UN-Habitat Assembly and Stakeholders
“UN-Habitat is back!” proclaimed UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif after delegates unanimously approved the Ministerial Declaration and ten resolutions during the final plenary of the Second Session of the UN-Habitat Assembly (UNHA2). These outcomes set the long-troubled UN organization’s operational agenda for the next four years, in addition to the normative guidance already embodied in the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and other binding and non-binding global instruments.
UNHA2 convened in hybrid format at the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) in Kenya, 5–9 June 2023. Over 3,400 participated in-person, including 52 ministers and 37 deputy ministers, and over 2,000 participated online.
The Ministerial Declaration bore a lengthy title “A Sustainable Urban Future through Inclusive and Effective Multilateralism: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Times of Global Crisis,” adhering to the multilateralism theme set by the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In the Declaration, ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the NUA and its implementation plan, and endorsed the role of UN-Habitat as the UN’s focal point for sustainable urbanization and human settlements. They also committed themselves to strengthening UN-Habitat and advancing multilateral engagement and international cooperation on a range of urban and housing issues, including the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Delegates adopted resolutions addressing:
The resolution on adequate housing proposes the development of a framework for measuring and reporting on the adequacy of housing across diverse national and local contexts. Presumably, that framework would augment the long-standing requirements for states parties reporting to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but the UNHA resolution makes no reference to such binding obligations.
The UN-Habitat Executive Director’s appointed advisors, Stakeholder Advisory Group Enterprise (SAGE), facilitated the Second Global Stakeholder Forum (GSF) over two days preceding the Assembly. GSF gathered civil society and local government stakeholders jointly to identify key elements of multilateralism required to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs in times of global crises, like these. HIC-HLRN was represented on the drafting group of the GSF declaration, as well as in the plenary and Working Groups.
The GSF priority was the long-overdue establishment of a self-organized UN-Habitat stakeholder engagement mechanism to channel policy-level stakeholder participation with the UN Habitat governance bodies. Seeing the promised Stakeholder-engagement Mechanism (SEM) as critical to inclusive and effective multilateralism, the stakeholders drafted the GSF outcome document: Declaration of the Second Global Stakeholder Forum: Making Multilateralism Work.
Despite the UNGA’s December 2018 resolution, mandating UN Habitat to establish the SEM, state delegations in the UN Habitat Executive Board failed to agree on the needed draft, the 11th resolution on the UNHA agenda for that purpose never appeared. The issue became the subject of off-the-record discussions, including a decision to resume UNHA2 for two days in May 2025 to discuss the UN-Habitat stakeholder engagement policy, if the Executive Board has it ready by then. The UN Habitat Partnership Unit read out a portion of a detailed proposal for the SEM at the GSF; however, that document is not publicly available.
A side event organized by University of East London, Huairiou Commission, Namibia University of Science and Technology and HIC-HLRN and Global Land Tool Network convened stakeholders to discuss “How to develop a multi-stakeholder social contract for effective delivery of the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs. The event collected views directed at both governments and UN Habitat, where HIC President Adriana Allen called for the formation of a Working Group to propose a solution to the stalled efforts at establishing the SEM. That constructive proposal repeats the initiative at UNHA1 in 2019, which resulted in only one volunteer (HIC-HLRN) out of the committed nine fulfilling the promise to review model across the UN System for consideration by the 2020 World Urban Forum. After the side event, some SAGE members later expressed their opposition to such a proposal.
Overall, the UNHA2 didn’t allow for the definition of a political agenda for structurally and systematically integrating local and regional governments, their associations and their networks in global decision-making processes. The terminology around local and regional governments is still causing discussion, even though it is integral to the current international agendas.
HIC @ UNHA
For HIC, participation at the UNHA was a strategic opportunity to raise priority issues jointly with allies in relation to the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and SDG 11, thereby articulating a clear position on specific civil society priorities in the process leading to the UN Pact for the Future. It was also the opportunity to follow-up and deepen efforts related to improving participation, coordination and transparency related to UN-Habitat.
Beyond attending the sessions held during the assembly, as well as side-events and parallel meetings with members and partners, the HIC delegation concentrated particular in the activities described below. First of all, ahead of the assembly, along with partner organizations, HIC released a collective statement entitled Walk the talk: a complete realization of the NUA commitments for structural change. A one-page summary of the statement is accessible here. The main tenets of that statement were also presented by HIC President Adriana Allen as part of the HIC statement in both the UNHA plenary session and at the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments (LRGs) on Thursday, 8 June.
HIC, together with Global Platform for the Right to the City, United Cities and Local Governments and the Huairou Commission held a joint side event on Thursday 8 June titled “Quito+6: A collective dialogue to recover and fulfill the New Urban Agenda’s Commitments.” The event counted with contributions from representatives of national and local governments, as well as from UN-Habitat and the organizing partners, highlighting different strategies for advancing on the implementation of NUA commitments. Key messages from the conversation include reinforcing the understanding of NUA’s importance and relevance in the current context and acknowledging the complex and intersectional nature of indicators and metrics, as well as the role that diverse stakeholders involved in its negotiation play not only as implementers, but also as political drivers for its recognition.
Another key component of HIC’s engagement during UNHA2 pertained to debates around participatory modalities in and around UN-Habitat. This centered significantly on the discussion of a stakeholder engagement mechanism for the agency. Throughout the preceding GSF, as well as during a dedicated side-event, it was made clear how advancing on the agreement of the model for the mechanism and its implementation is urgent and should be done on the basis of the proposals that have been previously discussed until now, as the result of the proceedings of a specific working group created for the matter and to which HIC-HLRN has actively contributed. Looking forward, HIC commits to playing an active role to achieve this aims and calls aligned constituencies to join in the considerable effort ahead.
Finally, prior to the GSF and the UNHA, the HIC Board met for strategic planning in Nairobi and met with HIC Nairobi members on Thursday 1 June to learn about their priorities, including the widely opposed new housing tax proposed in Kenya. In solidarity with Kenya members, the HIC delegation joined local activities on Monday 5 June to raise awareness for the campaign to scrap the new housing tax.
Photo: UNHA opening ceremony, 5 June 2023. Source: UN Habitat.