New Delhi: The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, also known as Habitat III, will be taking place in Quito, Ecuador, from Monday to Thursday.

Habitat III is aimed at steering the course of global urbanization towards environmentally sustainable and socially equitable development pathways. The highlight of Habitat III is the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, which is a policy document that will set global standards for the way cities are built, managed and inhabited. Even though the New Urban Agenda is not a legally binding document, it seeks to lay down a shared vision that will inform how urban development takes place across the world.

Habitat III takes place at a time when the global urban population has been pegged at 54.5%.

By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to double. Urbanization has been termed one of the most transformative trends of the 21st century, thereby underscoring the need to plan and monitor the course of urban development. A recent article in the journal Nature states, “simply meeting the projected urban expansion will breach the warming limit set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement".Such a breach would have dire impacts which fall disproportionately on developing countries. Habitat III stresses the need for a multidisciplinary approach to sustainable urbanization, and therefore will be attended by officials across various tiers of governments, policymakers, scientists, architects, planners, private sector actors, civil society groups from across the globe.

Also read: Dispatches from Habitat III

The Habitat conferences happens once in every 20 years, with Habitat II being held in Istanbul in 1996 and Habitat I in Vancouver in 1976.

The Vancouver Declaration from Habitat I responded to the rapidity and magnitude of urbanisation, calling for “bold, meaningful and effective human settlement policies and spatial planning strategies […] considering human settlements as an instrument and object of development". It advocated shelter and housing as a basic human right, and public control of the use and tenure of land.

Habitat II, popularly known as the ‘City Summit’, aimed at providing adequate shelter for all as well as creating sustainable cities and towns in an urbanising world. It pushed the narrative of cities being the engines of global growth, and urbanization being an opportunity for change. The conference ended with the adoption of the Habitat agenda, also known as the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements.

The New Urban Agenda, which will be taken up in Habitat III, aims at implementing the targets of Goal 11 in the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically deals with making human cities and towns inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. One of the key issues that will be taken up will be climate change, as cities are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The other issues that will be debated include housing, migration, poverty, and inclusion.

Cities, especially in developing countries, are marked by precarious housing infrastructure and exposure to natural disasters. Extreme weather events, such as the recent Hurricane Mathew, affects populations in Haiti and North Carolina differently because of the varying nature of vulnerability in both places.

The participants at Habitat III will raise these critical issues over the next four days, in addition to working out the intricacies of implementing a complex urban agenda over various scales of governance.

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