Summary report, 18–20 May 2021

2021 United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Executive Bureau Meetings

The 2021 United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Executive Bureau meeting took place virtually due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions. Convening under the theme, “Care at the heart of the local service provision for an inclusive recovery,” discussions focused on ways local governments can put care at the center of all activities and redefine their role in health systems.

Participants, including mayors, councilors, and other stakeholders, considered the proposed Lampedusa Charter, which aims to change the narrative from one of managing migration, to a community-based approach to human mobility. Discussions focused on cities taking a lead role in protecting human rights, and considering ways to shift the right to grant citizenship away from national governments. 

Participants also discussed the role of local governments in development cooperation, noting an increased trend of positive collaboration with donors, and the need to increase city-to-city collaboration. 

During a high-level dialogue, participants shared experiences of accelerated digitalization of local and regional government (LRG) services, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers cited many benefits, together with the need to ensure that technology works for everyone. Delegates stressed the need to leave no one and no place behind as digitalization progresses.

During a high-level session on healthy people and territories leading to wellbeing, UCLG announced that it has joined the multi-stakeholder platform UHC2030, in an effort to achieve universal healthcare and health systems that protect everyone. Meeting participants applauded increased engagement between local governments and the health community, and highlighted community care and health as central to the work of local and regional authorities. 

The meeting convened from 18-20 May, and brought together over 300 mayors and councillors. 

A Brief History of UCLG

Building on the legacy of the century-old international movement of municipal partnerships, UCLG was founded in 2004 to ensure subnational and regional governments and other local authorities have a voice in the international processes defining the sustainable development and climate change agendas. UCLG defends the interests of local governments on the world stage and provides a platform to advance dialogue, cooperation, and knowledge sharing to empower communities at the local level.

The UCLG governing structure centers on three bodies: an Executive Bureau that meets twice a year; a World Council that meets annually; and a General Assembly that meets during the triennial UCLG Congress. Since 2010, the Congress has also been known as the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders. 

UCLG has a World Secretariat, located in Barcelona, Spain, and seven regional sections. The UCLG World Council can mandate the creation of Policy Councils, Committees, Working Groups, Communities of Practice, and Fora to enhance participation and facilitate networking among UCLG members on specific themes. The Policy Councils provide an opportunity for political representatives to participate in policymaking and voice their views before the governing bodies. They report to each Executive Bureau session. Currently, there are five Policy Councils:

  • Right to the City and Inclusive Territories;
  • Opportunities for All, Culture and City Diplomacy: Keys to Sustainable Development and Peace;
  • Territorial Multilevel Governance and Sustainable Financing;
  • Safer, Resilient and Sustainable Cities, Capable of Facing Crises; and
  • Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

UCLG Founding Congress: In May 2004, mayors and elected city and regional representatives gathered in Paris, France, to establish UCLG, with a view for it to be the united voice and world advocate of democratic local self-government. The final declaration of the founding Congress addressed sustainable development, decentralization and local democracy, cooperation and diplomacy, world health, and information technologies.

Second UCLG Congress: At UCLG’s second Congress, held in October 2007 in Jeju, Republic of Korea, participants discussed the consequences of urbanization, cooperation with regions, and challenges of tomorrow’s city. The final declaration lays out commitments on global warming and environmental protection, human rights, peace and development, and the Millennium Development Goals. In addition, the Congress approved a policy paper on local finance.

Third UCLG Congress: First World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders: In November 2010, in Mexico City, Mexico, the Congress met as the World Summit for the first time and adopted a document titled “The City of 2030 – Our Manifesto.” The Manifesto lays out the common goals of local leaders and their determination to make the urban world a better place.

Fourth UCLG Congress: Second World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders: Held in October 2013, in Rabat, Morocco, the second World Summit celebrated the centenary of the international municipal movement and allowed participants to debate and exchange views on the most vital issues for subnational authorities and partners. The Summit’s outcome document, the Rabat Declaration, recognized the need to address change, innovation, and the issue of just societies by reinforcing bottom-up governance under the leadership of inclusive LRGs.

Fifth UCLG Congress: Third World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders: The third World Summit convened in October 2016, in Bogotá, Colombia, under the theme, “Local Voices for a Better World.” The Summit approved the Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda, which provides a guide for LRG actions in the follow-up to the third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). It contains recommendations on: subnational contributions toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other global goals; reforming national legal, institutional, and policy frameworks; and securing LRGs’ rightful place at the table at the global level, especially in terms of global governance, international financing, and decentralized cooperation.

