In 2020, UNECE Member States decided to establish a Forum of Mayors (FoM), thereby acknowledging the important role of cities and local authorities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The FoM has developed over the years and in 2023, it was decided that the FoM should become a proper UN body, subsidiary to the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management (CUDHLM).
The FoM is a new type of UN body – composed of local governments – and thus fosters inclusive multilateralism in International Geneva. “I would be tempted to call this decision historic and a remarkable step in the direction of modern and more inclusive global governance; especially here in Geneva which is recognized as a major centre of multilateralism.” – said Sami Kanaan, President of Geneva Cities Hub (GCH) and Mayor of the City of Geneva, following the important decision by UNECE member States to institutionalize the FoM. See the entire inaugural speech here.
At a time when multilateralism is sometimes called into question, it is important for the UN to remain a space for open dialogue. Geneva, as the cradle of international cooperation, is the most adequate place to host the FoM. As part of the FoM’s 3rd edition, an “interregional segment” will be organized to enable the participation of mayors from other regions. This segment will be organized by the GCH, in close collaboration with other UN Regional Economic Commissions: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC); Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
(see more below on the 3rd Forum of Mayors, 2-3 October 2023)
Origins of the Forum of Mayors
In 2019, the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management (CUDHLM) organized a Day of Cities on “Smart Sustainable Cities: Drivers for Sustainable Development”. The event brought together over 50 mayors from 33 countries and 400 participants. The discussions highlighted that more direct engagement by local governments was needed at the international level to meet the targets of urban-related SDGs.
Building up on that event, Russia as UNECE member suggested to establish a Forum of Mayors to further facilitate the exchange of experiences and discuss solutions to address challenges to achieve the SDGs in urban areas (see E/2019/37E/ECE/1488, §28). In 2020, the CUDHLM therefore agreed to dedicate one day of its 80th session to discussions concerning and involving the participation of local authorities, in particular mayors.
Mandate of the Forum of Mayors
The FoM focuses on specific thematic issues related to sustainable urban development, housing and land management (see ECE/HBP/201, §35). Overall, the FoM enables the exchange of concrete actions and innovative solutions on urban resilience. Further, the FoM is invited to “transmit its recommendations on how to address the challenges that local authorities/governments face in achieving sustainable urban development, housing and land management to the [CUDHLM and other relevant UNECE bodies] in the context of assisting [them] in [their] activities in the ECE region” (see ECE/HBP/201, §35).
See more on the Forum’s mandate here.
Steering Committee of the Forum of Mayors – replaced in 2023 by a Bureau of the Forum of Mayors
To support the FoM, the CUDHLM first established a Steering Committee composed of interested CUDHLM Bureau members and sustainable smart cities nexus experts from UNECE. Among its functions, the Steering Committee was to assist the Secretariat with the identification of mayors to be invited to the FoM (with the consent of respective Member States), the identification of the FoM’s topic and of relevant cases to be presented, as well as with the provision of advice on substantive matters (see ECE/HBP/201, §35).
Members of the Steering Committee included Switzerland (Chair), France, Albania, Portugal, Hungary, Spain, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Italy as well as other stakeholders such as the GCH, the Norman Foster Foundation and UN Habitat. The decisions of the Steering Committee were then usually endorsed by the CUDHLM Bureau and/or UNECE Executive Committee.
In 2023, with the institutionalization of the FoM, a Bureau of the FoM has been established. The Bureau of the CUDHLM selected the following members for the first Bureau of the FoM:
- Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva, as Chairperson
- Ihor Oleksandrovych Terekhov, Mayor of Kharkiv, as Vice-Chairperson
- Katja Dörner, Mayor of Bonn, as Vice-Chairperson
The 1st Forum of Mayors and the Geneva Declaration of Mayors (2020)
The 1st FoM took place in Geneva on 6 October 2020 and focused on “City Action for a Resilient Future: Strengthening Local Government Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and the Impact of Disasters and Climate Change”. It was co-moderated by the Mayor of Geneva and President of the GCH. It further opened the multilateral stage to city leaders by bringing over 40 mayors from 39 countries.
