Reflections on Habitat III

In this blog, Scott Muller of the LEDS GP Subnational Integration Working Group comments on Habitat III, the New Urban Agenda, and the role of multi-level governance in implementing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). 

Harnessing the desire and demand for inclusive cities to strengthen multi-level governance.

Assisting non-state actors (subnational governments, the private sector, and residents) to unlock intersectoral cooperation and achieve national development priorities.

Transforming urban environments into low carbon, circular economies.

I’m thrilled the New Urban Agenda is mainstreaming the conversation. And in due subsequence of this year’s Habitat 3 conference, you can read many reactions about what it says … and what it doesn’t say. I for one confess it can be more exciting to read opinions about what it doesn’t say; mainly because it reveals how much remarkable work is actually being implemented across the world.

Habitat 3 – outcome

Nevertheless, a great wealth of diverse input and lots of back and forth did indeed go into the creation of the Agenda. In the end, the final agreed text says, “We commit …” 48 times, and “We will …” 89 times.

Designing building blocks for inclusive cities at Habitat 3

And that — in my opinion — is the de-facto outcome. The actual information in the New Urban Agenda is but “non-binding guidance.” The genuine legacy of Habitat 3 is the process; the one where state and non state actors engage to say, “we are going to make cities successful.” Historically, national governments have not had clear urban policies. The current process is now focused on aligning multiple levels of government with their new shared goal: successful cities.

That distinct bifurcation is important. The information age is over; the infrastructure age is now and the New Urban Agenda will come from infrastructure – hard and soft, green, and grey. The next chapter in human development is less about picking a new north, and more about how to generate intensity to get us there. One key lesson from the past three years of activities of the LEDS GP Subnational Integration Working Group is that effective multi-level governance is a key component of low emission, climate resilient development strategies.

Habitat III and V-LED

We are all aware of the many moving parts in a city. Most of the time, the multiple sectors are uncoordinated; not working together, not sharing information, not supporting one other, and often competing with each other. Subsequently they are not informing policy, management, or investment priorities. Improving multi-level governance and intersectoral coordination in our cities requires broad participation and a hands-on approach.

Among the various engagements that LEDS GP and CDKN were involved with at Habitat III; one of the most constructive (literally) was the networking event organized by adelphi— which I had the pleasure to moderate: ‘A Pathway to Inclusive Cities; Multi-Level Governance for Climate Resilient Urbanization.’ In this interactive fishbowl session we did exactly that, we designed building blocks and constructed a pathway to an inclusive city.

Act 1 of the event presented insights, reflections, and very personal experiences on multi-level governance and “the inclusive city” from:

The following image shows a framework for discussion at the event:

To power Act 2 of the session, Adelphi harnessed lessons learned from their ongoing, innovative V-LED project, and combed information from the New Urban Agenda and other literature reviews. They utilized this to define a matrix of five building blocks and five enabling conditions of inclusive cities. The participants then organized into separate “building block” groups to discuss, debate, and physically construct a collaborative pathway for inclusive cities while meeting the challenges of rapid urbanization and climate change.

Great fun was had, friendships were launched, and more diverse insights and experiences were shared as participants built sequenced goals and milestones while defining priorities on how best to overcome common (and not-so-common) obstacles.

Looking forward

The global success of low emission development will increasingly be determined by the rapid growth of cities in developing countries. While this presents welcome opportunities for clean energy, economic growth and inclusiveness; it also brings about profound, unfamiliar governance challenges. There are some brilliant advances being achieved in this space.

Multi-level governance is playing a key role in the domestic implementation of national climate policies and actions (NDCs), especially as related to sustainable urbanization. The forthcoming activities of the Subnational Integration Working Group in 2017 reflect this priority and we look forward to continued strong collaboration. Thank you for joining us on this journey!

The original version of this article appeared on the Website of the LEDS Global Partnership
Author: Scott Muller I Date: 15.11.2016