2021: Expectations and advances in sustainability in South America

The year 2020 marked the planet and humanity by facing the Covid-19 pandemic. The health crisis demonstrated the decisive importance of local governments in implementing effective cross-cutting policies in a context in which cities were the epicenter of impacts and responses to the crisis.


According to the United Nations, currently 55% of the world population lives in urban areas and the expectation is that this proportion will increase to 70% by 2050. As the 2030 Agenda reinforces, urban growth coincides with a global trend of policy processes decentralized, presenting cities as the space for the realization of fundamental rights and the development of daily life.


For the next few years, there is a tendency to increase the responsibilities of local governments and their possibilities for action – in short, a strengthening of their role. This shows that local sustainable urban development will play a key role in defining the impacts of humanity on the planet.


For Rodrigo Perpétuo, executive secretary of ICLEI South America, from now on, sustainable development is no longer an option and a rhetorical debate and becomes an urgent need. “In 2020, humanity collectively experienced its fragility. All the analyzes of medium and long-term risks and threats to contemporary society, whether academic, from the public or private sector, point to the climate issue as essential”. The echoes of 2020 have become a strong call for 2021 to focus on a green economic recovery, promoting sustainable, environmentally responsible and socially inclusive urban development and pointing to local and regional governments as the drivers of this trajectory.


In Perpétuo’s view, the main legacies of 2020 that will be strengthened in 2021 are related to four factors: the importance of thinking about transversal and multidimensional actions; the desirable complementarity between different levels of government based on multilevel action; the possibility of diplomacy and international cooperation by local governments to shorten paths of learning and exchange; and the need to establish permanent and transparent dialogue dynamics with citizenship.


“Over the past few years, ICLEI South America has been working hard to offer its associates solutions with environmental, economic and social impact”, says the executive secretary. “Possibilities such as the Conservation Units Acceleration Program, ICLEI Innovation, the Low Carbon Development Laboratory (LEDS Lab) and the Sustainable Schools Seal make it possible to reconcile ICLEI’s conceptual actions, which focus on political commitment and planning, with actions that contribute to transforming people’s lives and the dynamics of cities in the short term.”


For ICLEI South America in 2021, Perpétuo also mentions the strengthening of a strategy to foster permanent normative improvement. “The intention is that the instruments of urban regulation incorporate the principles and criteria of the climate action plans and serve to guide the dynamics of local development within a sustainable perspective”, he concludes.