Momentum builds for a Sustainable Cities goal – but will the OWG ultimately include it?

February 7, 2014

By Lorenz Noe: Advocacy Strategic Initiatives Intern, Habitat for Humanity International

As the eighth and final meeting of the Open Working Group winds down, the world eagerly awaits to see how the input gathered will translate into a concrete agenda ahead of the 2015 expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). With an increasing number of people living in cities and slum populations continuing to swell, sustainable cities in general and adequate housing in particular must be preserved in the next set of goals, known as Post-2015.

According to the co-chairs of the Open Working Group Co-Chairs for the Seventh Meeting of the Open Working Group (OWG), “the world is rapidly urbanizing, and so cities are where ‘the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost’. Addressing the needs of the urban poor in informal settlements and slums is crucial for poverty eradication.” In the outcome document, following the “Sustainable Cities and Human Settlement, Sustainable Transport” meeting a few weeks ago, the Co-Chairs of OWG 7 also mentioned that “the inclusion of an urbanization-related goal in the SDGs framework” was widely supported.

It is understandable then that many advocacy groups, among them Communitas, SDSN and UCLG feel that great progress has been made. Indeed, at OWG7’s closing session, a vast majority of delegations expressed support for a stand-alone goal on sustainable cities. An SDG on sustainable cities therefore seems to be closer to reality than ever before.

However, without explicit commitments by OWG in their formal recommendations to the UN General Assembly, these encouraging words may be nothing more than just that. The topics for OWG 8, “Oceans and seas, forests, biodiversity; Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women's empowerment and Conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance”[i], are all unquestionably worthwhile and important goals in the context of a sustainable set of development goals.

But so too is a goal for sustainable cities – and the campaign for a stand-alone goal for sustainable cities is far from finished. Now that many members of the OWG are convinced of the value of a stand-alone goal, there is a real need to focus on targets within this framework.

For example, an SDG on sustainable cities could offer more tangible targets on affordable and sustainable use of land, the provision of public spaces and innovative transportation than an SDG that did not focus exclusively on urban issues. Furthermore, to build on MDG 7D, there is a need to address the quality of life of the skyrocketing population of people living in slums and inadequate housing in the well-known megacities of the world, but also in the rapidly growing medium-sized cities. This will involve work on land tenure security as well as the incorporation of WASH issues at every step of the way. Governance will also need to play a crucial part in an urban SDG, as urban-rural linkages and other urban-related processes will need to be codified and embedded into administration efforts to account for resilience efforts and greater public spending. Lastly, cities will drive the economic growth of the 21stcentury and their special status as job creating entities will need to be incorporated, as well as their potential to save more energy as its populations explode.

Among them, slums and housing continue to be a priority for Habitat for Humanity International, but we call on all of those advocating for an SDG on sustainable cities to remain engaged. The next 6 months will be critical as the OWG will look to release their report this summer, which means drafting will begin immediately and we must ensure that sustainable cities are not forgotten.


Read more about Habitat’s Post-2015 work here.

Read previous Habitat blogs on Post-2015 here and here.

Read Habitat’s statement in advance of the OWG 7 meeting here.

Learn how you can add your voice to the call for this important SDG here.



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