The 6th UCLG Congress took place in Durban, South Africa between the 11-15 November, where 2,000 delegates including mayors, councillors, presidents of local associations and local and regional practitioners came together to renew the future of the international municipality movement and to discuss bottom-up continental and regional specific priorities, with a focus on gearing up for the implementation decade of the SDGs.

The Congress was opened by the Ndlovu Youth Choir, South African Poet and storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe alongside Mxolisi Kaunda, Executive Mayor of eThekwini Municipality. Opening remarks were made by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Acting President of the Republic of South Africa, by Ms. Graça Machel, Chairperson of the African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes, and by the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond.

The week-long congress had several outputs including the launch of three initiatives to support he localisation of the sustainable development goals, the launch of the International Municipal Investment Fund (IMIF) an initiative of UCLG and the United Nations Capital Development Fund in collaboration with the Global Fund for Cities Development. The fund aims to accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change by increasing the available investment for local SDG-orientated projects in developing countries, with the initial pilot through UCLG working in 14 cities. The congress also launched the “Plant Trees Not Bombs” campaign and the fifth report of the Global Observatory on Decentralisation and Local Democracy (GOLD V).

The UCLG World Secretariat organised a “lab” session on Voluntary Local Reviews – Building Blocks for a Community of Practice chaired by Edgardo Bilsky. Delegates heard from Miquel Rodriguez Planas, Commissioner 2030 Agenda (Barcelona, Spain) who explained how VLRs allow cities to recognise gaps, improve transparency and identify opportunities for innovation, and outlined the cities relationships with Academia and the Private sector, with a centre for Public Private Partnerships [PPPs] operating in Barcelona that links the city with the UN in Europe and is forging private sector involvement in SDG related activities.

The Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees shared his city’s experience in setting up long-term plans with annual targets to 2050 and stressed that while the dialogue around SDGs is largely national, action is local. He described the pressure on local governments from local populations to deliver now, but to take action on the SDGs requires a 15-20 year outlook which doesn’t necessarily satisfy the hunger of the local press, but it’s the city’s role to educate and advocate for these long term strategies.

All speakers emphasised the role of academia as a VLR partner, the importance of local coordination bodies, whole-of city approaches and that incorporating local culture is integral to the reporting process.

UN-Habitat’s representatives, argued that there needs to be more viability for local governments who are taking action on the SDGs and reiterated sentiments that Voluntarily Local Reviews should be tailored to the local context to measure and monitor local progress rather than a universal city ranking or global benchmarking mechanism. The Local 2030 session also outlined the Local 2030 hubs that are supporting multi-sectoral partnerships for the SDGs, with the first two in Parana, Brazil and Hawaii, USA with a Local 2030 hub currently also planned for Melbourne, Australia.

The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in partnership with local municipalities, UN-Habitat and the Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) have been working on guidelines for local reporting on the SDGs, resulting in developing improvements in the methodologies for indicators on SDG 11 in particular and a European Handbook on VLRs that they intend to launch at the World Urban Forum in February 2020.

The UN Global Compact – Cities Programme participated in the 6th UCLG Congress, co-organising a LAB session on Ethical City projects for Urban Safety in partnership with the Africa Forum for Urban Safety (AFUS). Prof. Ralph Horne, Head of Partnerships, also facilitated a discussion between representatives of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) as part of a Town Hall session on Sustainable Urban Development. Examples on how to establish multi-stakeholder partnerships were presented, and by the end of the session participants developed some messages for the World Assembly. These included suggestions of an ethical code that parties can sigh-up to, as a mechanism that can enhance transparency in partnerships; capacity building training to minimise the asymmetries of power and information in partnerships; among others.

For more information on the outcomes of the 6th UCLG Congress, you can continue reading in the UCLG Bulletin summary and IISD’s daily coverage of the conference here.

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