Sixth UCLG Congress: Fourth World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders: Held from 11-15 November 2019, in Durban, South Africa, this Summit approved the Durban Political Declaration on Envisioning the Future of Our Renewed International Municipal Movement. The Summit also approved a compendium of integrated policy recommendations resulting from a six-month consultation process with diverse stakeholders, which offered bottom-up continent- and region-specific priorities.

2020 UCLG World Council and Executive Bureau Meeting: Held from 12-13 November 2020, this meeting convened virtually under the theme, “The Role of the International Municipal and Regional Movement in COVID Times.” Key outcomes from the meeting included: the establishment of a UCLG International Solidarity Fund to strengthen local governance; the appointment of three new Ubuntu Advisors to contribute to expanding outreach with the UN and other stakeholders; and the establishment of a new Policy Council on Implementation of the NUA.

UCLG Policy Council Meetings: Held from 8-12 February 2021, this meeting convened virtually. Discussions focused on: using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to address bottlenecks in multi-level governance, and tackling the limitations to public service provision brought to light by the pandemic; engaging local governments in the development of national recovery packages, including in decisions related to long-term investments; and the development of shared cross-party visions for the future of cities and the urban-rural continuum.

Meeting Report

This report focuses on the thematic sessions, high-level policy dialogues, and the annual meeting of the UN Advisory Committee on Local Authorities (UNACLA), convened during the 2021 UCLG Executive Bureau meeting.

Thematic Sessions

A renewed role for local and regional governments in development cooperation: towards a new UCLG Policy: This session aimed to illuminate how development cooperation has changed over the last decade and to highlight the main challenges and obstacles for local government cooperation. Introducing the thematic discussion on Tuesday, 18 May, Emilia Sáiz, UCLG Secretary-General, reflected on the importance of local-to-local collaboration. She invited participants to consider the role of local government in development cooperation and the changes required to financing. Stan Abma, VNG International, moderated the discussion.

Selim Yücel Güleç, Head of Cultural and Social Affairs Department, Turkey, stressed that one of the three pillars in the UN Decade of Action is local-level action. She highlighted that localization and decentralization are the “new reality” and that donors should focus on concessional loans to ensure countries can pursue their own development objectives. Güleç said there is still work to do to ensure the importance of cities is recognized in the global development agenda. 

Pok Sokundara, Secretary General, Associations of Sub-National Administration Councils, Cambodia, reflected on key development projects to build capacity of local government in Cambodia.

Mercedes Sánchez Salido, Deputy Director of International Cooperation, Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), reflected on Spain’s efforts to decentralize LRG outreach efforts, noting improved cooperation between local governments. She said international cooperation and solidarity are key policy levers to achieve the SDGs. Salido underscored FEMP’s interest in fostering multi-actor public-private partnerships at the local level. She added that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, international engagement commitment levels have been maintained. 

Xiaoyan Li, Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs Office, Xi’an, China, highlighted the importance of sharing development results and promoting local experiences, as well as ongoing cooperation and consultation. Li underscored that peace and development remain the “key themes of today’s world.”

Lucy Slack, Acting Secretary General, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, observed a positive evolution in the relationship between donors and local governments. She noted that in the EU, there is a strong preparedness and willingness to partner with local governments. She noted the UK Government is in the midst of a “major cut” to development assistance levels. Slack said local government, working as a global entity, is in a strong position to provide expertise and bolster South-South cooperation. She underscored the need to keep local government in the public eye. 

Sáiz stressed there is a lot of work to be done to increase and foster cooperation among cities. 

In ensuing discussion, participants highlighted that local governments have been at the forefront in providing basic services to local populations and helping them survive the COVID-19 pandemic, including by providing personal protective equipment to municipal workers. One participant noted that although the COVID-19 response has necessitated “re-centralization” by some governments, decentralization must remain a priority, and countries must be careful not to revert to nationalized agendas.

One speaker noted cities and local authorities are important for post-pandemic recovery because they are key actors for “bringing populations together.” Some highlighted the need for multi-partner coordination, as well as cooperation and sharing of lessons learned among cities. On the issue of financing, participants outlined ways to improve cities’ access to donor funding, such as: improving accountability to donors and providing evidence of how funds are being spent; aggregating projects to help overcome the barrier of local-level transactions or projects being too small for many donors; and developing projects that are acceptable to microfinance institutions.

Participants also highlighted the need for metrics and indicators that can be used both for monitoring the SDGs and for providing granular input that supports local advocacy.

