The 2nd edition of the UNECE Forum of Mayors (FoM) took place on 4-5 April in Geneva under the theme “Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic while advancing the implementation of the SDGs”.
Among keynote speakers that opened the FoM, Mr. Sami Kanaan, former Mayor of Geneva and President of the Geneva Cities Hub, underlined the fact that the FoM is unique because it enables local authorities to get a voice and share their perspectives in a UN multilateral framework. Further, the FoM embodies the willingness of UN Secretary General Guterres to move towards a modern and more inclusive multilateralism. It was indeed interesting to see that Mayors, as speakers and main stakeholders, were sitting in the inner circles of the meeting room, while States were sitting in the outer circles, rather in an observatory mode. It is also worth noting that the FoM was established by UNECE Member States. That is why the FoM constituted the first part of the 83rd session of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management and that it was held back-to-back with the Regional Forum for Sustainable Development.
Mayors and vice-mayors from 44 cities participated (either in person or online) and shared their experiences and innovative practices under 4 main topics:
- urban transport
- public spaces
- sustainable urban planning
Facing similar challenges across the UNECE region and beyond, Mayors and their administrations came up with creative solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, combat climate change or recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the numerous initiatives put forward, we heard about :
- a highway in the middle of Utrecht (Netherlands) restored into a historic water canal
- a participatory project with children to promote tree planting in Tirana (Albania)
- the greening of public spaces in Riga (Latvia) to reduce air pollution and slow down traffic
- the protective zones around the city of Burgas (Bulgaria) to protect biodiversity
- the efforts by Bonn (Germany) to become carbon neutral by 2035
- how Vienna (Austria) manages to maintain socially affordable housing
- the conversion of old buildings into community centres for sheltering vulnerable groups in Athens (Greece)
- the establishment of a House of Religions as means for bolstering social cohesion in Bern (Switzerland)
- an ambitious cable car project in Freetown (Sierra Leone)
Presentations by Mayors and Vice-Mayors were particularly lively with pictures to showcase the concrete changes undertaken in their respective cities.
All these good practices and innovative solutions could feed into the Mayors’ Action Platform (MAP), which has been set up by the Geneva Cities Hub, under the auspices of UNECE and UN-Habitat, to follow-up on the implementation of the Geneva Declaration of Mayors adopted during the 1st FoM (6 Oct. 2020). As recommended by Mayors themselves and as the Declaration continues to be endorsed by additional Mayors, the MAP should continue to be developed after this second edition, given that it is a useful tool to communicate on the work undertaken by Mayors and to promote peer-to-peer exchange among cities.
Overall, we heard how all Mayors work for their cities to become more liveable and sustainable by anchoring SDGs in their urban development plans and how they strive to ensure that no one is left behind. Given the geopolitical context, Mayors also expressed solidarity with Ukraine. In that regard, the Mayor of Kharkiv (Ukraine) affirmed that the reconstruction of the city was a priority and that the current crisis would be turned into an opportunity to build back better and enhance the resilience of the city.
The tone of the meeting was very positive and demonstrated the interest of Mayors to further engage with the UN. As said by one Mayor: “in a world where a lot of things do not work, it is good to hear about things that work”. Participating Mayors informally conveyed that they found the FoM very valuable and that they would like to see it continued. The GCH supports this perspective. During its plenary intervention, the GCH also appreciated the fact that the FoM, in spite of its regional dimension, included Mayors from the 4 other regions (Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Middle east and Northern Africa) in order to expand the scope of discussions. As mentioned by UNOG Director General, Ms. Valovaya, “The potential of the FoM extends far beyond the Economic Commission for Europe region and its outcomes will contribute to the global vision of the future of cities”. The GCH also emphasized the need for future editions of the FoM to include more space in the programme for informal discussions, enabling Mayors to interact more openly among themselves, but also with States and the UN.
The future of the FoM will be discussed in Oct. 2022 in San Marino, by UNECE Member States. The results of an ongoing independent evaluation of the FoM commissioned by UNECE Member States will certainly contribute to the discussions. GCH will continue to follow the work related to the FoM and to closely partner with UNECE in this regard.