Transforming commitments into action: Highlights from the ICLEI World Congress 2024 Closing Plenary

From June 18 to 21, over 1,500 global attendees converged in São Paulo, Brazil, to celebrate the vital role of international networks in connecting cities, towns, regions, and communities. During the Congress’ closing plenary, ICLEI leaders underscored the power of collaboration and knowledge exchange in advancing local sustainability efforts and tackling shared challenges, propelling the much-needed global transformations.

“The clear message of this ICLEI World Congress is that we urgently need to take responsibility for creating sustainable cities, towns, and regions, even if sometimes it is hard and complex. The choices we make now will determine whether we are able to accelerate a fair and inclusive green transition. I’m fully convinced if we act as one determined ICLEI community, we can achieve sustainability,” stated Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, Mayor of Malmö and President of ICLEI, during her final remarks at the ICLEI World Congress 2024 closing ceremony.

Significant milestones shaped this year’s edition. ICLEI launched its São Paulo Strategic Vision 2024-2030, “The Power of Our Network in a Changing World,” which charts a course toward sustainable development. “This vision, set forth in the voice of ICLEI’s local and regional governments, creates a picture of what is needed for a truly sustainable urban world to translate the insights and experiences learned here at the Congress into concrete action,” added Mr. Van Begin.

Highlighting the ambitious path ahead, Mr. Van Begin announced that ICLEI is set to embark on 340 programs, projects, and initiatives that will support its Members in their sustainability efforts over the next three years, totaling US$100 million. “I’m proud that this number of initiatives and tangible results have been developed and elevated here in the past few days.” He also noted that since June last year, 130 cities and regions have joined ICLEI, with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Republic of Türkiye, becoming the first new ICLEI Member right from this event, showcasing the power of this growing network.

This power is also reflected in the figures presented by Mayor Jammeh. More than 500 local and regional governments in the ICLEI Network have declared a climate emergency, over 400 have adopted clear renewable energy targets, and more than 25 have committed to 100% renewable energy. Additionally, over 480 subnational governments from 68 countries have committed to ambitious climate actions and aim for climate neutrality by 2050. “More than 1,000 local and regional governments are practicing transparency and accountability by reporting through CDP-ICLEI Track, our global reporting system,” detailed Mayor Jammeh.

However, for these figures to succeed, Mayor Jammeh said, “We need to focus our efforts on laying the foundation for a climate-neutral, resilient, safe, and livable tomorrow. As elected leaders, we must center our people’s rights at the heart of all our sustainability endeavors—their rights, their needs, their health and well-being, their equitable and fair treatment.”

Powering partnerships to advance global sustainability

As the deadline for updated NDC submissions approaches by COP30 in 2025, the urgency for collective action on NDC planning, financing, and implementation intensifies. COP28’s Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships (CHAMP) for Climate Action addresses this need, with 72 countries committed to working with subnational governments. ICLEI is dedicated to promoting CHAMP through the contributions of local and subnational governments.

During the Daring Cities 2024 Bonn Dialogues – co-convened by ICLEI and the Federal City of Bonn-, Katja Dörner, Mayor of Bonn and ICLEI Chair of the Climate Action Governance Portfolio, adopted a resolution as Vice President of the Association of German Cities (DST). She expressed DST’s readiness to collaborate with German government agencies to implement CHAMP. This marks the first national position of local governments for CHAMP implementation. 

Following suit, during the Congress, the Brazilian Frente Nacional de Prefeitas e Prefeitos (FNP) released a letter of commitment in which mayors pledged their support for CHAMP. “We urge the Brazilian government to integrate the voices of local leaders to achieve national climate goals,” said Axel Grael, Mayor of Niterói, Brazil; Chair of the ICLEI Climate Action Support Portfolio; and Vice President of the FNP. 

Both mayors, Dörner and Grael, announced a call to action to ICLEI leaders to replicate similar efforts to engage with their national governments for multilevel NDCs by 2025.

At the Congress, seven Latin American and the Caribbean cities officially joined the Urban Infrastructure Insurance Facility (UIIF) project. Funded by KfW Development Bank on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and led by ICLEI, this project takes aim at the challenges cities face in achieving urban resilience against natural hazards by developing innovative insurance solutions that could benefit millions of vulnerable people across Latin America and the Caribbean. “Through the UIIF project, we are ready to finance an immediate risk management map to better respond to and understand the city’s urban resilience against natural hazards. The project will transform Tegucigalpa into a model city where all residents can live safely,” said Jorge Alejandro Aldana Bardales, Mayor of Tegucigalpa, Central District, Honduras, and ICLEI Global Executive Committee Regional Seat for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

In addition, an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) delegation spanning ten countries led by Jonathan Stone, IFRC Manager, Climate, Environment and Resilience Unit, came together to work with ICLEI Member mayors and technical staff from coastal cities to embark on an ambitious effort to develop a coastal cities initiative, covering Asia Pacific, Africa, and Latin American regions aiming to race financial resources for action on the ground. 

Recognizing the importance of this partnership, Mr. Stone said, “I’m very pleased that we are partnering with ICLEI to enhance resilience. The brilliant thing about cities is their dynamism; the difficult thing about cities is that risk is also so dynamic there. What makes someone vulnerable one day might be different the next day. Here, the urban poor are always put last. Our pledge here is to put those who are last first. We would love to help,” said Mr. Stone, who also called local leaders to partner with IFRC to advance on extreme heat, one of the most pressing concerns in the current climate crisis.

