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UNECE member States adopt Geneva Ministerial Declaration on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development

Cities and human settlements in the UNECE region face enormous challenges. The population in the region is ageing, bringing changing demands on infrastructure and social services. Increased urban expansion has reduced the land available for other uses. Climate change and natural disasters are causing vast economic and social losses. With the expansion of the knowledge economy and automation in all spheres of life, cities are being reshaped to new forms that affect education, training and employment. Finally, in recent years, international migration flows have risen to levels unprecedented since World War II. From 2010 to 2015, the number of refugees received in the UNECE region has doubled from 2 to 4.8 million. All these challenges in the context of the post-financial crisis amplify the challenges of the limited access to affordable and adequate housing and basic infrastructure for all.

Celebrating 70 years of cooperation on housing and land management

Countries in the UNECE region recognize the importance of exchanging experiences and best practices in order to address these complex challenges in their countries. Since 1947, they have been working together under the umbrella of the UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management to develop best practices and joint analytical studies on key topics of shared interest, building knowledge and strengthening cooperation on housing, urban development and land administration. The Committee is the only open pan-European intergovernmental platform to deal with the interconnected challenged of sustainable urban development. The Committee focuses on common challenges and priorities across the region, such as energy-efficiency measures in residential buildings, preventing social exclusion of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups due to unaffordable housing, registration of land and property, etc.

Over the last seventy years, the Committee has helped to mobilize governments and stakeholders to address key urban development challenges, including post-war housing reconstruction, building resilient and climate neutral cities, promoting energy efficiency in buildings, and making homes affordable and adequate. In 2014, countries endorsed the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing. The Charter supports member States to ensure access to decent, adequate, affordable and healthy housing. It provides clear guidelines and benchmarks for assessing progress in achieving this goal.

Strengthening commitment to addressing shared challenges ahead

As a symbol of countries’ continued commitment to cooperation, Ministers, Heads of Delegation and high-level representatives from forty member States have today adopted the Geneva Ministerial Declaration on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development at the 78th session of the Committee. The Ministerial Declaration reiterates the importance for governments at all levels and relevant stakeholders in the UNECE region to promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda, the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing and other relevant global and regional commitments. In adopting the Declaration, countries further renew their commitment to strengthening synergies, intergovernmental and cross-sectoral cooperation.

Highlighting key insights and exploring future directions

The Committee session on 8 and 9 November 2017 was an opportunity for delegates to explore a range of important topics and strategies for the way forward.

The delegates were presented with and discussed outcomes of its Housing for Migrants Study, which examined the current challenges and practices in housing new migrants in the UNECE region and formulated recommendations. The study underlined the importance of the engagement of beneficiaries in housing projects as well as of the involvement of host communities in the process of new migrant integration. 

Presentation of key conclusions of the Country Profile of Housing Sector of Kazakhstan highlighted achievements of the Governments of Kazakhstan in providing affordable housing to population through launching multiple state investment programmes on housing construction. The study highlighted progress in improving energy efficiency in buildings and promoting smart sustainable city approaches. The study recommended that the government adopt a “bottom-up” approach for the identification of people’s housing needs through regular surveys of the population.

The Smart Sustainable City Profile for the city of Goris in Armenia provided key recommendations for smart sustainable development at city level. The profile identifies key priorities for the city’s long-term development as improving wastewater management, reducing of risks of natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, and promoting cultural heritage to facilitate tourism.

The session also offered an opportunity to highlight progress in the work of the Geneva UN Charter Centres of Excellence, which have been established in Albania, Estonia and the United Kingdom. Delegates agreed that the establishment of the Centres laid the foundation for the more effective implementation in the region of global and regional commitments relevant to cities. With several centres currently being established in different countries, a future network of such centres will further strengthen the promotion of practical implementation of sustainable urban development and affordable housing measures across the region.

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