking steps that will allow world
commitments around governance, climate and inclusion to become a reality, need
to be accompanied by adequate attention and specific mechanisms by the
The U. N.has a key
role to play in expanding the world governance mechanisms with structural
inputs from local governments.
Coordinator, Housing and Land Rights
Network, Habitat International Coalition
Habitat III predictably has dashed expectations of
progress based on lessons learnt from Habitat II implementation and the priorities
looming on our horizons. While it also enshrines the “right to the city” and
social and environmental functions of land, it gives woefully inadequate
attention to migration, displacement, forced eviction and the current warring
destruction of human habitat. Thus, the New Urban Agenda deserves deeper
real-world elaboration to address these and other key issues within human
Toward that end, we urge integrating
the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of Habitat III outcomes within the new U. N.sustainable development framework, led
by the Paris Agreement and SDGs. While the institutional arrangements for that
eventuality still remain the subject of deliberation, civil society
organizations and social movements also are seeking greater convergence and
coherence of efforts, mechanisms, communities and scarce resources.
However, the divisiveness and
exceptionalism of the urban-specific Habitat III process
actually has set us back, leaving us with a New Urban Agenda that is out of
place and out of time. The post-Habitat III and New
Urban Agenda processes also still need to be made fit for purpose within the
framework of the U. N. charter,
Habitat II and Habitat I commitments, and
sustainable development criteria aligned with the U. N.human rights treaties and monitoring
We commit to that indispensable
exercise — and to filling some of the remaining gaps — through the function of
our members as a human rights Habitat observatory. We look forward to
cooperating in that mighty challenge before us.