I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Eastern and Central European countries associated with the European Union, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the associated countries Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, as well as the EFTA country, member of the EEA, Iceland, align themselves with this statement. I am pleased to take the floor on this crucial meeting regarding the review and appraisal of the Habitat Agenda.
Aware of the fact that five years is a short period, we have gathered to critically assess how we have tackled all the challenges that are implicit in the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda, and how, in our future action, we will deal with these. The worlds people in urban and rural areas, especially those living in poverty, are dependent upon us to fulfil the commitments of Istanbul.
We all know that urbanisation is a complex phenomenon affecting all parts of the world, and one which raises fundamental political issues that must be addressed in order to achieve an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable society. The challenge, therefore, is by no means a purely technical one. It is about empowering people and creating decent and healthy living conditions. It is about achieving social equity and an environmentally sound future. We need to develop adequate services, facilities, transport and other types of social infrastructure as well as integrated spatial planning, which take into account the important connections between urban and rural areas. These are important political challenges that we, Ministers charged with human settlements issues, face and have to meet. Key to success is good governance – the promotion of transparent, responsible, accountable, just, effective and efficient governance of towns, cities and metropolitan areas.
The inheritance of the Istanbul conference calls for a more decisive approach and a strategic mobilisation of political will, to ensure the full implementation of the Habitat Agenda in the future. In order to make our commitments clear and decisive, we must rise awareness about human settlements challenges and give this special session a powerful, visionary and political message, that our endeavour to improve the living conditions for all, especially those living in poverty, slums and the homeless, will result in concrete actions, not just in words.
As emphasised in the Habitat Agenda, sustainable development of cities and other human settlements is fundamental to economic growth, social and cultural progress and environmental protection. Bearing this in mind, it is worrying to note that the concentration of poverty, homelessness and slums is increasingly associated with the growth of the worlds urban population. The right to adequate shelter for all is far from realised, even in developed countries. The question of combating social exclusion is specifically mentioned in the EU Treaty of Amsterdam, and dealt with in several meetings between European Heads of States and Governments. We must do our utmost to promote enabling approaches for people with limited resources to house themselves, as well as to increase financial resources for low-income housing, including transparent and financially sustainable subsidies.
Mainstreaming gender perspective in human settlements is crucial in order to achieve a full implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Special efforts must be made to counteract discrimination against women, especially in respect of their security of tenure and their individual right to own property.
Making globalisation work more effectively for those living in poverty is of course a moral imperative – for governments, the private sector and civil society alike in both North and South. The primary responsibility for sustainable development and eradication of poverty lies with the national governments. As agreed in the Millennium declaration, the international community has a joint responsibility to achieve, by 2015, the international development target of reducing by half the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day, as well as to achieve, by 2020, a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, as proposed in the “Cities Without Slums” initiative. To this end the EU urges that efforts should be strengthened towards the fulfilment of the agreed ODA target of 0.7 per cent of GNP.
The EU believes that concrete actions should be considered while we continue to fulfil our commitments from Istanbul. For instance, we should spare no efforts to promote access to safe drinking water for all and to facilitate the provision of basic infrastructure and urban services.
We sincerely believe that local authorities are essential to further implement the Habitat Agenda. They are the closest partners to citizens, historically linked with the fulfilment of their basic needs. An increasing co-operation, based on agreed principles, between all levels of government, is therefore required.
In this regard we should, in accordance with national legislation, strengthen the capacities of local governments, in particular their financial capacities. We should also devolve responsibility and transfer financial resources to local governments to promote linked coherent actions, specifically to promote provision of land, adequate infrastructure and basic services. Furthermore we should encourage investment in local development and partnerships to increase livelihood opportunities and improve the quality of life for all citizens, especially those living in poverty
The Habitat Agenda cannot be fully implemented without an inclusive co-operation between all Habitat partners. The co-operation between governments, NGOs and representatives from local authorities and the private sector is of particular importance in order to promote a participatory citizenship. We also need to address the need of adopting more sustainable production and consumption patterns.
We welcome the fact that the General Assembly last autumn so clearly decided that the Habitat partners will be able to participate in our deliberations at these special session. We warmly welcome the participation of the Habitat partners here in the Plenary, in the Committee of the Whole as well as in the Thematic Committee.
Given the crucial role that cities and other human settlements have to play in sustainable development, the outcome of Istanbul+5 will be an important contribution to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Rio+10, in Johannesburg in 2002. The Habitat Agenda offers valuable tools for the handling of many of the issues of Agenda 21. It is, therefore, of utmost importance to reflect on how we best can build on the existing fundamental links between the Habitat Agenda and Agenda 21.
This Special Session gives the international community an important opportunity to express its political will to identify and endorse ways of realising a better world with adequate shelter for all and sustainable development of human settlements. These are political challenges that we, Ministers charged with human settlements issues, have a responsibility for in our pursuit of peace, justice and democracy through economic, cultural, social and environmental development. The EU is committed to continue to actively work for achieving these important intentions, and, Mr Chairman, we are happy to invite you to take part of the description of EU measures and intentions in connection with the Habitat Agenda that is described in a booklet that will be distributed.
Thank you for your attention.