The rapid force of urbanization is a powerful catalyst to advance all three aspects of a transitions to sustainable development – social, economic and environmental – as set out in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

Urbanization green

Habitat III

At the UN’s Habitat III conference ICSU (our predecessor organization) played a role convening the scientific community and providing a platform for engagement. With its co-sponsored programmes, it advocated for a strong role for science in the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of the conference, which should in turn support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities.

The contribution of the scientific community is vital for supporting the technical, design, institutional and governance challenges facing individual towns and cities and the global system of cities. Science is also key to understanding life within urban ecosystems and the impact of cities on future global environmental change.

Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador on 17-20 October, was the most inclusive of all the UN framework processes to date, providing multiple entry points for civil society engagement. The most prominent of these was the General Assembly of Partners (GAP). The GAP was open to virtually any organization, individual or stakeholder group with an interest in sustainable urbanization. Its membership ranges from individual city policymakers to organized groups – similar to the Major Group system at the United Nations – of women, professionals and academics, indigenous peoples, foundations, parliamentarians, farmers, children and the media, as well as business and trade unions. ICSU participated actively in the process, feeding in knowledge from its scientific community.

In July of 2016, ICSU, together with the World Health Organization, the governments of Ghana and Norway, the United Nations University Institute of Global Health, and the International Society for Urban Health, convened an expert meeting to coordinate the community’s input to the New Urban Agenda. The meeting resulted in proposed language which was ultimately included in the New Urban Agenda, and a report on “Health as the pulse of the New Urban Agenda”, which outlines critical connections between health and urban policies and will serve as the basis for further action by ICSU’s Urban Health and Wellbeing programme.

A key component of the work coordinated by ICSU and Future Earth for Habitat III relates to an identified need for a global knowledge platform to emerge in the implementation phase of the New Urban Agenda.

The need for systematic, practical and evidence-based guidance for national, regional and local public and private decision-makers about sustainable urban development has grown dramatically in the wake of several important global agreements that emphasize the importance of cities and urbanization.

As part of its science advocacy and stakeholder engagement remit, ICSU partnered Future Earth and the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam in the design and execution of a knowledge exchange platform at Habitat III called Habitat X Change. A total of 17 events were held in the space, ranging from science policy dialogues, the launch of Future Earth’s Knowledge Action Network to co-organized events with city stakeholder groups such as C40, WHO and UCLG.

Health as the Pulse of the New Urban Agenda

United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development,
Quito – October 2016

Scenes from Habitat X Change, a collaborative space to connect science, visualization and design for the future of cities at the UN’s Habitat III summit. A collaboration between the International Council for Science (ICSU), Potsdam University of Applied Sciences and Future Earth. Photo: Johannes Mengel/ICSU

Habitat X Change

In partnership with Future Earth and the Urban Complexity Lab at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany, ICSU developed a customized space at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador – Habitat X Change. The space offered events and networking around science, urbanization and data visualization. The three partners together defined a shared purpose, which was translated into a visual identity for a common space, social media channels, activities, events and products. This led to a programme of 17 events focused on science-policy and visualization over the course of six days.

In the ICSU track Cities and Science, the Urban Health and Wellbeing programme coordinated an event on healthy cities. The two other events were on the science–policy–practice nexus, including one developed in partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Habitat X Change also featured an installation built by the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam which showcased several data visualizations on three different cities: Cape Town, Bogota and Singapore, allowing visitors to discover the different ways these cities are developing.

Implementation of the New Urban Agenda

ISC and its scientific partners will continue to play a role in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. Key milestones in 2017-18 are:

  • May 2017: UN Habitat Governing Council
  • June 2017: First meeting of the UCL-Nature Sustainability Expert Panel on developing recommendations to strengthen the urban science policy interface to support the implementation of SDG 11 and the New Urban Agenda.
  • September 2017: Newly elected Secretary General reports for UN General Assembly on existing and future mandates for UN Habitat
  • March 2018: 9th World Urban Forum (Kuala Lumpur)
  • Early 2018: IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference (Edmonton)
  • July 2018: 5th High Level Political Forum scheduled to review SDG goals 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (cities and human settlements), 12 (sustainable consumption), 15 (forests and biodiversity)

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