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Forum of Mayors 2020

City Action for a Resilient Future: Strengthening Local Government Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and the Impact of Disasters and Climate Change

6 October 2020 | Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Highlights for Tuesday, 6 October 2020

More than half of the global population currently lives in urban areas and, due to urbanization and population growth, another 2.5 billion people are expected to be living in cities by 2050. Cities are at the heart of any effort to build a sustainable future. Moreover, the unprecedented COVID-19 emergency impacted urban areas heavily, creating a social and economic crisis in addition to health concerns.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) convened the first-ever Forum of Mayors in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the UNECE Sustainable Cities Week, under the theme "City action for a resilient future: Strengthening local government preparedness and response to emergencies and the impact of disasters and climate change." The event brought together city leaders to discuss the economic aspects of local responses to the pandemic, as well as initiatives at the municipal level to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva, Switzerland, and Josiane Lei, Mayor of Evian, France, co-chaired the Forum of Mayors 2020.

Doris Andoni (Albania), Chair of the 81st session of the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, UNECE, highlighted the Forum of Mayors is an historic event for the UN, stressing the need to ensure the city is accessible, affordable, safe, and healthy for all, not only the wealthy. 

Co-Chair Sami Kanaan, noted the Forum is a welcome step towards inclusive multilateralism and stressed the need to “reinvent the urban way of life” to respond to the challenges cities face. 

Highlighting that the Forum will provide inspiration “for rethinking our urban realities,” Olga Algayerova, UNECE Executive Secretary, said local governments are on the frontline of addressing the pandemic, which hit cities the hardest. She noted that national governments alone cannot address global challenges, particularly climate change, calling for engaging local actors in achieving the SDGs.

Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General, UN Office at Geneva, described the COVID-19 pandemic as the “deepest crisis since the Second World War for multilateralism.” She pointed to increasing global interdependence and highlighted the Geneva Cities Hub as a platform to foster closer links between cities, international organizations, and other actors.

Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan, Italy, emphasized that the most vulnerable were the hardest hit by COVID-19, which exacerbated existing inequalities. Sala stressed that any recovery must be rooted in equity and climate action, and highlighted the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group that envisions a global green new deal based on an inclusive economy, resilience and equity, and health and well-being.

In a special address, architect Norman Foster noted that the history of cities is a history of crisis and change, which resulted in better cities. He emphasized that the hallmark of our age is mobility of people, goods, and information, and stressed that the current crisis creates new attitudes in citizens in terms of receptivity for progressive change.

  • Gergely Karácsony
  • Laia Bonet

The event included numerous interventions from mayors and city officials, mainly in an online setting, who exchanged ideas and innovative efforts to address the COVID-19 emergency and, simultaneously, combat climate change and move towards achieving the SDGs. The main outcome of the Forum of Mayors, the Geneva Declaration of Mayors, aligns city leaders' efforts with the initiative of UN Secretary-General António Guterres to “build back better” and aims to turn the recovery process into a real opportunity for shaping a healthy and resilient future. The Declaration addresses:

  • Strengthening the resilience of our cities;
  • Taking ambitious climate action;
  • Making our cities greener;
  • Accelerating the transition to sustainable energy;
  • Ensuring urban transport is sustainable;
  • Ensuring housing is affordable, healthy, and adequate;
  • Making cities more equitable and inclusive; and
  • Turning these aspirations into reality.

In addition to ideas, those present in Geneva also exchanged passes in the ‘United for our Goals’ football match during lunch break. A reception hosted by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland took place in the evening.

The Forum of Mayors 2020 attracted around 1,000 participants from more than 65 countries. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions 100 people were physically present, while the platform Interprefy was used for approximately 75 online interventions. Following the successful conclusion of the first ever Forum of Mayors, the second meeting of the Forum is scheduled to take place in 2021.

  • Bill Peduto
  • Lisa Helps
  • Martin Horn


Images from the Meeting

Videos from the Session

Resources for the Forum of Mayors 2020

IISD/ENB Meeting Coverage

IISD Resources