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Habitat III impasse resolved with Mexico, Philippines to lead talks

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PHOTO: citiscope.org

PHOTO: citiscope.org

A political impasse that had stalled progress on negotiations toward the new urban agenda, the outcome strategy of this year’s Habitat III conference on urbanisation, has been resolved with the appointment of diplomats from Mexico and the Philippines as co-facilitators of the talks.

Starting immediately, their task is to shepherd the delicate process of transforming the first draft of the document into a text ready to be negotiated word by word in the hopes of reaching consensus by the time the conference begins in October. Such an achievement would allow the gathering in Quito, Ecuador, to serve largely as a victory lap focused on implementation rather an ongoing exercise in hard-nosed diplomacy.

The selection resolved a two-week stalemate that prevented the preparation of an updated version of the New Urban Agenda following the first round of intergovernmental negotiations last month. Thus far, the Habitat III process has been guided by France’s Maryse Gautier and Ecuador’s Maria Duarte, who are the co-chairs of the 10-member Habitat III Bureau and had also been serving as co-facilitators.

During last month’s negotiations, however, a Nigerian diplomat called for new co-facilitators with the autonomy to take the reins of the negotiating process. That request, which the Bureau acceded to, prompted a search that did not immediately yield fruit.

Sources close to the process indicated that Italy, Norway, Sweden, Romania and Australia had all been considered or were asked directly. But each either was deemed unsuitable or rejected the offer.

“It’s not that simple to jump into a heavy process,” European Union diplomat Isabelle Delattre told Citiscope by way of explanation for the difficulty in finding a second co-facilitator. In other words, it would have been easier embark upon a leadership role from the outset, rather than joining in partway through when much of the work has already been done by other parties.

The new co-facilitators are also fighting the clock, as the Habitat III conference is now set to start in just over four months. A more immediate deadline is the third and final preparatory meeting — the site of formal negotiations — in Indonesia at the end of July.

Many hope the Indonesia sessions will be able to make as much progress as possible on finalizing the New Urban Agenda, in order to avoid having the text come down to the wire in Quito. Yet the less progress that is made in New York in the coming month, the more the Indonesia talks will be forced to take on.


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