Cities and regions at UN’s Environment Assembly: Safeguarding environmental integrity of global sustainability through multilevel action

At the recent sixth United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA-6) in Nairobi, resolutions shaped the strategic direction of global environmental policy through multilateral actions. How do cities and regions engage in this global process? ICLEI, as co-focal point of the Local Authorities Major Group (LAMG), ensures representation of subnational governments in UNEA’s negotiation rooms.

* This blog was written by Dr Magash Naidoo, Head of Circular Development, and Yunus Arikan, Director of Global Advocacy, both at ICLEI World Secretariat, and Ingrid Coetzee, Director of Biodiversity, Nature & Health at ICLEI Africa.

When city officials think about cities, it is often in very tangible ways. Cities have roads, water and electricity infrastructure and recreation facilities. They also offer and perform numerous services such as education, health and policing. In addition, city officials who are part of the ICLEI network are also well aware of urban sustainability matters, such as the need for emissions reduction, enhancing resilience, and ensuring we consume resources in a sustainable manner, while eliminating waste.

At the same time, processes that may seem extremely intangible to city officials have vast sway over how tangible business in and of cities is conducted. These could be national laws or international agendas. At a minimum, city officials must be aware of all these mechanisms that have an impact on them, and ideally, active participation is undertaken to co-develop the national and international voice of cities into relevant processes and mechanisms. 

One of these processes and platforms is the United Nations Environmental Assembly, which convened its sixth session (UNEA-6) from 26 February to 1 March at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. With over 5,000 participants, including 193 State Members, subnational and local leaders, and civil society representatives, UNEA-6 is the leading environmental decision-making body discussing effective, inclusive, and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

The Assembly generally sets the strategic direction of global environmental policy through dialogue and materializes in decisions and resolutions, which are then filtered to national governments and parliaments for adoption and rectification. Consequently, the policy direction set by UNEA shapes national laws, strategies, and policies. 

Given that many cities’ mandates derive from national laws, strategies, and policies, it becomes vital for cities’ voices and insights to find their way into the negotiation rooms of UNEA. For example, a hypothetical resolution that eliminates the use of sulfur hexafluoride due to its global warming potential would directly impact cities that use this compound in electricity switchgear. 

This is a role that ICLEI, as co-focal point of the Local Authorities Major Group (LAMG) undertakes. While United Nations agencies like UNEA and UNEP were created by member states for member states, they also include a space for engaging ‘non-state actors’. This is done through the nine Major Groups and other Stakeholders, with LAMG being one, and would represent all types of government just below the national level.

Cities and Regions Summit

The Cities and Regions Summit, an associated event that marked its third edition this year, is a significant platform facilitating collaboration across various levels of government within the UNEA process. It took place on 23 February and was co-organized by UNEP and UrbanShift. ICLEI supported this event as one of its core partners and through our leadership role in the LAMG. 

At the Summit, Gino Van Begin, ICLEI’s Secretary General, delivered a video message on the importance of multilevel climate action, stating, “It is our responsibility to continually reinforce our collective power and work together with all levels of government to bring sustainability home.”

During the UNEA-6 Opening Plenary, Joy Belmonte, Mayor of Quezon City, Philippines, LAMG Member, and 3rd Cities and Regions Summit Rapporteur, presented the Summit’s key outcomes:

  • National governments must work hand-in-hand with cities, cities continue to actively engage communities and stakeholders. This multilevel approach, leveraging both top-down support and bottom-up innovation, is critical to transforming local successes into global impact.
  • The global need for urban infrastructure investment is estimated to exceed $4.5 trillion annually, yet socio-political and bureaucratic barriers often impede local authorities from accessing vital financing mechanisms. It is crucial to lift these obstacles to unlock cities’ full potential as environmental leaders.
  • The need for stronger subnational government involvement in implementing Multilateral Environmental Agreements, echoing best practices seen in the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Frameworks like CHAMP and the plan of action on subnational governments for biodiversity demonstrate this effectively.
Joy Belmonte, Mayor of Quezon City, Philippines, LAMG Member, and 3rd Cities and Regions Summit Rapporteur at the UNEA-6 Opening Plenary. Photo credit: © IISD.

A new inclusive, multilevel multilateralism 

During UNEA-6 in Nairobi, ICLEI hosted two key events. On 28 February, our side event, “Multilevel Action and Urbanization: Safeguarding the Delivery of Multilateral Environmental Agreements,” delved into the escalating influence of local and regional governments on social, economic, and environmental affairs at both national and global levels. ICLEI highlighted three key lessons learned from the implementation of Rio Conventions in the past 40+ years as below;

  • Local and regional governments are key for ALL national commitments and global goals.
  • Sustainable urbanization is instrumental to respect planetary boundaries.
  • Multilevel partnerships of the Urban World offer a beacon of hope for just transformation in the age of emergencies. 

The event was one of the few moments where the representatives of both G7 and G20 Presidencies were able to interact jointly with their local and subnational partners.

Watch the session here and read ICLEI’s introductory presentation here

ICLEI’s side event at UNEA-6. From left to right, Francesco Corvaro, Italy/G7; Adalberto Maluf, Brazil/G20; Lea Ranalder, UN-HABITAT; Gulnara Roll, UNEP; Yunus Arikan, ICLEI; Jean Lemire, Government of Quebec, Canada; and Jean-Baptiste Buffet, UCLG.

On the same day, an informal dialogue was hosted by the COP28 Presidency in collaboration with UNEP, UN-Habitat, and ICLEI, serving as the focal point for the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities Constituency (LGMA). This dialogue focused on the progress of the CHAMP Initiative for multilevel climate action, launched in 2023 at COP28 in Dubai. Representatives from governments including Bangladesh, Canada, Germany, and Italy, along with Quebec from LGMA and the UNFCCC Secretariat, participated in the discussion.

CHAMP informal dialogue, convened by COP28 Presidency in collaboration with UNEP, UN-Habitat, and ICLEI.

UNEA-6 wrap-up: A call for a whole of government approach

UNEA-6 concluded with Member States delivering 15 resolutions aiming to boost multilateral efforts to advance on managing metals, minerals, chemicals, waste, and rehabilitating degraded lands and waters. 

The Joint Closing Statement of Major Groups and other Stakeholders, pointed to the “lack of urgency” in collectively moving from resolutions to action and adopting a “whole of government” approach. Key areas for action include strengthening multilateralism, implementing environmental legislation, securing financing, enhancing multilevel governance, and integrating considerations of human and labor rights as well as the rights of nature into decision-making processes.

The Local Authorities Major Group (LAMG). Back row, from left to right: Sharon Gill, UNEP; Jean-Baptiste Buffet, UCLG; Jean Lemire, Government of Quebec, and Monica Wangari Gitau, Kiambu County. Front row: Magash Naidoo, ICLEI; Kamelia Kemileva, GCH; Mayor Joy Belmonte, Quezon City; Firdaous Oussidhoum, and Gulnara Roll, UNEP.



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