On Monday, the Minister of Territory and Sustainability, Josep Rull, took part in the preparatory hearings for the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, held this week at the UN Headquarters in New York.
In representation of the Catalan Government and the nrg4SD network (Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development), the Minster exposed various reflections and ideas on the First Draft of the New Urban Agenda, which, according to Rull should place “the people at the centre of policy”.
“It is important to remember that we are not working to build more buildings or infrastructures; we are working for the well-being of the people we serve as public authorities”, he explained. In this respect, “societal well-being is built by creating territorial and physical conditions that are conducive to creating employment and wealth”. Furthermore, Rull explained that the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ means that efforts must be focused on “supporting the underprivileged, so that everybody can move forward together”. “The economic crisis has increased inequalities and an urban agenda needs to be one of the tools to create social cohesion”, he added.
In his presentation as a member of the global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments, Rull reaffirmed the role of subnational governments not only for sustainable urban development but for global governance as well, and highlighted the position of cities as models of responsible consumption, sustainable mobility and good waste management, as well as “generators of green technology”.
During his intervention, the Catalan minister also warned against the risk of recentralisation that could come with the supranational proposal, such as the New Urban Agenda. “There are some ideas in the New Urban Agenda that, I am sorry to say, we really do not like at all”, he stated. “Despite the Agenda’s repeated insistence on the importance of involving subnational and local authorities, and the principle of subsidiarity, it leaves the door open to recentralization”, Rull explained. In this regard, the Catalan representative stated that “we should not be afraid to work from the bottom up, or to empower subnational and local authorities”; “this is precisely the best way to implement the objectives of the agenda”, he affirmed.
According to Rull, decentralization created the dynamics that were “very positive for Spain”, as demonstrated by the social and economic development of Catalonia. But the Minister also explained that there is currently a shift away from this trend, and one of the Agenda’s basic principles, ‘people at the centre of policy’, “has been forgotten”. Putting as an example, the Spanish government’s interference, the minster criticized that “Bureaucratic, technical and legal excuses” are being used to prevent passage of a Catalan law “whose only purpose is to try to relieve the suffering of people in a situation of social emergency”, he affirmed.
In his concluding remarks, Rull assured that the New Urban Agenda was an “ambitious document” that could only be attained with the effective involvement of “strong regional and local authorities” that are connected to “the reality on the ground and that coordinate with national authorities and international institutions whenever necessary”. In the regard, the Minister urged the international community to “work together as a network because together, we are not just more, we are better”.
The conference itself, entitled Habitat III, will take place this coming October in Quito, Ecuador, and aims to reach an agreement between member states on the 20-year New Urban Agenda.