On Thursday, 7 July 2022, a virtual meeting brought together a score of speakers for the Local and Regional Governments Forum on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as part of this year’s High-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF). The Forum which takes place every year in July, addresses implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The importance of different levels of government working in unison was a constant theme, stressed by speakers from Argentina and Brazil to Spain and South Africa. Two moderated panels were organized by Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and Maimunah Mohd Shariff, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).
One of the first speakers, Mayor Carolina Cosse, Intendente de Montevideo, spoke of her city’s 2030 Agenda, using social cohesion, innovation, and participation as central elements to address air quality, food, health, and gender equality. Trained as an engineer, she addressed the strategies of Montevideo, in conjunction with the Uruguayan national government to implement the Sustainable Development Framework, particularly regarding the Regional Gender Agenda.
Emilio Jatón, the Mayor of Sante Fe (Argentina) since 2019, said that it was vitally important to have the support of international networks, describing them as key allies that accompany municipalities in addressed the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Originally a journalist, Mayor Jatón spoke of how the SDGs are “guiding lights for our projects” and how current work in Santa Fe aligns with the 17 SDGs, particularly SDG #4 and SDG #11 on Quality Education and Sustainable Cities and Communities. He concluded by noting how Sante Fe has used lessons learned from other cities, saying that “the SDGs are a goal, but also a global conversation on how we want to live.”
Luz Amparo Medina, the Directora Distrital de Realciones Internacionales of the City of Bogotá brought greetings from Claudia López, a member of the Green Alliance party who assumed office as the Mayoress of Bogotá on 1 January 2020, the first openly LGBT person to be elected to this position. Directora Medina spoke of the way her city was addressing SDGs #1 (No Poverty), #5 (Gender Equality), #8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), #11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and #13 (Climate Action). She spoke of the link between the Voluntary Local Review process of Bogota and the Voluntary National Review procedures of the Departamento Nacional de Planificación (DNP) of the Columbian Government. This is highlighted in the Guidelines for Voluntary Local Reviews Volume 2, Towards a New Generation of VLRs: Exploring the local-national link document published by UN-Habitat and UCLG in July 2021.
Rachid El Abdi, President of the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra Regional Council since September of 2021, noted that addressing the cost-of-living crisis and combatting inflation required an appeal to collective intelligence and working at governmental levels both upstream and downstream. He added that local government is close to the people and allows for ears to the ground, addressing food stress, water stress, and the optimization of future resources.
Mayor Luisa Salgueiro of the City of Matosinhos in Portugal said that it is “crucial to reinforce cooperation at all levels, as climate cooperation changes to a sustainable paradigm.” The governments of Portugal and Kenya recently co-hosted the UN Ocean Conference titled ‘Save our Ocean, Protect our Future’ which helped mobilize action by propelling science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action. Mayor Salgueiro, elected in 2017 as the first woman to hold the position, noted that the global economy is an excellent opportunity to create new jobs that support sustainable action. She added that climate cooperation is changing to a sustainable paradigm.
Victòria Alsina, the Minister of Foreign Action and Open Government of the Generalitat de Catalunya stated that in regard to SDG #16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) “we can only achieve this if we empower and listen to the people to capture the collective intelligence of our society.” She added that the response to the COVID-19 crisis has created opportunities to enhance participation and communication.
Mayor Nicolás Cuesta of San Justo (Argentina), a city of approximately 30,000 inhabitants in the Santa Fe region, spoke of the three years of putting together programs to achieve the SDGs at different levels, involving all tiers of government and the business sector. He added that the interaction between cities is important, particularly for SDG #11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG #13 (Climate Action). The mayor also spoke of the city of learning and how climate change is being addressed in San Justo. He quoted UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif about this being the decade of action.
Mayor Jukka Mäkelä, who has led the city of Espoo in Finland since 2011, spoke of the network of Finnish cities engaged with the localization of the SDGs. He said that it is all about dialogue, engagement, and participation. The mayor spoke of why the Voluntary Local Review process is important, creating the mandate to develop sustainable projects and making it easier to find and allocate resources. He said that the magic happens at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal levels and concluded by saying “when you are together your voice is better heard.”
The moderator of the second panel, Rafael Tuts, the Director of UN-Habitat’s Global Solution Division, brought the session to a close by noting that we have heard about implementation, monitoring, planning, and budgeting, and the need for multi-level governing. He added that much more needs to be done on implementation.
Emilia Saiz from UCLG thanked all the speakers and participants who have been part of the localization movement, noting the contributions they bring to the transformation of policies and goals. She congratulated all present for the growing participation in this effort. She added that we have learned to gather together with more and more voices being heard. The UCLG Secretary General mentioned the importance of the new report by UN-Habitat and UCLG, Toward the Localization of the SDGs: Local and regional governments breaking through for a sustainable and just recovery which highlights the progress made. She exhorted those attending to “join the movement.”
About the author: Rick Bell, FAIA, CSU President-elect, is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, and deputy director of the Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space. He previously worked at the NYC Department of Design & Construction and the AIA New York Chapter.