THE Second Session of the UN-Habitat Assembly (UNHA2) opened with high-level speakers stressing the critical role of cities in addressing planetary crises and in achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the role UN-Habitat can play in helping them address these challenges. In his address, Kenyan President Williams Ruto offered his perspectives on the global climate change agenda and his plans for rolling out affordable housing.

UNHA2 also created a Committee of the Whole (COW) and a drafting committee to discuss issues in greater detail and vet the many resolutions proposed for the Assembly’s adoption. Ceremonial Opening Assembly President Román Meyer Falcón (Mexico) opened the session, calling for innovative and bold collective efforts in developing approaches to fulfill the objectives of the UN-Habitat Strategic Plan and providing better human settlements for all.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Director-General, UN Office in Nairobi (UNON), noted the long partnership between UN-Habitat and UNON and the importance of Nairobi for the UN system and the 2030 Agenda. In a video address, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the COVID-19 pandemic left more than half of the world behind in achieving the 2030 Agenda and to reverse this trend in time, “we must fight for the future we want.” Under SecretaryGeneral Li Junhua said that UNHA2 discussions should facilitate the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) review of SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and pave the way for the September 2023 SDG Summit to make the breakthroughs needed to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

Outgoing UNGA President Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary) said cities are the epicenter of planetary crises and urged new, bold, and innovative commitments based on scientific inputs. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat, underscored that inequity and the triple plenary crises on climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are felt first and foremost in cities and noted that the Paris Agreement’s aspirations can only be achieved if sustainable urbanization is prioritized. She acknowledged the completion of the first phase of UN-Habitat’s governance structure and encouraged delegates to extend its Strategic Plan by two years. Slumber Tsogwane, Vice President, BOTSWANA, acknowledged UN-Habitat’s role in advancing sustainable urbanism for inclusive, connected, and prosperous communities. He noted African Member States are working together to advance the concept of resilient and sustainable cities and the African energy agenda.

He underscored the importance of job access, cautioning that sustainable urbanization will not come without detailed economic transformation. In his keynote address, William Ruto, President, KENYA, outlined Kenya’s flagship initiative to deliver affordable and sustainable housing by 2030 as part of an overarching policy framework linking basic social services, sustainable energy and transport, green spaces, and waste management. Highlighting parallels with the global affordable housing shortfall for an estimated 3 billion people by 2030, he expressed concern that the current financial architecture is undermining progress on SDG 11.

He urged the Assembly to strengthen UN-Habitat’s capacity to lead a multilateral agenda for inclusive, safe, sustainable, and resilient human settlements. President Ruto then declared the Assembly officially open. Heads of States Dialogue In an interactive discussion segment, Moderator Eleni Giokos, CNN, invited President Ruto to outline his affordable housing vision. Concurring that the programme falls short of the target 250,000 houses annually, he defended a proposal to impose a 3% housing levy, stating it draws on successful experiences in countries such as Singapore and the Republic of Korea.

He further noted that the feasibility of such a public-private partnership approach has been proven in Kenya’s energy sector where more than 90% of Kenya’s electricity comes from green sources. President Ruto stressed the need to depoliticize this issue, noting that the people living in informal settlements “should not wait a day for a better quality of life.” Emphasizing that there is no contradiction between the development and climate agendas, Ruto reiterated his belief that COP 28 “should be the last climate COP,” explaining that the global community already has what it takes to make the right decisions to shift to a low carbon future.

Citing the example of Germany’s response to a serious energy crisis unleashed by the war in Ukraine, he reminded delegates that sustainable urbanization is not a North-South problem and urged them to “adopt the right mindset” to change current pathways.