From managing migration to a community-based approach to human mobility: towards the Lampedusa Charter: This session, moderated by Fátima Fernandez, UCLG World Secretariat, convened on Tuesday. Emilia Sáiz explained it would focus on giving UCLG members the opportunity to discuss their views and to understand the new narrative on human mobility being promoted by UCLG. Salvatore Martello, Mayor of Lampedusa, introduced the proposed Lampedusa Charter, noting it is about respect for civil rights and citizenship for all human beings. He underlined the need to change people’s “distorted” views and attitudes towards migrants and migration.

Participants watched a video highlighting the “municipalist” movement and how it is reshaping the notion of citizenship as going beyond legal status. It stated that by focusing on people, dignity, and “equal access to the right to migrate,” cities are calling for new opportunities for migrants to contribute to the development of their communities.

In her presentation on the Charter, Sáiz outlined some of its core values and principles, including the need to protect dignity and equity, and recognize that migrants are “human beings with rights.” She underlined that the SDGs are a critical framework for the governance of human mobility.

Jean-Luc Moisson, Moissonneurs des Lilas Theatre Company, described the Odyssey project, which gives refugees a platform to showcase their culture. He explained this project features refugees’ vision of the Odyssey based on their culture, and helps them play out their fears and joys, and better manage their problems. Moisson noted that the project also aims to dispel the racism and anti-refugee intolerance that had spread in Greece, and help people understand the wealth and diversity of the refugees’ cultures.

Fernandez invited participants to discuss some of the ongoing initiatives that deserve to be part of the Charter as they reflect many of the Charter’s key values as presented by Sáiz and to identify key topics that the Charter should contain. She urged them to focus on how UCLG members can take part in the process through the regional consultation process.

Francisco Javier Ayala Ortega, Mayor of Fuenlabrada, Spain, said his municipality regards migration as an opportunity rather than something to be feared. He discussed some local projects on migration, such as an “anti-rumor catalogue,” which is targeted at young people.

Ibrahim Evrim, Mersin, Turkey presented on the goals and priorities of the Global Taskforce on Migration. He said it benefits from the experiences and strategies developed at the local level.

Edwin Miño, Executive Director, Consorcio De Gobiernos Autónomos Provinciales Del Ecuador, suggested ways to improve human mobility. He noted that four South American countries have declared a single nationality – an Andean nationality, noting that this is a “step forward.”

Fabiana Goyeneche, Director, International Relations, Montevideo, Uruguay, stressed that migrant status should not be used to restrict people’s rights but must instead be used to guarantee their rights. She called for recognizing regional specificities when representing migrant rights, and underlined the need to defend those who defend the rights of migrants.

In ensuing discussion, participants reflected on aspects of managing migration in cities, and the need to champion the concept of “welcoming cities.” Participants discussed the need to protect the rights of migrants and of human rights defenders. 

Several raised the issue of ongoing tensions between national-level policies and local governments. This included the issue of detaching citizenship from national governments. 

Many participants praised the Lampedusa Charter, noting it is “ambitious,” would provide a framework for collective action, and is grounded on respecting human and citizen rights. Several mentioned the need to change the narrative on migration, to desist from “demonizing” migrants. Suggestions included agreeing regulated migratory corridors, as well as making links between cities that people depart from and those they arrive in, to promote ongoing city-to-city cooperation.

Participants agreed to continue consultation on the Charter, at the regional level, with the aim of presenting the Charter for adoption at the UCLG World Council, scheduled to convene in November 2021. 

High-level Policy Dialogue

Opening: Inclusive digitalization: present and future of service provision: This session convened on Wednesday, and aimed to highlight the essential efforts that LRGs can undertake to ensure technology works for people and the planet during the COVID-19 aftermath. Emilia Sáiz moderated the session.

Jan van Zanen, Mayor of The Hague, the Netherlands, and UCLG Co-President, said technology was essential during the COVID-19 pandemic and helped the city continue essential work such as education and workforce productivity. He stressed the need to now consider digitalization for the long term, noting the role of local governments in this regard. Van Zanen said the objective is to ensure that technology does not deepen inequality but instead helps to enhance democracy, improve the quality of life, decrease the use of natural resources, and foster the development of citizens’ potentials.

Abigail Binay, Mayor of Makati, the Philippines, described the digital transformation to a smart Makati which began about three years before the COVID-19 pandemic and included partnering with IT industry leaders to launch three initiatives: the Makatizen card, the Makatizen app, and the Makati public Wi-Fi system. She outlined how these initiatives were used in responding to the pandemic. For instance, the Makatizen card was useful for the contactless distribution of cash to affected residents. The Makatizen app, she said, significantly improved the city’s responsiveness to emergencies.

