Nairobi, 8 May 2017—The 26th Governing Council of UN-Habitat opened in Nairobi with President Uhuru Kenyatta calling for the agency’s empowerment.

Some 650 delegates representing governments, partners and stakeholders are already accredited and are attending the Governing Council.

The Head of State further underscored the need to reform UN-Habitat to create smart towns and cities that are economically viable, socially livable, environmentally resilient and politically stable settlements.

The President said the capacity of the UN-Habitat should be strengthened to enable it to serve as a focal agency for sustainable urbanization.“ That is why we must empower UN-Habitat with the resources it needs – and these resources must be adequate and predictable,” President Kenyatta said.

The President also welcomed the recent appointment – by the UN Secretary-General – of a high-level panel of experts to conduct an evidence-based and independent assessment of UN-Habitat, saying the initiative is timely.

“In light of recent challenges – challenges that will not be unfamiliar to any of us – I believe that the organization and structure of the agency requires reform to make it more effective, efficient, accountable and transparent in its decisions, and their making,” he said.

The President termed the 26th session a milestone for UN-Habitat, being the first meeting of the Governing Council after the adoption of the momentous 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the New Urban Agenda that sets the global strategy around urbanization for the next two decades.

He added: “The first step – one we can take here and now – is to send a strong political message in support of the new Agenda.” The President said as host of the UN-Habitat, Kenya remains fully committed to the Agency and is ready to contribute constructively to secure its objectives.

In a speech delivered via a video link, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that urbanization could be used to address the many problems the world was currently facing. The Secretary General said he was interested in changing the African narrative and that the United Nations Office at Nairobi would be in the forefront of achieving the desired change.

“As the United Nations, we must work with UN-Habitat to realise the objective of sustainable cities,” he said.

In her speech, the Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), Ms Sahle Work Zewde said that the UN presence in Kenya was a unique one. “Here we have country offices, peacekeeping missions and of course the two headquarters of UN-Habitat and UNEP,” she said.

The Executive Director of UNEP Erik Solheim said no matter where they are based, all the cities in the world were facing similar urbanisation challenges. He said partnerships were crucial if cities were to achieve sustainable development especially in the area of energy use.

Welcoming the delegates, UN-Habitat Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos said urbanisation was an inevitable part of life. “Urbanisation will take place whether we like it or not. What is needed is how we are going to manage it,” he said.

The Executive Director tickled the audience when at one point he switched from English to Kiswahili, Kenya’s national language when he addressed the meeting.

“Local authorities or national governments alone cannot address the challenges of urbanisation. What is needed are strong partnerships for this,” he said.

Peter Thompson, the President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly said that under the 2030 Agenda, cities were still far from achieving some of the objectives hence the need to address the matter urgently.

“Cities play a key role in the implementation of the SDGs. We also need more effort in unlocking the trillions of dollars needed for transformation,” he said.