Story of the Month - October 2016

Story of the Month - October 2016


Shaping our Urban Future: Youth, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda


By Sharon Lo (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)



Youth @ Habitat III Video
Source: UN Major Group for Children and Youth


On 17-20 October 2016, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) was held in Quito, Ecuador. Held every 20 years, this forum is convened by the United Nations to reinvigorate the global political commitment to the sustainable development of towns, cities and other human settlements, and occurs out of a two-year-long process of preparatory, thematic and regional meetings. The outcome document, the New Urban Agenda, provides a global strategy with which to shape the urbanisation process for the coming two decades, and will mobilise governments and local authorities worldwide to invest resources and manpower into the thoughtful planning, design and sustainable development of urban spaces. 


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Children and youth constituted some of the most active stakeholder groups throughout the Habitat III process.  Led by the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UN MGCY), the official and mandated space for young people to engage in UN processes, youth from across the world have been active in hosting consultations to facilitating advocacy, developing policy and position papers, and delivering statements at official forums. Through these channels, the UN MGCY has been able to identify youth priorities and recommendations about sustainable urban and inter-territorial development, and to effectively advocate for their integration into the New Urban Agenda. 


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As a UN MGCY Regional Focal Point for North and the Southeast Asia, I was privileged to be part of mobilising and engaging young people regionally and globally to contribute toward Habitat III. Something that has struck me is the endless energy and enthusiasm with which young people have dedicated themselves to influencing and shaping the content and direction of the New Urban Agenda, which has led to many advocacy victories. We have been smart: in being selective about the few key policy areas we have wanted to advocate. We have seen the bigger picture: by locating the New Urban Agenda against the backdrop of the other UN sustainable development frameworks signed in 2015 such as the SDGs, Sendai Framework and Paris Agreements. We have been savvy: in developing strategic partnerships with Member States negotiators (particularly the China+G77 and European Union blocs) which have directly influenced the agreement’s outcome. We have persevered: through the countless sleepless nights spent in negotiations, even buying donuts for all Member States at one point! 


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One thing I find exciting is that most youth engaged at the international policy level are also engaged in some way with sustainable urban development at an individual or local level – whether it be through small urban projects, or generating research and evidence for a positive urban future. Now that the New Urban Agenda is adopted, it is essential that young people do not become passive: these international agreements are only as strong as their meaningful implementation and influence to positively affect situations on the ground. As we move into this implementation, follow up and review phase of the New Urban Agenda, my hope is that young people will continue to boldly advocate for sustainability and equity, and to hold Member States accountable for their progress in implementing all aspects of the New Urban Agenda.


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All photo credit goes to UN Major Group for Children and Youth.


Sharon is the Project Officer for the Centre for Global Health and the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response (CCOUC), both located at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. In her spare time, she facilitates youth engagement with sustainable urban development processes at the United Nations with the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UN MGCY), and runs Youth Empact, an ethnic minority youth empowerment platform.


To find out more about the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, please visit and follow them on Facebook and Twitter



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