Noraini Roslan, Mayor of Subang Jaya, Malaysia, explained that support during the COVID-19 pandemic focused on two particular groups: poor school children whose parents could not afford the devices and data the children need for online schooling; and petty traders whose livelihoods were affected by the movement restrictions. Roslan outlined some of the actions taken to support these groups, including working with utilities and the state government to provide them with gadgets, support, and training.

Christian Specht, First Deputy Mayor of Mannheim, Germany, noted that the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic showed their digital strengths but also exposed some weaknesses they needed to remedy. He identified inadequate access to the internet as a weakness, which they remedied by ensuring high-speed connectivity in underserved and peripheral areas. Specht also outlined other measures such as improving access to up-to-date COVID-19 figures by visually impaired residents.

Pudence Rubingisa, Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda, underscored that digitalization is an effective tool for improving governance, through increasing accountability and transparency, and therefore helping to address corruption. Oihana Agirregoitia, Municipal Councilor for Citizen Services and Participation and International Affairs, on behalf of the Mayor of Bilbao, Spain, highlighted the need to evolve to an inclusive information society. 

Eugène Mba, Mayor of Libreville, Gabon, explained that COVID-19 forced an accelerated digitalization in Libreville to satisfy the needs of administrative procedures and people needing to access information and services directly from homes. Mba highlighted the need for accessibility, and drew attention to Libreville’s focus on installing internet access hubs in different neighborhoods.

In ensuing discussion, participants reflected on the need to leave no one and no place behind as digitalization progresses. They also highlighted the need to consider “symbiosis” between urban and rural areas. Participants exchanged thoughts on a structure, or digital maturity model, for their own local or regional government, which can provide a baseline to understand the current status of digitalization and the process and priority areas to move forward on. Reflecting on this, some drew attention to the constraining factor of affordability, which ultimately determines how much progress can be made. Several suggested improving collaboration with the private sector to address this constraint. 

Healthy people and territories leading our wellbeing: This session convened on Thursday and was moderated by Emilia Sáiz. Sharing experiences, participants highlighted the essential efforts that LRGs have undertaken to protect communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bringing together health community representatives and policymakers, the Dialogue considered how the pandemic response is shaping the future of health systems, and methods for involving communities in decisions that will keep them safe, healthy, and engaged in their cities.

Uğur İbrahim Altay, Mayor of Konya, Turkey, and UCLG Co-President, announced UCLG has joined the multi-stakeholder platform UHC2030, in an effort to strengthen the relation between the municipal and healthcare movements and achieve universal healthcare and health systems that protect everyone. Noting the Dialogue is convening on World Accessibility Day (20 May), Altay stressed that the inequalities affecting communities cannot be ignored, and that “we must recall that we are only as resilient as the most vulnerable.” 

Stella Chungong, Director, Health Security Preparedness, World Health Organization (WHO), outlined key messages from the Working Group on Urban Preparedness, which included inputs from local and regional governments to strengthen preparedness for cities. These included the need to make urban preparedness a priority for adequate financing and community involvement. She stressed there are many opportunities to seize upon current momentum and to build back better. 

Suharti Sutar, Deputy Governor of Jakarta for Population Control and Human Settlement, Indonesia, shared experiences in taking a community-based approach to vaccinations. She said Jakarta has made use of shopping centers, sports stadiums, and schools to achieve mass rollout of vaccines. 

Gabriela Cuevas Barron, UHC2030 Co-Chair, welcomed UCLG to the UHC2030 movement. She stressed local leaders’ participation is imperative to making health systems universal. Cuevas Barron underscored that people-centered and rights-based systems are best suited to respond to disease outbreaks. She stressed the need to apply a gender lens to all aspects of this work. Calling for a focus on reducing vulnerabilities, she said vulnerability should not define individuals.

Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva, Switzerland, noted that the COVID-19 crisis has shown our collective vulnerability. He said cities are on the frontline of the pandemic, tasked with enforcing restrictive measures applied by the national government. Kanaan said in Geneva, this included dealing with social tensions, inequalities, and isolation. 

Fernando Gray, Mayor of Esteban Echeveria, Argentina, noted the pandemic not only brought existing inequalities to light, but also made them worse. He said COVID-19 also showed the importance of solidarity and cooperation, stressing “no one can survive on their own.” Gray called for mechanisms to ensure equal distribution of vaccines.

