WUF9 Side Event: Implementing the New Urban Agenda in Small Island Developing States: Promoting the Role of Cities in Sustainable Development in Island Systems

10 Feb 2018
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) share similar sustainable development challenges pertaining to demographic challenges, urbanization, the impacts of climate change (most cities, towns, and villages share the common characteristic of being coastal), inadequate planning legislation and land management frameworks, and economic development. 61.7% of SIDS’ populations live in urban areas (2014), compared with a global average of 53.6%. However, it is important to note that stark variation exists across SIDS – Singapore or Nauru is 100% urbanized in contrast with Trinidad and Tobago, which exhibits an urban population rate of less than 10%. Moreover, with rapidly emerging secondary settlements and densely populated rural areas, conventional urban/rural differentiation is often not applicable, and a commonly understood and applied definition of urban is also lacking across countries and regions.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA), adopted at the Habitat III (HIII) conference in Quito, provides a framework for the planning and management of urban areas over the next twenty years. Both comprehensive and necessarily general, the NUA serves as a framework for all countries. Whilst many of the clauses within the NUA are directly relevant to the needs of SIDS, their specific challenges and needs were mentioned only three times. The issues directly addressed within the NUA were those pertaining to SIDS’ unique and emerging urban development challenges, their acute vulnerabilities to the adverse impacts of climate change, and their specific and interlinked needs emerging from transport and mobility challenges. Prior to Habitat III, SIDS’ unique challenges and vulnerabilities have also been recognized and addressed at international events and within previous development agendas, such as Rio+20 (2012), the SAMOA Pathway (2014), the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015), the Sendai Framework (2015) and the Paris Agreement (2015). Similarly, the Oceans Pathway launched by the Fiji Presidency during COP23 (2017) was leveraged with the UNFCCC to convene a global action agenda which includes how coastal settlements can better manage risks posed by climate change, build their resilience, contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and protect ocean health.

The preparatory process for Habitat III included events such as the Caribbean Urban Forum and the Pacific Urban Forum which produced the Caribbean Urban Agenda and the New Pacific Urban Agenda respectively. During Habitat III specific SIDS and Pacific Island Events were also held. One of these, a high-level event was organized by UN-Habitat/UN-DESA/UN-OHRLLS and AOSIS, was entitled ‘Urban Resilience and Sustainable Urban Development in SIDS’. Another side event was organized by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and was entitled ‘Adapting the New Urban Agenda to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean’. A dedicated Pacific partnership event called for “a coalition of the willing”, a theme which was then picked up at the Commonwealth Association of Planners event shortly after Habitat III, where the of developing a SIDS New Urban Agenda emerged.

Since HIII, consensus has emerged that to successfully develop meaningful plans and strategies for NUA implementation in SIDS, the broad agenda and voluntary action plan adopted in Quito must be adapted and detailed to the specific needs of these territories. This SIDS agenda should make use of the Caribbean and Pacific Urban Forums as key opportunities for exchange and cooperation, and should build upon the Pacific and Caribbean Urban Agendas, each of which provide entry points for both existing and potential networks and partnerships within and across regions. In Africa, UN-Habitat has been quite active in promoting the NUA, especially through the angle of urban resilience, considering the vulnerability of the SIDS to climatic-related impact. The Subregional Action Plan for Implementation of the New Urban Agenda in the Caribbean also presents a set of guidelines and priorities for adapting the global agenda to the subregional, Caribbean context. The Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development similarly contextualises the global agenda to the Pacific context, drawing on the Pacific Urban Agenda and a range of sub-regional frameworks, to ensure high-level attention on issues pertaining to urban resilience. A New Urban Agenda for SIDS will respond to the challenge of defining common priorities for urban development and specific needs, opportunities and frameworks for future action.