One UN Roundtable
Twelve months after the official launch of the structural reforms of the development system, the UN is at the critical stage of implementation. In 2020, UN Country Teams under the leadership of Resident Coordinators will develop Common Country Analyses and Cooperation Frameworks in over 100 countries. Utilizing these instruments and various regional coordination mechanisms and global inter-agency processes, they will provide member States with a combination of integrated policy support and technical assistance targeted to enable countries to achieve the SDGs. They will as well seek to situate the UNCT within the larger constellation of domestic and international actors so that UN support facilitates efforts by countries to mobilize public and private investment well beyond the UN resource envelope.
In 2016, member States adopted the New Urban Agenda, an action plan of transformative commitments and drivers of change to harness the benefits and mitigate the risks of rapid urbanization. The UN Department of Economic and Social Development estimates that the proportion of people residing in urban areas globally is 54% and will rise to 70% by 2050. In regions with already high rates of urbanization, countries will need to redesign cities for the 21st century that are inclusive, reduce inequality, promote prosperity, and upgrade infrastructure that is energy-efficient and carbon neutral. In regions experiencing high rates of urbanization -- Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia -- countries will contend with these challenges while at the same time meeting massive demand for infrastructure, basic services, and employment. It is estimated that there are roughly 2,500 cities with populations of 250,000-500,000 people that will double in the next 25 years. How these cities manage that demographic shift will have significant implications for Agenda 2030.
In May 2019, the United Nations Chief Executive Board endorsed the “UN Systemwide Strategy for Sustainable Urban Development,” the result of an inter-agency consultative process under the auspices of the High-Level Committee on Programmes and facilitated by UN-Habitat. The strategy offers a broad framework for UN entities to assist member States to accelerate the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. It posits that over the next thirty years sustainable urban development will be an increasingly greater component of sustainable development as the world moves towards 70% urban. And that by focusing collectively on sustainable urban development, the UN system can make headway in four key domains of sustainable development: poverty eradication and equality, urban prosperity and economic growth, climate action, and environment, and urban crisis reduction and response.
The strategy elevates four drivers of change of the New Urban Agenda as crucial areas of attention for the UN system in its effort to offer member States a collective package of policy advisory and technical support for sustainable urban development. These include National Urban Policies that promote balanced socio-economic development to benefit historically marginalized regions of the country and that invest in infrastructure (physical and digital) connecting networks of cities and linking urban and surrounding rural areas. A second driver warranting collective action by the UN system is Vertical Dialogue among central and local governments to promote the devolution of public administration, clarify roles and responsibilities, and coordinate large-scale investments that require the involvement of multiple local jurisdictions. Also crucial is Inclusive Urban Planning that strengthens multi-stakeholder planning platforms privileging neighborhood organizations and engaging private industry to advance a trajectory that integrates equality and environmental sustainability as pillars for economic growth. A fourth driver toward which the UN system can provide dedicated support is Urban Finance, a combination of capacity development directed at local governments, large and small, to harness endogenous resources that provide the basis for repayment of loan financing and issuance of bond instruments – and convening of representatives of domestic capital markets, institutional investors, international financial institutions, and finance, economic development, planning, and urban development ministries.
In May 2019, member States convened the inaugural session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly at the global headquarters of UN-Habitat in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to formal meetings of the 122 government delegations, the inter-governmental meeting included informal sessions among key constituencies of the Assembly ranging from business leaders to women’s organizations, local and regional governments, and the United Nations. The One UN Dialogue provided an opportunity for representatives of the UN system to participate in the Assembly to review the UN systemwide strategy for sustainable urban development. It privileged four Resident Coordinators representing four regions, providing them at the outset of the session the opportunity to share their experiences integrating urban programming into the wider Cooperation Frameworks. These were followed by interventions by senior leaders of the Regional Economic Commissions, heads of UN entities, and the Government of Sweden.
The session at the United Nations Habitat Assembly was exploratory in nature and took place at the outset of UN reforms. Since May 2019, the UN system has moved at great speed. Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams in over 15 countries have completed Common Country Analyses and Cooperation Frameworks, with their counterparts advancing on these instruments in 57 countries. The regional UN system has also been active to align the resources of regional economic commissions, the Development Cooperation Office and regional representatives from 42 UN entities. While regions vary, some of the common elements of coordination are regional collaboration platforms, regional SDG framework documents, issue-based coalitions, and country support mechanisms. At the global level, DCO in support of UNSDG has over the past 6 months facilitated inter-agency workstreams to produce companion papers to the Cooperation Framework guidance. These include companion papers on the Common Country Analysis, Application of United Nations Principles, Leave No One Behind, Financing SDGs, Configuration of UNCTs, and Economic Transformation. In parallel, the UNSDG Strategic Results Groups have advanced work on SDG Implementation, Business Innovation, Partnerships and Financing and produced the draft “SDG Primer,” an overview of UN development system reform in practice.
The 10th Session of the World Urban Forum offers an opportunity for representatives of the UN system (country, regional and global) together with diverse constituencies of the New Urban Agenda, to utilize UN reforms to place urban development more forcefully in wider efforts to promote sustainable development at country level. This will need to include thinking about how to develop a clear narrative on sustainable urban development as a determinant for outcomes of Agenda 2030 – people, prosperity, planet, and peace. And specifically, to incorporate urban into the respective discourses on poverty/equality, economic growth, climate action, and crisis reduction and response. It will also require practical considerations about how to translate concepts and narratives into the diagnostic tools of CCAs and strategic areas of Cooperation Frameworks. A further exercise, especially for countries that have elected to prioritize urban, will be to identify ways to develop integrated urban programming that supports efforts by countries to implement the key drivers of the New Urban Agenda of national urban policy, vertical dialogue, inclusive urban planning, and urban finance.