Jiang Jiang Chunmei, Secretary General, Chinese Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, outlined some of the local actions undertaken in China to respond to the pandemic, such as the continued supply of daily necessities and medicines to residents with the help of volunteers. He also noted China used big data and artificial intelligence in responding to the pandemic, for instance, to track close contacts for the purpose of quarantining. 

Ernest Maragall, Vice President for International Relations and Cooperation, Barcelona Metropolitan Area, noted the need to understand the pandemic not just from the viewpoint of science, but also of civilization by focusing, for instance, on its relationship with climate change and with production models. He emphasized cities must participate in decision making instead of serving as the background to the decisions of states and big corporations.

Susan Henshall, CEO, City Cancer Challenge, noted that while the scope and ambition of the SDGs are global, implementation takes place locally. She said her organization supports cities as they work to accelerate progress to deliver quality cancer care through collaboration and co-creation. Henshall suggested lessons learned from her organization’s work on cancer be replicated to strengthen and build the resilience of health systems as a whole.

Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, WHO Special Envoy for the European region, said local governments worked hard during the pandemic in, for instance, providing personal protective equipment and mobilizing volunteers for food delivery. He said the resilience of health systems relies heavily on local governments. Andriukaitis also called for a strong message to be sent to the G20 about the need for a global pandemic treaty that would involve local governments. 

During discussion, participants noted that in some areas, citizens are reluctant to be vaccinated, due to rumors and falsehoods spread on social media. They called for continued awareness raising about the pandemic and vaccines. One participant called for reactivation of healthy cities networks. 

Several speakers stressed the pandemic showed “huge” inequalities, and called for all local governments to cooperate and collaborate. Noting the possibility for future pandemics, participants also called on cities to work together to provide rapid response to future emergencies. 

Annual Meeting of the UN Advisory Committee on Local Authorities

On Wednesday, UNACLA held its Annual Meeting, focusing on actions on the constituency’s inputs towards the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA), scheduled to convene in April 2022. Discussions focused on advocacy and awareness-raising activities relating to implementation of the NUA. Ilsur Metshin, Mayor of Kazan, Russian Federation, and Co-chair of UNACLA, moderated the session.

Emilia Sáiz welcomed participants.

Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, underscored the importance of UNACLA as a vehicle to drive change, collaboration, and coordination. She noted UNACLA is the only formally mandated collaboration between the UN system and local governments.

Metshin explained the NUA provides a powerful agenda for change, and underscored the need to work towards fair, inclusive, and sustainable cities. 

Atishi Marlena, Member of Legislative Assembly, National Capital Territory of Delhi, India, and Vice-Chair of UNACLA, noted the UNACLA strategy needs to be updated to address COVID-19 and focus on resilient development.

Mohd Sharif drew attention to the growing momentum around voluntary local reviews. She said a number of these will be presented at the World Urban Forum, scheduled to convene in Katowice, Poland, in June 2022. She advised participants that the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in 2022 is likely to review SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), putting local development at the core of international debate. Mohd Sharif also highlighted ongoing work to develop a global urban monitoring framework, intended to support cities in monitoring development progress.

Carlos Martínez, Mayor of Soria, Spain, and Envoy of the UCLG Presidency on the NUA, underscored that local government should be recognized in the UN System, not as an NGO, but as a sphere of government in its own right, stating the possibility of achieving observer status.

Mpho Mmachakga Moruakgomo, Chair, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, highlighted the importance of addressing sustainable development in cities, and said cities need to respond effectively to the needs of their residents. He stressed cities and local governments need capacity and resources to carry out their mandates, which must be at the heart of sustainable urbanization.

In subsequent discussions, participants highlighted the need to ensure implementation of the NUA over the coming years, noting its role in accelerating implementation of the SDGs. One participant outlined how the EU is implementing the NUA, including by fostering dialogue between the national and local levels. Another called for regional strategies for implementation of the SDGs and the NUA, noting many countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have undertaken no planning in this regard.

Participants observed that collectively, local governments are becoming more united, and their voices are becoming stronger. Underscoring the role of UNACLA in ensuring that the “light of local authorities is shining,” one participant called for “a more permanent seat” for the Committee in the UN.

Several speakers called on national governments to ensure that cities have the necessary resources to tackle the challenges before them, noting their role in improving the lives and prosperity of their residents.

Highlighting that 80% of people facing extreme poverty live in rural areas, participants also underlined the need to urgently consider rural development. They called on urban and rural governments to work together to respond to the needs of their communities.

Further information


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