Promoting Residential Energy Efficiency in the New Urban Agenda

Written by Susana Rojas Williams, Director of Int’l Shelter Initiatives at Habitat for Humanity and Lindsay Grier, Int’l Shelter Initiatives Fellow at Habitat for Humanity

As shared in a previous blog, last month at the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), 167 nations adopted a global strategy for sustainable urban development called The New Urban Agenda. Implementation discussions were focused on addressing our cities’ biggest challenges, among them: access to clean and affordable energy as well as energy efficiency in Cities. Habitat for Humanity was actively involved in conversations leading up to Habitat III, as well as in negotiations around creating the New Urban Agenda. As part of Habitat for Humanity’s participation in this global dialogue, delegates advocated for affordable energy solutions to climate change, using REELIH as a model for energy efficient residential building, and had the opportunity to present the model as part of both Conference events and pre-events.

Highlighted last week was the presentation given by Habitat for Humanity’s Advocacy Manager for the EMEA Region, Gyorgy Sumeghy. Sumeghy spoke at a Habitat III networking event focused on people public private partnerships, where he cited REELIH as an inter-sectorial approach to battling energy poverty. Outside of this session, REELIH was featured as part of a presentation given by Susana Rojas Williams, Director of International Shelter Initiatives. Rojas Williams delivered a keynote speech at the EcoMaterials 5 Conference in Riobamba, Ecuador (12-14 October, 2016), one of Habitat III’s global pre-events and a platform for developing innovative solutions to energy inefficiencies. The Conference, organized primarily by the EcoSur Network and the Global Network for Sustainable Housing, set the week in motion by bringing together over 200 participants to discuss the construction, maintenance, and upkeep of habitat in developing countries. At the Conference, Rojas Williams emphasized the power of using energy efficient residential building as a strategy to alleviate poverty, build better living conditions, and reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere. She initiated conversations on how to link the REELIH Model with the creation of inclusive, safe, resilient communities, concluding that we cannot focus on global poverty until we are intentionally battling energy poverty.

The New Urban Agenda has recognized that “urban form, infrastructure, and building design are among the greatest drivers of cost and resource efficiencies, through the benefits of economy of scale and agglomeration, and fostering energy efficiency, renewable energy, resilience, productivity, environmental protection, and sustainable growth in the urban economy” (paragraph 44).  Furthermore, it encourages governments to “develop sustainable, renewable, and affordable energy, energy-efficient buildings and construction modes, and to promote energy conservation and efficiency” (paragraph 75) as well as to “promote the development of adequate and enforceable regulations in the housing sector, including … energy and resource efficiency” (paragraph 111).

The New Urban Agenda also provides very specific recommendations regarding energy efficiency and encourages the “adoption of building performance codes and standards, renewable portfolio targets, energy efficiency labelling, retrofitting of existing buildings and public procurement policies on energy, among other modalities as appropriate, to achieve energy efficiency targets. We will also prioritize smart grid, district energy systems, and community energy plans to improve synergies between renewable energy and energy efficiency” (paragraph 121).

Our hope is to continue advancing, advocating for, and implementing global development goals  – contextualized at the local level – that recognize the need for sustainable energy and energy efficiency solutions. With the example of REELIH and the support of its stakeholders, our future is looking bright.


Susana Rojas Williams is the Director of Int’l Shelter Initiatives at Habitat for Humanity and provides technical support to housing programs around the world. She is an urban planner & architect with extensive technical and policy experience in urban development, housing, land & infrastructure (water, sanitation and energy) with focus on pro-poor and people-centered approaches. Susana is from Lima, Peru and holds Masters in City Planning and of Science in Architecture Studies from MIT, and a Professional Degree in Architecture from the University of Kansas.  Before joining Habitat, Susana worked with UN-HABITAT, the World Bank, the IDB, the Center for Reflective Community Practice, and the Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement at MIT.  She has professional experience in Latin America, Southeast Asia, South and Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.


Lindsay Grier is a 2016 Davidson College graduate with a BA in Hispanic Studies. Prior to joining Habitat for Humanity International as part of the Global Programs team, she spent time in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Kenya working with human rights and poverty alleviation organizations. For her research on the role that language plays in mediating our world, Grier was awarded a presentation slot at the 2015 Midwest Association for Latin American Studies Annual Conference as well as the 2016 Hispanic Studies Award at Davidson College. She just returned from Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, and will continue her fellowship with Habitat for Humanity through July 2017.