Local Action For and By the People: UCLG World Congress – World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders

The 2019 UCLG Congress – World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders, convened by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), took place in eThekwini / Durban, South Africa, from 11th to 15th November 2019. The UCLG Congress brought together more than 3000 participants, including mayors, presidents of associations, councillors, local and regional practitioners and development partners from around the world.

Emilia Saiz, UCLG Secretary General, discussing with mayors about the future of cities. (© DeLoG Secretariat 2019)

During the Summit, it became clear that local governments are gaining more and more voice and relevance in presenting solutions for globally acknowledged problems like climate change, migration or inequality. The exchange of best practices, mutual learning and the discussion of different point of views is crucial for local leaders to improve their approaches and to strengthen the understanding that global problems are solved by local solutions.

Once again, the UCLG World Congress was very productive: more than 100 thematic sessions were conducted, various steering and working group meetings were held and the new UCLG president was elected: Mohamed Boudra, Mayor of Al Hoceima (Morocco) and President of the Moroccan Association of Mayors (AMPCC), will guide UCLG from now until 2022.

In addition, the Durban Political Declaration was adopted by local and regional governments and their associations from around the world. It states that: 'Transformational change will be local, or will simply not be. Communities, in relation with their territories, need to be at the centre of the decision-making to localize meaningful achievement in the global agendas and ensure a decent life and a sustainable future for the next generations'. (For more information, please have a look here.)

At the Congress, the UCLG GOLD V(Global Observatory on Local Democracy and Decentralization) report was presented. The report shows that all levels of government are needed to implement the 2030 Agenda and other global agendas. Núria Marín Martínez, President of Barcelona Provincial Council, Spain, demanded decentralisation processes to give local authorities the power to tackle urgent challenges like climate change. Local authorities are closest to the challenges and problems of the citizens. They need more power and resources to react adequately. Ms. Clare Short, Chair of the Management Board of Cities Alliance Belgium, added that we have to bring everyone to the table – without including the most marginalised into planning processes, life in cities cannot be improved.

Thematic sessions at the UCLG Congress focussed on a wide range of topics: Local finance, inclusive and sustainable cities, social and solidarity economy and finance, sustainable mobility, gender equality at the local level, resilient and climate smart cities, local inclusion for migrants and refugees, inclusive local service delivery, transparency and open government, peace initiatives and the role of the local level in implementing global agendas.

When discussing the future of Local Finance participants agreed that local autonomy must be respected and that 'cities and regions should have access to a large compendium of financial solutions and technical support' (Mr. Sameh Wahba, Global Director Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice, The World Bank). Ms. Hanitra Raharinjatovo-Rasamison, Director General Local Development Fund, Madagascar, added that the central state has to ensure that Local Governments have access to financial instruments. By having a closer look at how to finance urban transition, participants discussed the role of development finance institutions. As one participant from Cameroon put it, there is a need for intermediary institutions, as local governments often do not have information about or access to the 'big' development financing institutions. In general, we have to keep in mind that 'not all municipalities are born equal' and each and every approach to funding requires different answers (Mr. Tshepo Ntsimane, Head, Metro, Intermediate Cities and Water Boards, Development Bank of South Africa). One strong speech for decentralised structures was given by the Mayor of Banjul, Ms. Rohey Malick Lowe. She emphasised that 'we should all advocate for a bottom-up approach – the money is for the people'.
Another important session was dedicated to the OECD / UCLG World Observatory on Subnational Government Finance and Investment (SNG WOFI). Christel Alvergne, UNCDF, stressed the need to overcome difficulties in collecting quality data. Christian Luy, Coordinator of the Development Partners Network on Decentralisation and Local Governance (DeLoG), explained how fiscal decentralisation can be used to implement the 2030 Agenda principle of leaving no one behind to include local governments and their citizens. Processes like participatory budgeting strengthen inclusive governance and help ensure the principle of leaving no one behind. He stated that smart fiscal decentralisation allows us to tackle inequality. Therefore, he urged governments to ensure capacity building (administrative, technical or strategical) in this area. Moreover, he advocated for citizen empowerment via access to information in order to make fiscal decentralisation an effective reality.

The City of Bonn participated in a session on capacity development for Inclusive Local Service Delivery and demonstrated what measures it has relied on to change the mobility of its habitants. As an important aspect, the representative of the Stadtwerke Bonn explained how they managed to enter into the market of rental bikes and scooters before private enterprises even did. By doing that, Bonn ensures the careful use of mobility data set standards in service delivery and aims to offer more mobility options like shared E-Cars.

A further policy session discussed themes such as accessible and inclusive cities, gender equality, rough areas improvement and partnerships for sustainable urban development. During the session the keynote speaker, Mayor of Amman Dr. Yousef Al-Shawarbeh, praised the 'ILCA' project, a cooperation between the Ministry of Environment & Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the United Nations which focusses on improving the living conditions in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Amman.

Another focus of the World Congress was on the role of the local level for the implementation of global agendas, especially the 2030 Agenda. When comparing experiences of preparing Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs), Edgardo Bilsky from UCLG emphasised that 'VLRs are not only a report, but a process'. By talking about these processes, mayors from Barcelona and Bristol stressed that VLRs are needed to see if we are moving into the right direction to implement the 2030 Agenda. Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol, said that 'we should focus more on the long-term than acting like a fire fighter'. Ms. Akhona Tinta, Executive Director of Strategy, Amathole District Municipality (South Africa), and Mariana Flores, representative of Mexico City, agreed that it is most important to align the 2030 Agenda to other agendas like the Agenda 2063 as well as to local development plans. To really include citizens in the entire process of localising the Agendas and the associated reporting mechanisms, the SDGs have to be translated into  local languages and then included in local development plans. Mariana Flores proposed to 'not localise global agendas, but globalise local agendas'.

A lot of DeLoG’s member and partner organisations contributed to the programme by organising interesting sessions. UNDP together with UN Habitat organised a session on how to ensure that the SDGs are transformative for cities. The Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy ICLD offered a session focussing on the method of participatory video for local democracy and the Cities Alliance invited to discuss transforming cities. One point made in this session was that we should work together with street traders and acknowledge them as an important part of private sector, which also generates revenue. Anna Lixi, DG DEVCO European Commission, stated that informality should be seen as a possibility.
VNG International organised sessions on the UCLG Peace Prize. The five finalists from cities in Colombia, Iraq and Lebanon presented their peace initiatives and emphasised that we need to create opportunities if we want to live in peace. Mr. Parks Tau, outgoing UCLG President, handed over the prize to this years’ winner: the city of Arsal, Lebanon, where a lot of effort has been put into the integration of IDPs and refugees to foster social cohesion and thereby promote peace.

The whole week was full of interesting inputs, debates and meetings. Once again, it became clear that the local level plays a crucial role in sustainable development or in the words of the Durban Political Declaration: Transformational change will be local, or will simply not be.

For more information, please have a look at the website of the UCLG World Congress.