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UN-Habitat organizes World Urban Forum 9 to scale up & localize implementation of the New Urban Agenda

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Summary: The ninth session of World Urban Forum (WUF9) was convened by UN-Habitat during 7-13 February 2018 at Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. The objective of the forum was to localize and scale up implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) : Cities for All, Cities 2030. There was strong participation from India at many levels in the forum. Like NUA, India too envisions Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Urban Development. In principle, implementation of the New Urban Agenda is equally important for India. However, implementation of NUA will be a mammoth challenge for India given her unique social, economic, political circumstances. Some of the NUA provisions may be controversial for India and how far will NUA be applicable to Indian circumstances is yet to be assessed. (Click for Marathi version)

Meera_VM | Urban Management & Policy Expert | 7 – 13 February 2018, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

World Urban Forum 9: Introduction

Impacts of fast-growing cities and rapid urbanization on environment, society, and economy is the burning issue of the 21st century. The World Urban Forum is the biggest non-legislative, bi-yearly conference of the United Nations to discuss Sustainable Urbanization and Cities. The ninth session of World Urban Forum (WUF9) was jointly organized by UN-Habitat, Malaysia Government and Kuala Lumpur City between 7-13 February 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The focus of the WUF9 was to localize and scale up the implementation of the New Urban Agenda: Cities for All, Cities 2030 to help to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The United Nations had launched 17 Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. SDG-11 is about Sustainable Cities and Communities. The next logical step to follow SDG-11 was the New Urban Agenda (NUA). NUA was formally adopted by world community during the Habitat-3 conference in 2016 in Quito (Ecuador, Latin America). Habitat is the UN-Habitat’s 20 yearly Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Earlier Habitats, Habitat-1 happened in 1976 in Vancouver (Canada) and Habitat-2 happened in 1996 in Istanbul (Turkey). NUA works as the bridge between Sustainable Development and Urbanization by providing framework and guidance for the sustainable cities of future, cities of 2030.

The United Nations’ Our common future or Brundtland Report defines Sustainable Development (WCED, 1987) as : The balanced development that optimizes Economy, Society and Environment; a development that meets needs of the present while preserving resources for the future.

According to UN-DESA (2014), more than 50% world today is urban and by 2050, 70% world will be urban. Hence, for sustainability, sustainable development of cities and urban areas is essential

The New Urban Agenda : Cities 2030, Cities for All

Based on the guiding principles of Inclusion, Innovation and Integration, the New Urban Agenda (NUA) presents 175-point framework for future urbanization. NUA envisions future Cities of 2030 as Inclusive, Just & Safe, Healthy & Accessible, Prosperous & Affordable, Resilient & Sustainable Cities; Cities 2030: Cities for all where no-one and no place is left behind. NUA mentions few other relevant Global Agreements in its documents: Paris Agreement COP21 2015, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries, Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries etc. Although, the New Urban Agenda is a non-legislative framework.

175 points of NUA can be grouped under 5 basic elements:

World Urban Forum 9

Approximately, 22778 people from 165 countries representing various National & Local Governments, International Organizations, Academia and Professionals, NGOs, Grassroot Organizations, Civil Society groups etc, from all sections of society across gender, age and class participated in WUF9, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia between 7-13 February 2018. There was strong and active participation from India at many levels in the forum. Mr Hardeep Singh Puri, Mos, MoHUA (Minister of State, Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs) represented Government of India in the forum. Shri Puri was appointed as the President of UN-Habitat’s Governing Council at Kuala Lumpur in 1st week of February 2018.

The focus of the World Urban Forum 9 was the preparation of framework to “localize and scale up” implementation of the New Urban Agenda through consultation, consent and cooperation of the representatives of the stakeholders on one common platform. The Action Framework for Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (AFINUA) included 5 groups of subjects: 1. National Urban Policies, 2. Urban Legislation, Rules & Regulations 3. Urban Planning & Design, 4. Urban Economy & Municipal Finance, 5. Local Implementation.

