New ICLEI leadership recommit to integrated sustainable development

At the opening of the ICLEI World Congress 2021 – 2022 Virtual Launch, ICLEI’s newly elected leadership came out in force to show their commitment to nature-based, circular, resilient, low emission and equitable development. 

Facing the on-going global pandemic, ICLEI leaders kicked-off the ICLEI World Congress 2021 – 2022 with an all-digital event. Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, – newly elected ICLEI First Vice President – and Mayor of Malmö, Sweden, welcomed attendees by saying, “even though we are currently unable to travel and experience things live at the Congress, it does not mean that the need for it is gone. Over the next three days we will have an opportunity to connect and exchange experiences.”  Malmö will welcome the ICLEI network in person for the Malmö Summit in May 2022 as part of the year-long ICLEI World Congress event.

Fresh off of the official adoption of ICLEI’s new Malmö Strategic Vision 2021-2027 at the first meeting of the ICLEI Global Executive Committee on 12 April, the new cohort of ICLEI leadership not only showed their commitment to holistic sustainable development but made the case for why an integrated approach is more important than ever.  

Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines Iowa and newly elected President of ICLEI set the scene by laying out the urgency of the interdependent crises we are facing: climate, biodiversity and the global pandemic. “We need to find new ways very quickly to lay the foundation today for a climate-neutral, resilient, safe and livable tomorrow,” he said. “As urban leaders, we are on the front lines.” 

This frontline work not only demands a holistic approach that utilizes nature-based and circular strategies to achieve climate and resilience goals, but also means “decoupling urban development from finite resources” and “putting people at the center” says Cownie.

Gino Van Begin, Secretary General of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, outlined the benefits of ICLEI’s five pathways, and the importance of a holistic approach to sustainable development, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is my strong hope that this ICLEI Malmö Commitment and Strategic Vision is a common, ambitious pledge to make sustainable development the only model for development in the urban 21st century,” he said.

Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku, Finland and ICLEI Vice President spoke on the successes that her city has found through their work on circular development. Circular development means ‘“fundamentally rethinking how resources are consumed and managed,” said Arve. 

Turku began focusing on circular economy in order to achieve its goal to become climate neutral, shared Arve, but the benefits of circular economy go far beyond that. Through circular development we can “decouple urban and economic development from resource consumption” and “support new local economies… where resources are exchanged and not wasted,” said Arve.

Manuel de Araújo, Mayor of Quelimane, Mozambique, who serves on the ICLEI Global Executive Committee, spoke about the increasing importance of resilience in Mozambique as the impacts of climate change become ever more pronounced. “In the last two years Mozambique faced more than four cyclones… we have experienced first hand these challenges and the role of local leaders and other local institutions was of paramount importance to assess and contribute to rapid recovery,” he said. Through his work with ICLEI, Mayor de Araújo hopes to “equip ICLEI Members with tools that allow them to assess the risks that cities face.”

Leaders also focused on how this integrated approach to sustainable development is more critical than ever as governments at all levels need to be focusing on a green recovery from economic impacts of the global pandemic.  

Councillor Amanda Stone from Yarra, Australia and ICLEI Global Executive Committee Member focused on how “biodiversity and ecosystems underpin our local economies. More than half of global GDP depends on nature” she said, and “human health and well-being are intrinsically linked to the health and well being of the planet itself.”

Tunç Soyer, Mayor of Izmir, Turkey and ICLEI Global Executive Committee Member, also focused on his city’s goal of “making Izmir a model city for living in harmony with nature” as a critical strategy to fight the climate crisis. He highlighted the need for “strong collaboration between every level of government.” 

The focus on nature at the center of an integrated approach to sustainable development was echoed by Wei Cheng, Member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Chengdu Municipal Committee and Vice Mayor of Chengdu Municipal People’s Government, China. “We would like to build a park city… and practice a green and low carbon lifestyle,” said Cheng. 

Atishi Marlena, Member of the Legislative Assembly for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, India and ICLEI Vice President emphasized how critical it is to focus on equitable development in light of the unprecedented urbanization we are facing around the world. 

Marlena said that “a large number of cities today find it hard to find equitable access to the most basic of civic services like education, health care, water, transport, and clean air to breathe.” But that “every individual, irrespective of their community, their gender, their caste, their color, have an actual right to the city.”

ICLEI’s new leaders will be appearing at other sessions throughout the ICLEI World Congress 2021 – 2022 to profile their sustainability work even further.

Watch the opening session of the ICLEI World Congress Virtual Launch and check out the full program.

Photo credit: Werner Nystrand.