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NEGOTIATING THE HABITAT AGENDA

While most of the technical aspects of the Habitat Agenda had been resolved by the end of PrepCom III, there was still much work to be done in Istanbul. Most participants had ready explanations for the slow pace of the negotiations. UN staff members tended to throw the ball back into the governments’ court, pointing to the fact that the UNCHS had been mandated to organize the Conference largely within existing resources and criticizing government delegations for leaving the appointment of Chairs until they arrived in Istanbul. Others pointed the finger at the UNCHS Secretariat and weaknesses in the organization and management of the Conference — a view confirmed to some extent when senior staff from the UN Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) were “parachuted in” to assist the Secretariat in Istanbul.

Procedural errors certainly dogged the process. Among their documents delegations found a compilation of their proposals left over from PrepCom III. Since it was released as an official document, the Chair and Secretariat had to remain faithful to these proposals, which tied their hands when they attempted to draft compromise amendments. Some of the heat could also have been taken off the negotiations at an early stage by inserting clear reaffirmations of previous UN Conference commitments into the Preamble.

Ultimately, however, negotiating strategies and sharply contrasting positions of governments were decisive. In a now familiar pattern at UN conferences, delegations treated the first days of negotiations like a PrepCom — refusing pleas from the Chairs to accelerate their deliberations. Timing, of course, is part of the negotiating process. For example, negotiation strategies on the future of the UN Commission for Human Settlements and UNCHS slowed the pace of the negotiations on all related issues. The G- 77/China stated that they were prepared to discuss this issue at PrepCom II, but talks did not take place. At PrepCom III, delegates did not reach the relevant section of the text until the final days, and the G-77/China and EU’s positions were so far apart that negotiations on a single text proved nearly impossible. Once a compromise was reached in Istanbul, it had a spill-over effect on other issues, but it was not until the final days of the Conference.

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