The 3rd Forum of Mayors (FoM) took place on 2-3 October, in Geneva. It enabled mayors to share valuables experiences on urban regeneration and resilience through a series of roundtables, including through a new “interregional segment”, co-organized by the Global Cities Hub (GCH) and all UN Regional Economic Commissions and which gathered for mayors from all regions. For the first time in UN history, mayors could convey, through the FoM, formal recommendations to UN Member States. In particular, mayors invited States to involve cities and facilitate their participation in all the relevant UN processes, to foster a renewed and inclusive multilateralism. While the FoM is still a young body, the GCH is convinced that it has an immense potential to become a full-fledged UN body to facilitate the engagement of cities and regions on the global stage. Moving forward, the GCH hopes that the FoM will widen its geographical scope and explore how to link up with other parts of International Geneva. The GCH will continue to engage with the FoM and support the development of this new UN body which will meet again in Geneva in 2024.
The 3rd Forum of Mayors (FoM) took place on 2-3 October, in Geneva, under the theme Urban regeneration towards 2030. It brought together about 300 representatives from cities, UN entities (including all UN Regional Commissions), States, as well as from NGOs and academia.
At the heart of the FoM’s mission lies a commitment towards sustainable urban development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Out of the 60 cities represented, 41 city leaders shared their experiences and challenges on urban regeneration and resilience, showcasing solutions that simultaneously meet the needs and aspirations of their residents, hedge against disasters and rise to the climate change challenge, in a manner that supports the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
In his opening speech, Sami Kanaan (Chair of the FoM, President of Global Cities Hub) commended UNECE Member States for their decision in January 2023 to institutionalize the FoM, enabling the voices of local governments to be formally conveyed within the UN. For too long, cities and regions had been excluded from multilateralism and the FoM now remedied to this shortcoming. He expressed his hope that the FoM would develop over the years to become a major UN anchor point for mayors worldwide. An anchor enabling them to voice their concerns to States and to work together to develop effective solutions to global challenges, in a way that takes into account the daily realities faced by local governments.
The Director General of the UN Office in Geneva, the UNECE Executive Secretary and the Advocate of the Forum, Lord Norman Foster, also took part in the opening of the FoM. They respectively stressed the innovative nature of the FoM, as a new UN body capable of conveying recommendations of Mayors to UN Member States, the fact that cities were dealing with the most pressing issues of our time and their crucial role in achieving a sustainable future.
Mayors shared their valuables experiences on urban regeneration and resilience through a series of discussions, including through a new “interregional segment” of the FoM. Co-organized by the Global Cities Hub (GCH) and all UN Regional Economic Commissions, this segment gathered for the first-time mayors from Europe and beyond to discuss challenges and good practices in relation to urban regeneration and building resilience, through their specific regional lens.
During the Forum, it was recognized that cities are often more ambitious than States, when it comes to plans for the future, specifically in regard to sustainability, climate-neutrality and inclusivity. It was also frequently mentioned that city authorities were often best placed to act rapidly in response to crises and emergencies with strong community relationships and strong local knowledge, when it comes to effective and targeted interventions.
Further, cities highlighted that resilience, often embedded within their ambitious plans, extends beyond physical infrastructure. It also encompasses the capacity of communities to adapt, recover, and thrive in the face of change. By prioritizing both the well-being of residents and the preservation of the environment, mayors acknowledged that a resilient urban environment not only withstands external pressures but also nurtures the mental and physical wellness of its inhabitants, fostering a harmonious coexistence between humans themselves and with nature.
There was a great diversity among cities participating to the Forum, with some being faced with specific challenges such as armed conflict, governance weaknesses, serious shortages of water or even mass tourism. Nonetheless, it was interesting to identify commonalities between all of them. These included:
- Combating climate change and extreme weather events, such as floods, drought and heatwaves;
- Addressing the change in demographics, be it in terms of population increase or ageing;
- Ensuring a smooth energy transition and promoting energy-efficient buildings, public lightning and public transport;
- Providing adequate and affordable housing and upgrading informal settlements;
- Fighting air, water and soil pollution;
- Revitalizing deprived areas in cities;
- Limiting the negative impacts of the privatization of land;
- Preparing cities to future shocks, including disasters, pandemics, mass migration influx, etc.
- And last but not least, addressing the significant lack of municipal resources required to confront the many global and local challenges facing mayors on the ground.
Many innovative solutions were presented to tackle these challenges. Some embraced nature-based solutions – like the greening of public space to reduce urban heat or the creation of natural infrastructure to absorb excess water and avoid flooding in urban centers, while others took decisions such as the establishment of clean air zones. Reference was also made to the strict regulation of public transportation prices, locally subsidized social housing, policies limiting the share of income that can be used to pay for rent, to the creation of positive energy areas, to smart technologies saving energy or to the establishment of municipal assemblies to engage residents and ensure their participation in various city initiatives.
City leaders noted the importance of city-to-city cooperation to share best practices, as well as partnerships with international organizations to achieve sustainable urban regeneration and resilience, and to mobilize resources to that effect.
At the end of the Forum, recommendations on urban regeneration were approved by the Forum of Mayors and were transmitted for adoption to the UNECE Committee on urban development, housing and land management. In particular, the FoM made a very important recommendation to UNECE Member States. Mayors invited “Member States to involve cities and facilitate their participation in all the relevant UN processes, to foster a renewed and inclusive multilateralism”.
