The UNECE Forum of Mayors enables direct engagement of Mayors at the international level to exchange concrete actions and innovative solutions on urban resilience. It fosters inclusive multilateralism in International Geneva.
Origins of the Forum of Mayors
In 2019, the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management (CUDHLM) organized a Day of Cities on “Smart Sustainable Cities: Drivers for Sustainable Development”. The event brought together over 50 Mayors from 33 countries and 400 participants. The discussions highlighted that more direct engagement by local governments was needed at the international level to meet the targets of urban-related Sustainable Development Goals.
Building up on that event, Russia as UNECE member suggested to establish a Forum of Mayors to further facilitate the exchange of experiences and discuss solutions to address challenges to achieve the SDGs in urban areas (see E/2019/37E/ECE/1488, §28). The CUDHLM therefore agreed to dedicate one day of its 80th session in 2020 to discussions concerning and involving the participation of local authorities, in particular Mayors.
Mandate of the Forum of Mayors
The Forum of Mayors focuses on specific thematic issues related to sustainable urban development, housing and land management (see ECE/HBP/201, §35). Overall, the Forum is to enable the exchange of concrete actions and innovative solutions on urban resilience. Further, it is invited to “transmit its recommendations on how to address the challenges that local authorities/governments face in achieving sustainable urban development, housing and land management to the [CUDHLM and other relevant UNECE bodies] in the context of assisting [them] in [their] activities in the ECE region” (see ECE/HBP/201, §35).
Steering Committee of the Forum of Mayors
To support the Forum of Mayors, the CUDHLM has established a Steering Committee composed of interested CUDHLM Bureau members and sustainable smart cities nexus experts from UNECE. Among its functions, the Steering Committee is to assist the Secretariat with the identification of Mayors to be invited to the Forum (with the consent of respective Member States), the identification of the Forum’s topic, of relevant cases to be presented, as well as with the provision of advice on substantive matters (see ECE/HBP/201, §35).
In 2021, members of the Steering Committee include Switzerland (Chair), France, Albania, Portugal, Hungary, Spain, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Italy as well as other stakeholders such as the Geneva Cities Hub, the Norman Foster Foundation, UN Habitat and UNECE secretariat. The decisions of the Steering Committee are then usually endorsed by the CUDHLM Bureau and/or UNECE Executive Committee.
The 1st Forum of Mayors and the Geneva Declaration of Mayors
The 1st Forum of Mayors, under the overall theme “City Action for a Resilient Future: Strengthening Local Government Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and the Impact of Disasters and Climate Change”, took place in Geneva on 6 October 2020 and was co-moderated by the Mayor of Geneva/President of the Geneva Cities Hub. It further opened the multilateral stage to city leaders by bringing over 40 mayors from 39 countries.
This 1st Forum enabled urban leaders to share concrete actions and innovative solutions on city resilience, with a specific focus on Covid-19 and climate change. Mayors underlined that, despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, it constituted an unprecedented opportunity to develop and implement new SGDs-anchored initiatives towards greener, healthier, more equitable and affordable cities for their local communities. The tone of the meeting was therefore resolutely optimistic. The Forum’s conclusions (see ECE/HBP/206, Annex II) fed into the decision-making process of the 81st session of the CUDHLM that was thus in a better position to draft and adopt tailored and targeted instructions for UNECE member States.
The Forum culminated with the endorsement of the Geneva Declaration of Mayors, 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.
The 2nd Forum of Mayors
The 2nd Forum of Mayors took place on 4-5 April 2022 in Geneva (see Summary report). It was held back-to-back with the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD), to link local and national action in support of the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals). Mr. Sami Kanaan, deputy Mayor of Geneva and President of the Geneva Cities Hub, underlined in its opening statement that the Forum is unique because it enables local authorities to get a voice and share their perspectives in a UN multilateral framework. Further, the Forum embodies the willingness of UN Secretary General Guterres to move towards a modern and more inclusive multilateralism.
The overall theme of the 2nd Forum of Mayors was aligned with the High-Level Political Forum and the RFSD: “Recovering from COVID-19, while advancing the implementation of the SDGs“. It enabled Mayors and vice-mayors from 44 cities to share their experiences and innovative practices under 4 main topics:
- Resilient, healthy and climate-neutral buildings and affordable and adequate housing
- Vibrant public spaces, green cities and nature-based solutions
- Sustainable urban transport, shared mobility and safer roads
- Sustainable urban planning, the 15-minute city and smart urban development solutions
Potential of the Forum of Mayors
The Forum of Mayors is young and unique (other UN economic regional commissions do not yet have such a similar forum). From the Geneva Cities Hub’s point of view, the Forum is one of the most promising UN tools to help further open the multilateral intergovernmental stage to cities. It resonates particularly well with the set-up in 2020 of the UN interagency Taskforce on the Future of Cities, which looks at possible options to strengthen the institutional relationship between the UN and cities, including in UN intergovernmental processes. In that regard, the Forum of Mayors constitutes a vehicle to concretely strengthen the links between the UN, its Member States and cities.
Although the Forum of Mayors is anchored within UNECE and therefore considered as a regional event, the potential it offers goes well beyond the UNECE region and economic issues, given its broad emphasis on Sustainable Development Goals. The engagement of Member States is crucial to help the Forum develop its agenda, format, objectives and outcome, and to build-up mutually beneficial relationships with participating Mayors. In the long run and if Member States so decide, one could even imagine an upgraded and global Forum of Mayors that could report directly to the ECOSOC or the General Assembly. Heavy political support by Member States will be necessary to that end because challenges will be numerous along the way. However, it would be a missed opportunity for the UN and its Member States not to invest in the Forum of Mayors and open the multilateral doors to city leaders. Cities have gained significant influence over the years at the international level. The Forum would help structure a strategic dialogue between States, cities, the UN and other stakeholders and thereby foster concrete partnerships to address global challenges with a renewed energy.
Future of the Forum of Mayors
Following the first Forum of Mayor in 2020, the Executive Committee (ExCom) of UNECE decided to undertake an evaluation to assess the relevance, coherence, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability of the FoM for the period 2019-2022. The results of the evaluation will be considered by the CUDHLM at its 83rd session (San Marino, 3-7 October 2022) and the UNECE ExCom at the end of 2022. Based on those results, UNECE ExCom will agree on whether to extend the Forum of Mayors beyond 2022 as well as on the objectives, format and frequency of the Forum.
To feed into the evaluation, the UNECE secretariat commissioned an independent expert to assist in drawing up a forward-looking scenario for the future of the Forum. The scenario includes the views of mayors who took part in the FoM and is available here.
To learn more, please visit the website of UNECE.