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Speech at lunch meeting with  UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimounah Sharif

It is a great honour to welcome you to this lunch Maimounah Sharif. We've met before, and it is always inspiring to encounter with someone so dedicated.

Last time, we spoke – among other things, on the Norwegian situation concerning sustainable development. Norway, as you know, score high on welfare, wellbeing and happiness. We have good access to natural resources and a highly skilled labour force. As a basis for our democracy, we have a high degree of trust in our society, a strong tradition for human rights, equality, gender equality and partnerships.

However, as all other countries, we also have challenges to deal with. We need to improve on an even more sustainable economy, secure our welfare state, integrate new citizens, and – we as well – need to reduce poverty.

When facing our challenges, Norway have the benefit of a well-developed planning system. It is probably impossible to overestimate the value of having established a system that everyone can trust. Of course, one can disagree on the final decision, but the fact that all stakeholders have access to the same data and share the same knowledge, contributes to a sense of fairness and provides stability.

In Norway, how we use our coastline is for instance high on the agenda. Different interests meet, such as urban development, business, leisure, nature preservation and tourism. In the planning process, the municipalities can balance the different legislation and interests against each other, before making a decision on how to use the land. The backbone of such a process is the access to updated geographical data, equally distributed to everyone. Public and private stakeholders must know what the coastline look like, above and under water. Things that may influence the decision, such as human settlements, built up environment, financial interests, the whereabouts of threatened animals, the quality of the soil or streams in the water, are all geographical data that should be localised, registered and shared.

From the Norwegian shore to the rest of the world, the distance might seem long. But when it comes to working in partnerships, building trust and agreeing on land use, we are all faced with the same need for trustworthy geographical information. Today geographical data is less often produced locally by a man (or a woman) walking the ground with a measuring instrument. Instead, satellites observe the earth from above and collect geographical data. Meaning we are in this together, and we need to co-operate to gather, process and distribute geographical information across borders.

At a time when multilateral co-operation is under pressure, Norway remains as committed as ever to the United Nations.

This lunch is organized by two of your long-term Norwegian partners: The Norwegian mapping authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation - and Habitat Norway. For many years, both these partners have been pursuing secure tenure and housing in partnership with UN Habitat.

The ministry has a long history with the United Nations Human Settlements Program. We share responsibility for the implementation of the sustainable goal number 11, on cities and communities. The ministry on the national level, the UN on a global level. You provide us with tools and guidance, and your work is of great importance for us.

The Norwegian mapping authority have been behind initiatives such as the Global Land Tool Network, the Slum Upgrading Facility (on housing), the Advisory Group on Gender Issues, the Cities Climate Change Initiative, and last but not least the “Opportunities Fund on Urban Youth led development”.

These initiatives reflect both Norway’s main thematic priorities when it comes to urban development, but also an underlying broad, systemic policy approach, when it comes to working with the UN.

After only one and a half year in office, I would like to congratulate you on your achievements. In particular, we would commend you for having contributed to a renewed trust among member states, particularly the larger donors. We trust that this, in time, will contribute to more and predictable funding, and give you the resources your need to better meet the challenges.

The new Strategic Plan, is one of several impressive results of your efforts. UN Habitat’s vision of “a better quality of life for all in an urbanizing world” is bold and ambitious. It challenges both UN Habitat, the member states, local government and civil society partners to enhance international and national efforts, geared towards addressing urbanisation challenges.

The vision reflects the need to pursue strong partnerships, which is a central part of the work on the sustainable development goals, and the New Urban Agenda. I look very much forward to your presentation of the strategy here today.

Regarding UN Habitat, I am convinced that its future lies in its normative work, particularly concerning knowledge and best practice on urban planning, governance and management. These areas are of utmost importance for the long-term development of all growing cities and settlements.

The UN Habitat of tomorrow should give priority to solving collective challenges, but it is not possible to develop new norms, standards and guidelines without learning from practices in the field.

And such practices are developed locally. In order to be relevant, local authorities translate the global sustainable development goals into their local situations. As a ministry, we provide aggregated data on the Norwegian development on sustainability in cities and settlements, but what happens locally is just as important.

A city in one part of the country, could for instance need to establish new green areas for its growing population, whilst a medium sized town in another part of the country may have a challenge making their already existing green spaces attractive for anyone to use at all. How the municipality go about their local cases depends on issues such as ownership, regulation, neighbourhood characteristics and accessibility. Again, having access to geographical data is fundamental.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) special report on land and climate, underscores the importance of developing more effective cities and transport infrastructure.

The challenge of working locally with global issues, applies worldwide as we know that strongly segregated cities with high poverty and neglected rights and services, are threatening stability, security, safety and effective development in general. Today, within the context of legal inclusion, the lack of security of tenure is a major challenge for a large number of urban dwellers and an obstacle to economic development. 

This seminar will go further into some of the details on transforming change in cities and human settlements through shared knowledge, policy advice, technical assistance and collaborative action to leave no one and no place behind. I wish you all a fruitful seminar, and again – a warm welcome to you Maimounah Sharif.

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