Cities are not only the place where we live. They are crucial actors for global policymaking and therefore deserve a space in the international arena. The first Forum of Mayors organized by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, in partnership with the Geneva Cities Hub, has given a voice to local governments in a formal UN process.
The first ever Forum of Mayors was held on 6 October 2020 at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, under the auspices of UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). It was moderated by Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva and President of the Geneva Cities Hub. 34 urban leaders from Europe, North America, Central Asia and the Caucasus took part in the Forum that formally opened the 81st session of an intergovernmental body, the UNECE Committee on urban development, housing and land management. The Forum followed the InFocus SDG11 Day “Supporting city action for a resilient future” of 5 October, which featured a substantial participation by international city networks, UN agencies and the civil society.
This historic Forum of Mayors enabled urban leaders to share concrete actions and innovative solutions on city resilience, with a specific focus on Covid19, climate change. Mayors underlined that, despite the significant socio-economic challenges caused by the pandemic, the public health crisis constituted an unprecedented opportunity to develop and implement new initiatives towards greener, healthier, more equitable and affordable cities for their local communities. The tone of the meeting was therefore resolutely optimistic.
Cities are improving the cycling, pedestrian and public transport infrastructure, bringing back public space to local dwellers, providing assistance and psychosocial support to vulnerable groups, fostering participatory democracy to ensure local preparedness and resilience to future crises. Many cities are renovating or building districts that go beyond climate neutrality to become “climate positive” – as they produce more energy than they use – and are implementing circular economy initiatives for effective municipal waste management. Additional local government initiatives to tackle Covid19 included investments in major public works to create jobs, the ease of fiscal pressure on local businesses through the creation of municipal lending arms and rental breaks, and work to ensure that the public service digitalization is inclusive and does not exacerbate existing inequalities.
Overall, mayors recalled the importance of the voice, experience and solutions developed by local authorities to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Ms. Valovaya, Director of the Office of the UN in Geneva, emphasized that “while goals are global, implementation is local” and called upon the “multilateral system to adapt to this new reality and be more inclusive towards all sectors of society, including local and regional governments”.
The Forum culminated with the adoption of the Geneva Declaration, in which Mayors committed to strengthen the resilience of their cities, make them greener, ensure sustainable urban transport and affordable housing for all, as well as to make their cities more equitable and inclusive.
In the future, the Forum of Mayors will continue to be used as a platform to exchange and learn from one each other, to showcase at an international level the critical contribution of local and regional governments in all areas of life, but also to report back on the implementation of the Geneva Declaration. The Geneva Cities Hub will continue to cooperate with UNECE on the organization of the next edition of the Forum of Mayors.