During a side event in the margins of the Forum of Mayors in Geneva, representatives from UN Regional Economic Commissions shared best practices about their work and cooperation with Mayors and local and regional governments (LRGs). They discussed which initiatives could be best adapted to their regions, how inter-regional cooperation might be enlarged, and how enhanced cooperation with Mayors could be taken up at the intergovernmental level. Participants emphasized the importance of sustainable urban development policies and practices, and the successful implementation of urban-related proposals in “Our Common Agenda”. Ms. Kamelia Kemileva, GCH Co-Director, mentioned in her opening remarks, that the GCH is keen to strengthen its work with all the UN regional Commissions, and to support an enhanced presence in Geneva.
Ms. Paola Deda, Director of Forests, Land and Housing Division at UNECE shared her first-hand impressions about the Forum of Mayors, held ahead of the event. She stated that “the Forum’s success is measured by the fact that Mayors took real ownership of it, and deemed that it added real value”. A high number of Mayors from the UNECE region participated to exchange experiences on several aspects of sustainable urban development. Sustainable urbanization is a common challenge in different regions of the world and therefore an area of cooperation to be strengthened among all UN Regional Economic Commissions.
Ms. Edlam Yemeru, Chief of Urbanization and Development at UNECA explained how the work in the African context differs. The priority is clearly to advance the structural reform of societies in an economic sense. Urbanization policies need to be aligned with development policies, including industrialization, infrastructure development, employment and cultural policies. Often these policies are driven at the national level while they happen to materialize at an urban level. Regional economic commissions might play an important role in aligning these policies and elevate the urban agenda beyond the urban sector. However, it requires ample and reliable data, including an estimation of the economic weight of cities in the overall economy. The involvement of African Mayors in the Forum of Mayors is much welcome to foster inter-regional exchange and to explore the establishment of a similar Forum in Africa.
Ms. Sukaina Al Nasrawi, Social Affairs Expert at UNESCWA reinforced the message about the crucial importance of urban data on sustainable development. In Western Asia, data mapping is needed at the national and local levels. Based on adequate data, SDG localization projects can be developed. The necessary capacity building is realized in partnership with UN-Habitat to assist local authorities. One of the issues on the top of the agenda is the promotion of digital solutions in smart sustainable city development.
Mr. Curt Garrigan, Chief of Sustainable Urban Development Section at UNESCAP presented several ongoing initiatives with mayors and local authorities. Among others, the Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines on Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) are a key asset to help local authorities develop VLRs. Some of the VLRs have already been taken into account during the process of the Voluntary National Reviews. Further, the Asian Mayors Forum was established with the purpose of promoting constructive co-operations and enhancing friendly relations among Asian cities. It provides a platform to discuss the sustainable development of Asian cities in different economic, social and technological areas. Further, launched in 2019, the Asia-Pacific Mayors Academy involves newly elected Mayors and offers training in planning, financing and managing the sustainable and resilient development of smart cities.
Overall, all participants agreed that different platforms for interactions among Mayors are useful. Peer-to-peer exchanges of experiences help the realization of sustainable development. The different formats – open forum, closed-door thematic discussion, training academy – bring added value. Participants also recommended to strengthen the interaction among the different regional Forums. UN Regional Economic Commissions are keen to support Mayors, who are trusted elected leaders, to also become best managers of the local challenges and the global sustainable development goals. Voluntary Local Reviews have to be given more visibility in order to raise awareness among all relevant stakeholders and ensure they take a fair share in contributing to the implementation of the SDGs.
The event provided an important contribution by the UN Regional Commissions and the GCH to the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda scheduled on 28 April 2022 in New York.