'If You Want to Go Far, Go with Many: Strengthening the Local Voice at the International Level' - DeLoG Session at the World Urban Forum 2020 (WUF10)

The tenth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10), convened by UN-Habitat, was held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from the 8th to 13th of February 2020. It was the first time that an Arab country hosted the world’s foremost conference on cities and human settlements. It attracted over 13,000 attendees.

© DeLoG Secretariat 2020

In more than 540 official events participants exchanged their knowledge on sustainable urban development in open and inclusive debates and sessions, through the exposition and discussion of best practices, as well as through the sharing of lessons learned. With regard to this year’s theme Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation, dialogue sessions with different foci took stock of current and emerging approaches in linking culture and innovation as key drivers for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urban areas.
The outcome, known as the Abu Dhabi Declared Actions, includes commitments from international organisations, national, local and regional governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and others for the next two years and beyond to support the achievement of the SDGs. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, put the theme of WUF10 into context at the closing ceremony: "All three ingredients – culture, innovation and cities – are co-dependent and co-creating. Human settlements exist and excel on the dynamic mixture of cultures.".

Several DeLoG members and partner organisations hosted events and participated actively in sessions at WUF10. UCLG for example, organised sessions on the World Observatory on Subnational Government Finance and Investment (SNG WOFI), where it was made clear once again that decentralisation processes are pertinent to achieve the SDGs. During the UCLG session on the International Municipal Investment Fund (IMIF) David Jackson, Director of Local Development Finance, UNCDF, made the case for finance at the local level by stating „If you want to achieve the Paris Agreement, if you want to reach the 2030 Agenda, if you want to reach other global agendas – municipal finance has to be established.“. Some DeLoG member and partner organisations also took the opportunity of the WUF 10 to launch new publications, like the OECD with their synthesis report on A Territorial Approach to the Sustainable Development Goals. During the launch of the European Handbook for SDG Voluntary Reviews VLR-frontrunner Helsinki encouraged other cities and municipalities: “You can do it! You can start from your own level with whatever your pace is!”. The diverse manner in which city level governments work on peacebuilding and conflict prevention was presented by the UCLG Peace Prize 2019 finalist, the Governorate of Duhok (Iraq). By bringing together all stakeholders, the authorities of Duhok were able to negotiate a deal in terms of managing the effects of mass forced displacement (Duhok’s population grew from 1,1 Mio. to 2 Mio. habitants), allowing for peaceful coexistence of all inhabitants. The initiative was presented by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Provincial Council of Barcelona and VNG International.

At the joined session of the Development Partners Network on Decentralisation and Local Governance (DeLoG) and the European Commission, DG DEVCO, If you want to go far, go with many: Strengthening the local voice at the international level, Sarah Bentz, Policy Officer on SDGs at PLATFORMA/CEMR, stated that “We have to unlock the potentials and magic of decentralised development cooperation between cities and regions.” Cities and municipalities are the major drivers in terms of the implementation of the SDGs. Policies at the local level have proven to show an immediate effect on reaching many of the SDGs. Both the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda underline the importance of networks and associations as dynamic actors of local action. At the World Urban Forum (WUF 10) associations of local authorities and other conference participants discussed challenges faced by cities and municipalities in promoting effective local action and how networks and associations can help to tackle the challenges and raise the local voice to the international level. DeLoG was pleased to engage in a fruitful panel discussion with Greg Munro, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG-Africa, Edgardo Bilsky, Director of Research and Intelligence at United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Sarah Bentz, Policy Officer for Sustainable Development Goals (PLATFORMA/CEMR), and Paolo Ciccarelli, Head of Unit C5 – Cities, Local Authorities, Digitalisation, Infrastructures, European Commission DG DEVCO.
Despite the various perspectives brought forth throughout the discussion, the panel demonstrated that networks and associations of local authorities are able to bring together different actors, harmonise efforts and set agendas. They are gaining more and more relevance in dialogue, policy formulation and as development partners focussing on advocacy (towards more decentralisation), peer to peer learning and capacity building. Municipalities and cities are localising a lot of the SDGs, the reporting on SDG localisation needs to be strengthened. In their role as knowledge exchange facilitators, networks and associations need to embrace new challenges, react to them and anticipate future change. Multi-stakeholder involvement is taking place and developing. Private enterprises are entering the scene, for example as an important ally to generate municipal financing opportunities. But private sector involvement also represents risks: Unequal relationships, reinforced by weak local governance structures, could for example lead to a lack of access to public services. Moreover, the protection of data needs to be addressed by local governments.

The session made clear how networks and associations of local authorities help to give cities and municipalities a voice and support the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda. Other actors, such as private enterprises or civil society organisations are entering the scene and helping to tackle these challenges as well, be it through dialogue or direct involvement. Challenges like rapid urbanisation, climate change and migration are addressed through collaboration and by unlocking the potential of decentralised development cooperation.

For DeLoG the WUF 10 in Abu Dhabi was a good opportunity to exchange and to learn about new approaches applied by local governments to tackle the intimidating challenges of 2020 and to acquire more knowledge on how local governments are impacted by urbanisation and what potentials urbanisation offers. We are looking forward to WUF11 in Katowice, Poland, in 2022.