The FoM elected its new Bureau to prepare its 4th edition to be held in 2024 in Geneva. It was agreed by consensus that the mayors of Skopje/North Macedonia, Braga/Portugal and Glasgow/UK would become members of the Bureau, with Skopje as Chair. It was also decided that the mayor of Geneva/Switzerland would remain as an ex-officio and observer of the Bureau, to continue providing support to the Forum on logistical matters, in its capacity as host city.
In the margins of the FoM, the GCH co-organized several interesting and well-attended events:
- On 2 October, the GCH provided a unique opportunity for mayors to meet with heads of international organizations (UNHCR, WHO, IFRC, UN Habitat) and engage in a dialogue on urban challenges including refugees’ influx, health, climate change and sustainable urban development. All heads of international organizations emphasized that local governments were key interlocutors for them because the local level is where a real difference can be made to people’s lives. Thus, they all reaffirmed their willingness to engage more with mayors in the future, adding value to the ongoing work with States and their central administrations. More information is available here.
- On 3 October, at the initiative of the city of Ghent/Belgium, mayors, UN and civil society representatives discussed how local governments were paving the way towards sustainable global food systems. Although cities around the world confront various issues related to food supply and waste reduction, they all share a common challenge, as one of the UN experts pointed out, “the chips” problem, i.e., the problem of obesity which affects both the wealthy and the less privileged. The leadership of cities in adopting sustainable methods to provide food to their residents emerged as one of the most important topics for discussion among mayors and experts alike during the 3rd FoM.
- The “Building Bridges 2023” Summit in Geneva offered the very opportunity to bring mayors, UN entities and the financial sector around the same table to discuss sustainable financing at local level through UN action. At an event on 3 October, the cities of Amman/Jordan, Dire Dawa/Ethiopia, Dodoma/Tanzania, Kigali/Rwanda, Naga/Philippines, Nakhom Si Thammarat/Thailand and Otavalo/Ecuador spoiled the audience with great examples of projects to achieve SDGs locally, ranging from an Integrated Control and Command Center to deploying Metaverse in schools and building a smart City Observatory, as well as from City Hall solar energization to smart water and waste management. During the event, emphasis was put on the fact that the scale and complexity of achieving SDGs requires concrete and long-term collaboration between a wide range of actors, including the UN, the financial community, asset owners, private sector networks, as well as local and regional governments. More information is available here.
- The Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) – Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) event held on 3 October brought together numerous mayors, government officials and experts. They discussed the elaboration of VLRs that can complement VNRs, to effectively report back on the implementation of the SDGs. The discussion was lively, with some mayors explaining how data collection and presentation can enhance the quality of VLRs, while others – such as the mayor of the city of Dodoma/Tanzania – expressed their intent to prepare their first VLRs. UN Regional Economic Commissions and UN Habitat emphasized the value of regional exchanges on VLRs and how they can support in that regard. The event concluded by underscoring the need for cities to present their VLRs to the national governments through a formal process, thus fostering robust connections with their State’s VNRs.
- Urban resilience is the focus of an interagency project led by all UN Regional Economic Commissions and UN Habitat, with support from GCH. The project aims to enhance the capacity of cities to develop and implement response and recovery plans in times of crises or emergencies (i.e., climate change, natural disasters, conflicts, energy shortages, etc.). Drawing lessons from the successful past project (2020-2022) which supported 16 pilot cities with diagnostic and planning tools to enhance their resilience in relevant areas, the event held on 4 October launched the follow-up project (2023-2025) focusing on the implementation of activities to enhance resilience in 5 pilot cities. More information is available here.
In conclusion, at a time where multilateralism and its effectiveness are constantly questioned, the 3rd edition of the FoM was an inspiring event putting forward numerous good practices, innovative ideas and local solutions from mayors. It highlighted that local governments are at the forefront of addressing global challenges, including climate change, pandemics, mass migration, pollution, growing inequalities, conflicts, etc. The scale and significance of these challenges are such that no State can deal with them in isolation. All States and all levels of the State must play their part and contribute to addressing them. Acknowledging local governments does in no way undermine the role of States and their central administrations, but rather seeks to enhance the effectiveness and relevance of multilateralism by replicating and scaling up local solutions at the global level.
While the FoM is still a young body, GCH is convinced that it has an immense potential to become a full-fledged UN body to facilitate the engagement of cities and regions on the global stage, to strengthen dialogue between cities, the UN and its Member States and create a more inclusive multilateralism, as promoted by UN Secretary General Guterres. Moving forward, GCH hopes that the FoM will widen its geographical scope and explore how to link up with other parts of International Geneva, as mayors do have a lot to share when it comes to addressing challenges in the fields of global health, digitalization, human rights, humanitarian affairs, migration, etc. GCH therefore looks forward to continuing to engage with the FoM and to support the development of this new UN body which will meet again in Geneva in 2024.
 Amman/Jordan, Cotonou/Benin, Damietta/Egypt, Dire Dawa/Ethiopia, Dodoma/Tanzania, Glasgow/United Kingdom, Kigali/Rwanda, Naga/Philippines, Nakhon Si Thammarat/Thailand, Navarro/Argentina, Roma/Italy. Otavalo/Ecuador.