This 1st FoM enabled urban leaders to share concrete actions and innovative solutions on city resilience, with a specific focus on Covid-19 and climate change. Mayors underlined that, despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, it constituted an unprecedented opportunity to develop and implement new SGDs-anchored initiatives towards greener, healthier, more equitable and affordable cities for their local communities. The tone of the meeting was therefore resolutely optimistic. The FoM’s conclusions (see ECE/HBP/206, Annex II) fed into the decision-making process of the 81st session of the CUDHLM, which was thus in a better position to draft and adopt tailored and targeted instructions for UNECE member States.
The FoM culminated with the endorsement of the Geneva Declaration of Mayors, in which mayors committed to strengthen the resilience of their cities, make them greener, ensure sustainable urban transport and affordable housing for all, as well as to make their cities more equitable and inclusive.
The 2nd Forum of Mayors (2022)
The 2nd FoMs took place on 4-5 April 2022 in Geneva (see Summary report). It was held back-to-back with the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD) so as to link local and national action in support of the achievement of the SDGs. Mr. Sami Kanaan, deputy Mayor of Geneva and President of the GCH, underlined in its opening statement that the Forum is unique because it enables local authorities to get a voice and share their perspectives in a UN multilateral framework. Further, the FoM embodies the willingness of UN Secretary General Guterres to move towards a modern and more inclusive multilateralism.
The overall theme of the 2nd FoM was aligned with the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and the RFSD: “Recovering from COVID-19, while advancing the implementation of the SDGs“. It enabled mayors and vice-mayors from 44 cities to share their experiences and innovative practices under 4 main topics:
- Resilient, healthy and climate-neutral buildings and affordable and adequate housing
- Vibrant public spaces, green cities and nature-based solutions
- Sustainable urban transport, shared mobility and safer roads
- Sustainable urban planning, the 15-minute city and smart urban development solutions
The 3d Forum of Mayors (2023)
Thanks to the FoM’s new institutional standing (see decision here), mayors had the opportunity to make recommendations to the CUDHLM and/or adopt declarations, which were then registered as official UN documents. Further, the new interregional segment allowed mayors from other regions to also take part in the 2023 Forum of Mayors.
Potential of the Forum of Mayors
The FoM is unique within the UN. It enables direct engagement of mayors at the international level to exchange concrete actions and innovative solutions on urban resilience and to strengthen the cooperation between the UN, its Member States and local and regional governments.
The GCH believes it constitutes one of the most promising UN tools to further open the multilateral intergovernmental stage to cities, thereby heeding the call of the UN Secretary General’s call for a more inclusive multilateralism, according to his report “Our Common Agenda”. The FoM also resonates particularly well with the recommendations of the UN Secretary General’s High-level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism on the need to better include local and regional governments within multilateralism, for instance through the provision of a formal status for cities and regions at the UN.
Although the FoM is anchored within UNECE and therefore considered as a regional event, the potential it offers goes well beyond the UNECE region and economic issues, given its broad emphasis on the SDGs. The engagement of Member States is crucial to help the FoM develop its agenda, format, objectives and outcome, and to build-up mutually beneficial relationships with participating mayors.
In the long run, the FoM could become a very interesting UN body where implementation of global policies and decisions/resolutions adopted by States could be discussed by relevant authorities who are anchored on the ground and close to their population. And if Member States so decide, one could even imagine an upgraded and global Forum of Mayors that could report directly to the UN ECOSOC or General Assembly. Heavy political support by Member States will be necessary to that end because challenges will be numerous along the way. However, it would be a missed opportunity for the UN and its Member States not to invest in the Forum of Mayors and open the multilateral doors to city leaders. Cities have gained significant influence over the years at the international level. The FoM would help structure a strategic dialogue between States, cities, the UN and other stakeholders and thereby foster concrete partnerships to address global challenges with a renewed energy.
To learn more, please visit the website of UNECE