Implementing the New Urban Agenda through National Urban Policy: Ministerial Perspectives


Remarks by Ángel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Habitat III side event on Implementing the New Urban Agenda through National Urban Policy: Ministerial Perspectives

Quito, Ecuador, 17 October 2016

(As prepared for delivery)



Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a pleasure to be here in Quito for a unique event that comes round only every 20 years. Habitat III is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite everything we know about cities. And it is timely. For the first time in history over half of humanity lives in urban areas. By 2050 it will be nearly 70%. Urban policy is at the coalface of human and economic development, it’s key to our progress, and our well-being.


Allow me to take this opportunity to thank President Rafael Correa and the UN Habitat Secretariat for hosting and organizing the 3rd edition of this important meeting.


Cities matter for inclusive growth


Urbanisation presents major opportunities for social empowerment and economic development. Cities are hubs for job creation, innovation and growth. However, the rate and the scale of global urbanisation present policymakers with challenges. Cities can be hotspots for poverty and unemployment, infrastructure bottlenecks, high levels of pollution and difficulties in the provision of services. We have to get the policy mix right to address these challenges, while unlocking the inclusive growth potential of cities.


The OECD has been working with particular intensity on promoting inclusive growth in cities: in March 2016 we launched the Inclusive Growth in Cities initiative to increase awareness of rising inequalities, refocus the debate on concrete solutions, and empower local governments as leaders in the transition towards more inclusive growth. Our new report, Making Cities Work for All, highlights that inequalities are higher in cities relative to their respective national average.


Our African Economic Outlook 2016 focusses on sustainable cities; other recent work looks at water and cities; on ageing in cities; on green growth; we are carrying out territorial reviews of urban areas across the world. And we are doing all this because we know that cities are one of the organising principles of our societies. They are the nodes of our economies.


This is why the OECD has been working so hard on the preparation of the New Urban Agenda. In particular, together with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the OECD has been co-leading Policy Unit 3 on National Urban Policy (NUP).


National urban policy, a tool to implement national and global goals


National Urban Policy provides a framework so governments and other stakeholders can “get cities right”. Although a wide range of national policies affect urban development, they are rarely looked at through an “urban lens”. Sectoral policies may – and often do – achieve results that are diametrically opposed to stated aims for cities.


It is important to stress that National Urban Policy does not replace local urban policies, they complement each other. Labour markets, skills development, infrastructure provision, environmental protection, these are shared and inter-related responsibilities. But national leadership is essential to enhance policy coordination across all levels of governments, civil society, and the private sector.


Cities and governments need to work together to address the competitiveness challenges of the globalised world, deliver on the city-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implement the New Urban Agenda.  


The OECD is supporting the National Urban Policy and the New Urban Agenda


For this, a framework is needed to assess the coherence of a given National Urban Policy, and to outline the issues that are important in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a National Urban Policy. As a first step, UN-Habitat and the OECD have collaborated to prepare a report on The Global State of National Urban Policy


The report gives us both bad and good news. The bad news is that out of the 35 OECD countries, only 15 have an explicit national urban policy, and 33% of those National Urban Policies are still in the formulation stage. The good news is that almost 90% of OECD countries have at least some partial elements of a national urban policy – so we have a base to build on.


Monitoring will be an important step in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. In this context, OECD would like to stress the importance of data collection at the right spatial scale. Data on cities, as defined by their historical administrative borders, do not allow for meaningful comparisons of experiences. This limits the benefits of international dialogue. The OECD has developed, together with the European Commission, a metropolitan database which provides internationally comparable data, using a functional definition of cities.


The OECD is standing by to support the monitoring process of the New Urban Agenda. Next May, the OECD will co-host with UN Habitat the Second International Conference on National Urban Policy. This will be a great opportunity for a global stocktake following the Habitat III Conference. The Conference will evaluate, between the national and city levels, to what extent progress is being made on developing and implementing National Urban Policies to support the New Urban Agenda, the SDGs and other global agreements.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


One of the world’s greatest novelists of the city, Victor Hugo, said of Paris: “Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime”. Cities are an endless source of inspiration; they are a magnet for hope, and a fountain of opportunity; but they are all too often the site of suffering, inequality and environmental degradation. They can be our most powerful springboard or our greatest stumbling block.


The OECD will work tirelessly with our partners in the United Nations and national governments to ensure that we do not stumble. National urban policy is a critical tool to implement the New Urban Agenda, deliver on the SDGs and build the inclusive, sustainable cities our citizens and our planet need.


Thank you.



Annual report
Notre vision pour la prochaine décennie
Orientations stratégiques 2022