IIED and Habitat III

The third global UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, took place in Ecuador in October 2016. This page sets out how IIED engaged with Habitat III.

Article, 23 May 2016
An image of an outdoor community meeting in Zimbabwe. Ensuring the perspectives of local people and communities are heard in Habitat III's high-level consultations is a critical part of IIED's work (Photo: David Dodman/IIED)

A community meeting takes place in Zimbabwe. Ensuring the perspectives of local people and communities are heard in Habitat III's high-level consultations is a critical part of IIED's work (Photo: David Dodman, IIED)

There is growing global recognition of the role that cities need to play if we are to transition to a more just, inclusive and sustainable future. But many of the perspectives and issues that IIED's Human Settlements research group and its partners identify as critical to sustainable urban development remain misunderstood or ignored.

These include the central role of local governments and representative organisations of the urban poor in urban poverty reduction, their rights to be engaged in the setting and monitoring of goals and targets, and the potential of coproduction of basic services in securing a more pro-poor politics.

A key attempt to shape the future of urban development was Habitat III. This was the third in a series of meetings that began in 1976 to secure commitments to the sustainable development of human settlements.

Habitat III, held in Quito, Ecuador, from 17-20 October, will seek to establish a host of pledges and obligations that will be known as the 'New Urban Agenda'. This will set the new global strategy for urbanisation over the next two decades.

IIED engaged with Habitat III in a number of ways with a number of partners for a wide range of audiences.

Policy influence

The organisers of Habitat III set up 10 policy units to advise on key points for drafting the new urban agenda. Each unit is made up of 20 experts. Two IIED researchers were appointed to Habitat III Policy Units:

Events and meetings

IIED hosted a discussion meeting on May 5 on the topic 'Will Habitat III produce an effective new urban agenda?' The meeting featured contributions from leading experts – you can see a summary of our social media coverage via Storify and the presentations on our SlideShare site.

IIED researchers attended preparatory meetings ahead of the Quito conference, including:

  • Policy unit meetings, 25-26 January 2016
  • Habitat III Regional Meeting for Europe, 16-18 March 2016
  • Habitat III consultative meetings, 25-29 April 2016
  • OHCHR Expert Group Meeting on Human Rights and the New Urban Agenda, 3-4 May, 2016
  • "Interrogating the new urban agenda", a Development Studies Association (DSA) Urbanisation and Development Study Group Workshop, 4 July 2016
  • Third Preparatory Committee meeting, 25-27 July, 2016

On October 11 Debra Roberts, a champion of urban climate action, asked if Habitat III can deliver in the real world and whether the 'New Urban Agenda' can support local needs, in the 2016 Barbara Ward Lecture, organised by IIED.

IIED and its many partners hosted events and participated in a number of others at Habitat III in Quito.


Achieving the 'New Urban Agenda' depends on meeting the basic needs of low-income and other marginalised urban residents. New research demonstrates that building and operating this infrastructure has relatively small investment needs – only $1.36 billion a year to provide electricity to 200 million un-served urban dwellers. This suggests that the economic barriers are relatively small, and that implementation of the New Urban Agenda will require tackling the political obstacles to inclusive urban development.

The twice-yearly publication Environment & Urbanization (E&U) is one of the world's leading environmental and urban studies journals, with 10,0000 subscribers and 350,000 full text downloads each year. 

The April 2016 issue is entitled 'From the MDGs to the SDGs and Habitat III'. It features a number of articles on Habitat III and the new urban agenda, and includes the following open access papers:

Public engagement

To reach a wider audience, IIED researchers shared their ideas about the Habitat III process in accessible ways:


To find out more, contact IIED researcher Anna Walnycki ([email protected]) or Christine Ro ([email protected]), managing editor of E&U