Discussions during WUF9 and Kuala Lumpur Declaration

During the conference proceeding, numerous high-level roundtables, meetings, side events and networking sessions were organized and a plethora of subjects ranging from climate change to urban planning was discussed. However, discussions about Housing, Infrastructure and Governance & Policy took the center-stage. Role of data and new age technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and its importance in addressing the urban challenges was also one of the important set of discussions.

The outcome of WUF9 was presented in form of Kuala Lumpur Declaration. KL Declaration highlights some of the challenges in front of urbanization like limited opportunities, inequitable access to the city, violations of human rights, inequalities, social, cultural, gender-based inequalities, environmental degradation etc.

  • KL declaration makes a strong recommendation to nations to bring a comprehensive National Urban Policy for implementing New Urban Agenda at National, Regional and Local Level and empowerment of Mayors & Urban Governments.
  • The discussions at WUF9 placed the issue of migrations to safer urban areas due to manmade/natural disasters, conflicts and persecutions etc in the context of Urban Policy. KL declaration recommends urban governments to take the lead in establishing social cohesion and extending the Right to City to all the refugees along with the intra-state migrants.
  • Another set of discussions at WUF9 was pertaining the Territorial & Regional Development. The definition of urban areas is extended to the city regions in NUA and development of the peri-urban and rural area with the help of smart technology is recommended for sustainable territorial development [HRH Prince of Wales Charles during his address to WUF9 via video conferencing mentioned the need for research about smart villages]. In the context of Economic & Trade Corridors, WUF9 recommends partnership & cooperation between cities for sustainable regional development.
  • While recognizing the importance of data and new age technologies in addressing the urban challenges, KL declaration emphasises the need for policies to ensure equitable access to data and technology to all. KL declaration also recommends the need for adapting Innovative solutions by urban governments.

The points which came to the forth during WUF9 are 1. Global recognition of City as the central unit of governance and the increasing importance of urban governments and urban leaders internationally. 2. Participation of the Grassroots organizations and actual Slum Dwellers and their vital feedback regarding Housing, Infrastructure and Urban Planning issues. 3. Need for the resilient development along with the climate change adaptations.

Urban Scenario of India

Social, Economic and Environmental impacts of rapid urbanization is a major concern for India too. While economic growth and urbanization should happen together, migration and demographic growth are driving urbanization in India. The growing urban population is outpacing the development of infrastructure and housing in Indian cities. At present, 1/6th of the global population is in India (approximately 121 Crores as per Census 2011) and 1/3rd Indian population is in urban areas. It is projected that by the year 2050, Indian population will grow to 170 crores and 60% of that population will be urban. India will be the most populated country in the world by the year 2020. As such, future of sustainable development depends upon India to the large extent.

However, global studies indicate highly unsustainable cities and urbanization in India. India’s 4 important cities: Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are included in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2016. All the 4 Indian cities are ranked in the bottom 10; at 91, 92, 97 and 100 respectively in the list of 100 global cities. While present Indian urbanization may have inherited some chronic social, economic and natural problems, it is important and essential for India to avoid further negative consequences of urbanization and leapfrog towards sustainable development.

In principle, implementation of New Urban Agenda providing framework and guidelines for future sustainable urban development is important for India.

Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2016.

Fortunately, the present perspective of India towards cities and urbanization is optimistic. Urbanization is looked at as the engine for economic development, an instrument for uplifting millions from poverty. India has initiated large Infrastructure up-gradation programme and a plethora of urbanization-related schemes and policies viz. Smart Cities, Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY), Clean India, AMRUT, HRIDAY, Real Estate Regulatory Act (RERA) etc. Some of the social schemes viz. Accessible India, National Health Protection Scheme, Ujjwala (Clean fuel), Saubhagya (Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana) etc. also deserve mention as they are helping social sustainability.

Whether India’s efforts are in the right direction? How her efforts will be measured on a global scale? WUF9 was the important platform to answer these questions and to understand the global trends in urban policy; to develop partnership & cooperation with international organizations; for the exchange of ideas and for voicing India’s opinion on the global stage.

