Participation of the UCLG Africa Secretary General at the High-Level Meeting on UN-Habitat

The Secretary General of UCLG Africa undertook from 03 to 07 September 2017 a mission to the United Nations in New York to participate in the High Level Meeting on the New Urban Agenda and UN Habitat, at the invitation of the President of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Secretary General was part of a delegation of the Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments led by the UCLG President, Cllr Mpho Parks Tau.

The meeting was opened on 05 September at 10:00 a.m. with addresses by:

–   H.E. Peter Thompson, President of the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations;

– H.E. Ms. Amina Mohamed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations;

–  Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat

The Meeting heard thereafter the report of the Independent Panel in charge of assessing and improving the effectiveness of UN-Habitat. The Independent Panel was co-chaired by His Excellency Rosario Roables, Secretary of Agrarian Affairs, and Urban/ Territorial Development of Mexico; and Honorable Mpho Parks Tau, President of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). The Independent Panel was mandated by the U.N. Secretary General to make proposals for the reform of UN-Habitat consistently with the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the integration of the urban dimension into Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals, and to include its proposals within the overall framework of the ongoing reform of the United Nations system.

After the presentation of the report of the Independent Panel, three sets of interactive discussions on the positioning of UN-Habitat in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda were organized around the following topics:

1. The normative and operational mandate of UN-Habitat and the work of UN-Habitat with the governments and other stakeholders;

2. The governance structure and financial capacity of UN-Habitat;

3. The implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals: the role of the United Nations system.

A consultation of the stakeholders followed by a debate in plenary session during the High-Level Segment helped to discuss in details the findings of the Independent Panel’s report whose main proposals are as follows:

1. Review the mandate of UN-Habitat with a view to strengthening its normative function, which has tended to be less present in the Agency’s activities and interventions over the last years in relation to its operational function;

2. Review the governance of UN-Habitat first by opening up UN-Habitat membership to all Member States and all stakeholders (universal membership), and by setting up consequently a general assembly of all stakeholders (including local governments) that would meet annually between the sessions of the Governing Council which would keep its intergovernmental nature and the bi-annual periodicity of its meetings.

3. Review the funding of UN-Habitat. UN Habitat is one of the least well-funded agencies of the United Nations system. The situation is such that the salaries of a substantial proportion of the staff of this agency are paid from the project funds and not from the funds of the general budget of the United Nations. Hence the proposal to increase the level of allocation of the general budget of the United Nations in order to improve the fulfillment of the normative function of UN-Habitat.

4. Improve coordination in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, which should not come under the responsibility of a single UN agency. Hence the proposal to set up an interagency coordination mechanism called UN Urban. The mechanism would be established at the headquarters in New York, and would be located within the Social Affairs Department (UNDESA) of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

5. Consider integrating the territorial approach of development into the innovations that can decompartmentalize the implementation of sustainable development goals and promote a better consideration of the impact of the New Urban Agenda in the field.

6. Integrate the World Urban Forum into the governance of the New Urban Agenda as a multi-stakeholder space for exchange and evaluation on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

The discussions of the High Level Segment that followed the consultation of the stakeholders brought to the fore the following opinions and recommendations:

(1) The majority of Member States welcomed the work of the Independent Panel and appreciated generally the presented analyses, notably the ones on the improvements of the governance and management of UN-Habitat.

(2) The member States considered that UN-Habitat was mandated in Quito to be the United Nations agency responsible for the implementation and periodic evaluation of the New Urban Agenda. This is why they endorsed the proposal to reform the agency, build up its capacities and improve its funding. However, they also requested that more in depth reflections be conducted on the proposed opening up of UN-Habitat to the universality of Members in view of its intergovernmental nature and the proposed governance structure. They insisted that any UN-Habitat reform should fit in with the overall reform of the United Nations system.

(3) The Member States considered that in order to be effective the normative work should be based on the operational work. We should not introduce a dichotomy between these two aspects of the UN-Habitat mandate, as the weakness of the normative work is rather linked to the weakness of human resources and the poor financing of the normative aspect of this mandate which should in principle, be borne by the general budget of the United Nations.


4) On the other hand, the proposal to set up a new UN body, UN Urban, a UN inter-agency coordination mechanism for the implementation of the New Agenda, was rejected by the majority of Member States because this proposal appeared, in their eyes, to be redundant in relation to the mandate of UN-Habitat, and does not entail any obvious added value.

(5) While recognizing the need for better coordination and synergy between the United Nations agencies for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the integration of the urban dimension into the sustainable development goals, the Member States considered the proposal to strengthen the presence of UN-Habitat in the major regional centers of the United Nations should help to improve coordination with the other UN agencies without the need to create an additional body, at a time the drive is to streamline the functioning of the United Nations system. However, they requested that the cost of this proposal be evaluated appropriately so as to ensure that it (this cost) is built in the funds allocated to UN-Habitat by the United Nations General Budget.

(6) The Member States appreciated the proposal to integrate the territorial approach into the work of the United Nations, which is one of the innovations proposed by the New Urban Agenda for a greater efficiency of the interventions, including of the United Nations system. They recommended that this approach be adopted by all United Nations agencies, in order to meet the requirement to locate SDGs and the other global agendas, and to ensure a better complementarity and a better impact of the interventions of these agencies in the field.

7) The Member States acknowledged the importance of working more closely with the local governments in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and agreed on the need to find appropriate institutional arrangements to organize and facilitate this collaboration.

On the sidelines of the High Level Meeting itself and in order to deepen interaction between the local governments and the United Nations, a dialogue and exchange luncheon was organized on 6 September 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters between the President of the General Assembly, the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General and the members of the Task Force of Local and Regional Governments participating in the High Level Meeting. The exchanges provided the opportunity to appreciate the specificity of local and regional governments and their essential role in the management of urbanization and in the implementation of the SDGs, as well as the World Urban Agenda and other global agendas. It becomes clear that the New Urban Agenda has introduced a paradigm shift towards urbanization, which is now perceived as an instrument to boost economic and social development, job creation, poverty alleviation and inequality; on the explicit condition that its management be better planned. Public authority in its twin national and local dimensions is at the heart of the management of urbanization, but it must work imperatively with the other stakeholders and the people as a whole to be able to draw advantages from the opportunities offered by the urbanization of the world, and provide effective and sustainable responses to the challenges it raises in the cities and territories. The dialogue concluded with the need to build more institutional relations between on the one hand, the community of local and regional governments and on the other hand, the United Nations.

After the working lunch, and during the audience he granted to the Task Force members, the UN Secretary-General proposed to explore three options for the institutionalization of the relations between the community of local and regional governments, and the United Nations:

Option 1 (preferred):

Establishment of a representative body of the voice of Local and Regional Authorities within the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).

Option 2:

Signing of a Partnership Agreement with the United Nations General Secretariat and the Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments, on the pattern of the current Global Compact between the United Nations General Secretariat and the Private Sector

Option 3:

Establishment of a mechanism for collaboration and permanent interaction with the local and regional elected officials within the framework of the United Nations Development Group under the Presidency of the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations directed his staff to maintain regular contact with UCLG, in order to inform the community of Local and Regional Officials of the progresses achieved in relation to the three envisaged institutional options.


New York, 7 September 2017


Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi

Secretary General, UCLG Africa