ICLEI World Congress 2024 celebrates local government networks’ role in global sustainability

The ICLEI World Congress 2024 Opening Ceremony resounded with a clarion call for multilevel action and cooperation to drive sustainable development. Over 1200 attendees gathered to celebrate the vital role of global networks in connecting cities, towns, regions, and communities worldwide, further accelerating ambitious climate action.

Emphasizing multilevel action and cooperation, the Congress began with speakers transversally underscoring the power of local networks in achieving global sustainability. These networks are pivotal amidst the climate emergency and the challenges cities face, including housing, infrastructure, basic services, and public spaces. They facilitate knowledge-sharing, capacity-building, and coordinated actions across municipalities, enabling collective progress towards sustainable urban development.

Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, the newly elected ICLEI President and Mayor of Malmö, Sweden, expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to lead the largest network of local and regional governments championing sustainable development globally. “We are active in more than 125 countries, driving local action for equitable, zero-emission, resilient, nature-based, and circular development,” she said, outlining the importance of these five interconnected pathways that transcend sectors and jurisdictions.

Mayor Jammeh underscored Malmö’s ethos of sharing amidst daunting challenges like rapid urbanization, climate change, and ecosystem degradation. “I believe that true urban sustainable development must be inclusive and affordable, otherwise it’s not sustainable,” she urged.

Gino Van Begin, ICLEI Secretary General, added, “Our flourishing network works with more than 2,500 local and regional governments worldwide, representing small, large, and fast-growing cities, vast metropolitan areas, provinces and regions. Through this World Congress and our ICLEI São Paulo Strategic Vision 2024 – 2030, we create a picture of what is needed for a truly sustainable urban world.”

In addition, our host, Ricardo Nunes, Mayor of the City of São Paulo, highlighted the importance of the ICLEI World Congress. “This is a pivotal meeting to share experiences which will serve as a model for others in our collective pursuit of global sustainability.” 

From São Paulo to the world

São Paulo, leading the sustainability charge in Latin America, exemplified the power of local action with Mayor Ricardo Nunes highlighting the city’s unwavering commitment to sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Our sustainability vision has a dual commitment to environmental protection and socioeconomic well-being, as our efforts aim to safeguard jobs, promote education, and improve our residents’ quality of life,” he said.

This megacity, home to 12 million inhabitants, has pioneered sustainability initiatives, from reducing carbon emissions and implementing innovative waste management strategies to launching its ambitious São Paulo Green Capital project. “We aim to preserve the city’s green areas, with a target to conserve 26% of the city’s territory, eternally preserved for our residents,” said Mayor Nunes.

Jader Barbalho Filho, Brazil’s Minister of Cities, emphasized the importance of multilevel action at all levels of government to mobilize climate action. He highlighted the Green and Resilient Cities program, which enhances the capacity of Brazilian cities to confront the impacts of climate change and involves joint actions across ministries. “This strategy harnesses and mobilizes national efforts to fulfill climate agenda commitments in line with Brazil’s commitments at COP28 and endorsing the CHAMP initiative,” he stated, calling for more countries to join the cause. “Only with the power of local, regional, national, and global unity can we achieve our goal,” he added.

The climate emergency as an opportunity

In the face of the climate emergency and its devastating consequences, as recently seen in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, which disproportionately impacted millions of lives, as well as other recent events in Kenya, Papua New Guinea, and North America, speakers called for bold action to mitigate escalating climate events, concluding that decisive climate action is imperative for a sustainable future.

Anacládia Rossbach, Director, Latin America and Caribbean, Lincoln Institute of Land Policies, reflected on the context of these sequential disasters with significant impacts on cities, alongside the housing crisis. “We cannot limit ourselves to a reactive response to disasters; we must seize these crises as an opportunity to rethink how we plan our cities, how we coordinate, how we establish dialogues, and how urban policies are designed, especially regarding housing and the most vulnerable informal settlements,” she outlined.

Ms. Rossbach suggested that the spirit of solidarity and collective action observed in crisis situations can inspire the construction of formal and informal mechanisms of dialogue and multilevel governance, not only to act in emergencies but also to help society establish a strategic vision for the future we want and act collectively in the same direction to minimize the impact of disasters on people’s lives and achieve the goals set in the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda.

In addition, Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), stressed the vital importance of cities partnering with others to achieve concrete impact at the forefront of the climate emergency. “Cities cannot do it alone; the power of networked local and regional governments is the way to achieve the impactful transformation our world requires,” she said.

Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy in the U.S. State Department, highlighted cities as sites of innovative solutions and tireless efforts to reduce emissions. “Local leaders hold the keys to increasing the provision of renewable energies, making public transportation greener, reducing plastic pollution, and sustainably managing waste,” she said.

Ms. Hachigian commended the inspiring work of ICLEI across the globe, stating, “We, at the subnational diplomacy team, share its ambition to amplify the voice of local leaders at the global stage.” As an example, she mentioned the Cities Forward initiative, recognizing that global sustainability begins at the local level. “With ICLEI as one of the invaluable implementing partners, the initiative is setting a model on how peer-to-peer learning and best practices sharing is essential to learn from each other, disseminate our experiences, and scale up the best local solutions as fast as we can,” she added.

The ICLEI World Congress 2024 Opening Ceremony served as a resounding call to action, underscoring the pivotal role of local government networks in driving global sustainability through knowledge-sharing, capacity-building, and coordinated action across municipalities. As cities grapple with the climate emergency and its far-reaching consequences, these networks offer a pathway to collective progress, enabling communities to learn from each other’s experiences and collectively shape a sustainable urban future for all.

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