Challenges for India in the implementation of NUA

In principle, implementation of New Urban Agenda is important for India to achieve sustainable urban development. Nonetheless, it is a mammoth challenge given her large, diverse population and Political, Economic & Social Circumstances. Some of the provisions in NUA may be controversial for India. Some of the implementation related difficulties in India’s context are:

  • National Urban policy in conformity with New Urban Agenda

The first challenge for India will be to bring a comprehensive National Urban Policy (in conformity with NUA) in consultation with all the states, local governments and other stakeholders. Also, the legal framework will be required for the policy for effective and timely implementation at all levels, especially at local level. All the states will also have to do this exercise (of bringing the comprehensive urban policy at the state level).

  • Empowering Urban Governments

Today, cities from the developed world are autonomous to a large extent having the power to make decisions regarding overall urban management and financial planning. Larger autonomy is recommended for cities in New Urban Agenda too. How far will India’s federal structure allow decision-making power and financial autonomy for cities is yet to be seen.

  • Inclusive cities for all genders

India has not yet decriminalized transgender and LGBT community. There are still rules and practices discriminating against women. If India wants to extend Right to City for all irrespective of gender, she needs to make the legal system inclusive. For that, India will have to change laws to give equal rights to women and gay community. This is a bit complicated matter because it does not come under the jurisdiction of urban governance.

  • Rights for Migrants and Refugees

According to Mr William Lacy Swing (Director General of Migration International Organization), 1 out of every 7 persons globally is migrant due to reasons like conflicts, persecutions, climate change, aspirations etc. The New Urban Agenda brings the issue of migrants in the context of urban management. The NUA which is based on the principle of inclusiveness, recommends city governments to extend the Right to City to all the migrants including international refugees. However, migration is a sensitive matter for India, especially in the areas like Mumbai, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir and entire North East India. Any change in migration strategy will have Political, Social & Economic consequences. The handling of the issue will involve not just urban governments but political leadership at central and state levels.

  • Accessible, Inclusive cities for old and disabled

At present, India may be demographically young country, however, a sheer number of the old people having age more than 60 years and persons having a disability is significant (8% and 2.2% respectively out of 120 crore population in 2011). The proportion of old will increase to 20% by the year 2050 and India will have 34 crores old people out of 170 crores total population then. Providing old and disabled with physical & digital access to the city and ensuring economic inclusion will be a huge task for India.

In conclusion:

There will be many more challenges in implementing New Urban Agenda apart from the list above. Development of economic corridors involving cross-border cities vs geopolitical interests is one such challenging area. Even though Urban Agenda focuses on Inclusive, Just & Safe, Healthy & Accessible, Prosperous & Affordable, Resilient & Environmentally Sustainable Cities, all these goals may not be complementary to each other at all the time, for all the places in the Indian context.

India has been an active player in the multilateral negotiations of the New Urban Agenda. However, implementation of NUA will depend upon the policies and governance to the large extent. Next review of implementation on NUA is scheduled in July 2018, then we will get the fair picture about India’s preparedness about the implementation of NUA.



  1. (2015). SUSTAINABLE CITIES INDEX 2016, 9. Retrieved from
  2. Charles, A. (2016). The New Urban Agenda has been formally adopted. So what happens next? | World Economic Forum. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from
  3. (2012). Kuala Lumpur Declaration. In the Second Strategic Roundtable Discussion ISRA-IRTI-DURHAM University (pp. 1–3). Retrieved from
  4. Ministry of home affairs. (2011). Census of India Website: Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved from
  5. UN DESA. (2015). Sustainable Development Goals: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from
  6. UN Habitat. (2017). Action Framework for Implementation of the New Urban Agenda. Retrieved from
  8. (2017). The Paris Agreement – main page. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from
  9. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – UNISDR (2015).
  10. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future – A/42/427 Annex – UN Documents: Gathering a body of global agreements. Retrieved from

Reference images & videos: 

1. Implementation Plan of the New Urban Agenda 2016-2026

2. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 2015

3. Video address of HRH Prince Charles:


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