HABITAT 3 – will shape the future of cities. What will it mean for urban mobility?


Next week, the international community will gather at Habitat III – the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – to discuss important urban challenges as the world’s cities grow at an unprecedented rate.

Today, 54% of people live in cities and towns. Cities can be magnets for population growth and offer opportunities for jobs and social empowerment; but they can also be a source of congestion, exclusion and impoverishment. Which path of urban growth will prevail depends, in large part, on the quality and availability of mobility solutions. Transport is a structuring element of cities.

The reality of mobility in today’s cities is alarming— especially when measured against the four criteria that definesustainable mobility:




  • Environmental and health impacts: cities are a major contributor to pollution, carbon emissions, and energy demand. With one billion cars already on the road, road transport accounts for about 2/3 of total transport emissions. Fuel economy and other technological advances have improved over time, but there are significant differences between countries and regions dependent on the average size of engine displacements, their technology, and the mix of gasoline and diesel fuels used. Likewise, air pollution is primarily an urban issue. Urban air pollution is estimated to cause about 9% of lung cancer deaths, 5% of cardiopulmonary deaths, and about 1% of respiratory infection deaths.

The New Urban Agenda to be adopted at Habitat III anchors its vision in the concept of cities for all, “referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants […] are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all” (see latest draft of the New Urban Agenda).

To turn this vision into reality, actions to promote sustainable mobility for all will be paramount—starting with the several initiatives currently underway to elaborate a global program of actions and transform the world’s mobility. One such effort is the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport, which will issue its recommendations shortly. Habitat III offers other opportunities—such as supporting public transport, non-motorized options and transit-oriented development, integrating land-use and transport planning, seeking innovative financing, and using big data to help countries leapfrog to more sustainable modes.

But who will drive the agenda? Several proposals that outline a new global governance structure are on the table. For example, strengthened UN system-wide coordination, and a new Multi-stakeholder Panel on Sustainable Urbanization.

The New Urban Agenda adds another important element to the global map on sustainable development. But asglobal commitments continue to grow, with direct implications for transport—the post 2030 Agenda, Paris Climate Agreement, UN Decade of Action, and now Habitat III—it is becoming more urgent than ever to reach a consensus on a common vision on mobility and develop a solid global tracking framework. It is a matter of accountability and credibility.