The coastal cities initiative is one of the concrete actions undertaken by ICLEI and the IFRC, the world’s largest humanitarian network, after formalizing a Cooperation Agreement during COP28 in Dubai.

In April 2024, ICLEI launched the Local and Subnational Governments Coalition to End Plastic Pollution in partnership with the Governments of Quebec and Catalonia, and UCLG. The Coalition aims to shape a practical instrument for ending plastic pollution ahead of the Global Plastic Treaty. During the Congress, five cities and subnational governments worldwide joined the Coalition. Mohamed Sefiani, Mayor of Chefchaouen, Morocco, and ICLEI Vice President, urged local governments to add their voices to the Coalition. The Mayor highlighted innovative solutions from ICLEI Members and partners, such as the GIZ-led German Cooperation Circular Cities Lab project, which promotes reuse solutions to address waste issues with a gender lens and supports women-led businesses.

Another significant announcement was the Brazilian National Urban Afforestation Plan, a partnership between ICLEI, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, INESC R&D Brazil, various Federal Universities, and the Brazilian Society of Urban Afforestation. This initiative aims to expand biodiversity and ecosystem services in Brazilian cities, fostering greener, more resilient, and sustainable urban environments.

In addition, Alejandro Eder, Mayor of Cali, Colombia, highlighted the 8th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities, an official parallel event to COP16 announced by ICLEI and the City of Cali during the ICLEI World Congress. “I invite local leaders to join this significant event in October to discuss the importance of biodiversity conservation for our cities,” said Mayor Eder.

ICLEI Initiatives in the spotlight

Launched in 2022 during the ICLEI World Congress in Malmö, the Malmö Commitment is a pledge that embeds social equity at the core of local sustainable development. It empowers local and regional leaders to foster safe, vibrant cities, towns, regions, and communities where everyone can live, work, and thrive.

Mayor Jammeh, co-founder of the Malmö Commitment on Inclusive and Equitable Communities, urged fellow Mayors to join the initiative, which is already supported by eleven pioneer cities. During the ICLEI World Congress 2024, the City of Turku, Finland, officially joined the Commitment, with several others expressing interest. “I hope more cities join the Commitment. We can do it so much better when we do it together,” she encouraged.

“The Commitment collaborates with community stakeholders to identify key sustainability challenges, decide on equitable indicators to measure progress and share successes and lessons learned with other committed local governments to develop a pool of knowledge. That’s the way we work in ICLEI,” emphasized Mayor Jammeh.

“My own county, Travis County in Texas, is working with Mérida in Mexico. Our regions are important for producing food, yet people still go hungry in both places. Together, we are designing a sustainable regional food system,” detailed Brigid Shea, Commissioner, Travis County, United States; Board Chair, ICLEI USA Office.

Her words encapsulate the essence of the Cities Forward Initiative, a flagship U.S. State Department resilience-building program. This initiative has paired 12 Latin American and Caribbean cities with 12 U.S. cities, such as Manaus, Brazil, with Albany, New York, and Freeport, Bahamas, with Coral Springs, Florida. These city pairs will collaborate over three years to develop tangible, high-impact resilience projects to serve their most vulnerable residents directly.

“It is unique for the U.S. government because of its focus on global diplomacy from the local level, aiming to build bridges between cities and local leaders,” explained Ms. Shea. She expressed gratitude to the U.S. State Department for entrusting three ICLEI offices—ICLEI USA, ICLEI Mexico and the Caribbean, and ICLEI South America—alongside partners to catalyze impactful resilience projects. “This initiative perfectly aligns with the newly launched ICLEI Strategic Vision 2024 – 2030,” said Ms. Shea, who also announced the launch of the City Forward Academy in 2025, an online learning series where an additional 50 cities can join to learn from the experiences of the 12 paired cities, showcasing how collaboration is the way forward for a sustainable future.

Taiwan’s largest industrial city, Kaohsiung, announced the launch of its Net-Zero Industrial Alliances, the first of its kind across local governments in Taiwan. This initiative aims to assist industrial cities in reducing their carbon emissions, leveraging the strengths of larger enterprises to support the smaller ones. “We are confident that this Alliance will pave the way to a successful transition and a sustainable future,” said Kuo Tien-Kuei, Secretary General, City of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, during the Congress closing plenary.

To support this Alliance, Mr. Tien-Kuei also announced that Kaohsiung and ICLEI, through the ICLEI Capacity Center for East Asia located in the city, have initiated a multi-year project focused on climate neutrality and smart cities. This initiative aims to be a hub for knowledge sharing and exchange on critical climate neutrality issues, particularly across cities in East Asia and the Asia Pacific. ICLEI will soon open a call for this community of practice, inviting cities across its network to collaborate with one another under the chairmanship of Kaohsiung.

In 2023, Kaohsiung enacted the Net-Zero Development, an autonomous ordinance that sets and mandates a net-zero target by 2050. The city also founded the first Net-Zero Institute to cultivate talent in net-zero technology and practice. “These efforts reinforce the three pillars of the city’s net-zero transition: industrial, legislative, and talent,” said Mr. Kuo Tien-Kuei.

The Net-Zero Industrial Alliances build upon other successful initiatives led by Kaohsiung, such as the EcoMobility Alliance, a network of 30 ambitious ICLEI Member cities pioneering sustainable mobility strategies that are efficient, people-centered, low-emission, and environmentally friendly.

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