Leave no one behind: ICLEI World Congress focuses on people-centered development

The first day of the ICLEI World Congress 2021 – 2022 closed with a discussion on “Equitably Shaping Our Sustainable Urban Future.” Representatives from local governments from around the world shared their experiences through ongoing initiatives to create an equitable sustainable development framework that is inclusive for all. 

Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, Mayor of Malmö, Sweden, opened by sharing some of the main sustainable development projects fostered by the city. These projects are embedded in a “fair, inclusive societies for all” mentality which Malmö has been applying since 1997 to focus on sustainability and address energy efficiency and climate goals on the local level. Malmö was also the first Swedish city to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its city council goals and is engaging in long term sustainable development projects. 

The idea of inclusive societies was at the heart of what these leaders brought to the table. According to Mayor Jammeh, “in a sustainable city no one is left behind.” This was echoed by Mayor Bill Peduto of the City of Pittsburgh, USA. Peduto focused on how climate action should be inserted into an economic development strategy to achieve Paris Agreement goals by affirming that “environmental justice also means social and economic justice”. 

Regarding ongoing projects, Mayor Peduto also presented the Marshall Plan for Middle America, an economic development strategy that aims to create 400,000 jobs to compensate for recent unemployment rates. He believes through the Plan, “all Americans will benefit from the transference to clean technology and renewable energy”. 

The carbon economy is also a concern in Glasgow, host city of this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be held in November. Susan Aitken, leader of the Glasgow City Council joined the discussion with important inputs on how COP26 should not be limited to political meetings but also needs to be effective in guaranteeing a better future for all citizens. 

The session also featured leaders from Southeast Asia and South America. In the Philippines, Pasig City is a valuable example of local climate action. The city, which is part of the Ambitious City Promises project, led by ICLEI, is advancing long term goals such as a 20 percent reduction in GHG emission by 2030. 

According to Mayor Vico Sotto, community engagement is also a central concern of the local government. In 2019, the city joined ICLEI’s Accelerate project and launched an EcoPledge platform that encourages the local population to transform energy use and engage in this reduction. 

The Mayor mentioned that community cooperation to achieve a shared goal is part of the Philippine’s bayanihan culture and concluded his speech saying that “local governments need to empower every citizen knowing that this will result in more innovation, strengthen cooperation and more effective implementation of best practices in local climate action”. 

In Latin America, Bogota has focused on sustainable transport as a way to mitigate climate change. With the largest bicycle system in the continent, the city foresees transport as a social and economic inclusion mechanism. Carolina Urrutia Vásquez, the city’s Environment Secretary, showed the importance of understanding the different target groups in the population to address their needs in terms of mobility. Environmental justice, costs, and safety are challenges of climate action in developing cities, but Bogota is tackling them with technology and new cable systems throughout the city, including mountain areas. 

Finally, Lisa Helps, Mayor of the City of Victoria, in Canada, highlighted the importance of building constructive dialogue. “We know that if we don’t build a cohesive community that is inclusive, we are going to have more difficulty tackling all of the challenges related to climate change, sustainability and resilience,” she said. She also showed how climate action can face resistance in cities where housing and jobs are people’s priorities. 

Across the board, these local leaders shed light on the decisive role cities can play in tackling the climate crisis and promoting sustainability by creating cohesive communities that understand the obstacles and act together to surpass them, which leads to transformative changes in their societies.