Mayors are key interlocutors for international organizations

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On the margins of the 3rd Forum of Mayors, the Global Cities Hub 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 are 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 their ongoing work with States and their central administrations. And a space exists for international organizations to work directly with Mayors, including to craft positive narrative about refugee flows, to work on pandemic prevention or to get access to international resources to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi covered aspects related to forced displacement and the fact that more than 70% of refugees end up in cities, in search of new socio-economic opportunities. Hence, he underlined: “Cities are key interlocutors. You’re the ones taking the lead in including refugees in society. I fully appreciate how mayors go out of their way, often with inadequate resources, to host and protect refugees”. HC Grandi recalled that his office was also there to provide technical expertise to municipalities and to mobilize international funding, including in the framework of UNHCR’s partnership with the World Bank (cf. Window for Host communities and Refugees). Ensuring that the resources go down to the level where the issue can be solved is a point that HC Grandi consistently makes, when engaging with States. In response to questions put forward by cities about differing views on migration between the local and national authorities, HC Grandi encouraged cities to build a common and positive discourse with UNHCR about refugees, to counter the negative narrative which can only lead to failure. Finally, he pointed out that cities can be active participants at the Global Refugee Forum, which is conceived as a multi-stakeholder event, thereby encouraging the contribution of cities and other relevant actors.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus underlined the critical role of cities in relation to health. While cities are centres of economic activity, innovation and progress, they are also highly vulnerable to public health threats. This was recalled in a resolution on urban preparedness adopted in 2022 at the World Health Assembly. Dr. Tedros also referred to the ongoing negotiation processes on a new pandemic accord and in that regard, commended mayors for their Declaration for better pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, which was formally conveyed to him by Sami Kanaan, president of GCH and Ricardo Rio, chair of GPM during the meeting. In particular, he expressed appreciation at the fact that mayors called for equity to be at the heart of the accord and for a whole-of-government approach in pandemic matters. In terms of resources for municipal authorities, Dr. Tedros informed that the Green Climate Fund had started looking into health matters and that the World Bank was now disbursing resources through its Pandemic fund. In concluding his intervention, Dr. Tedros highlighted that “I am a strong believer of empowering cities, because of their strong connection to communities. WHO is committed to supporting mayors who are at the forefront of meeting the many challenges affecting urban health”.

Read his remarks here.

IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain addressed the issue of localisation of humanitarian action (i.e., increasing resources for and partnerships with local humanitarian actors) and he emphasized the central role of mayors in this regard. Mayors stand at the centre of urban systems which must become more resilient, in particular vis-à-vis climate change. SG Chapagain affirmed that cities will increasingly be affected by climate-related disasters and for that purpose, the intergovernmental discussions of climate COPs must also have resonance at the local level. Further, he expressed his firm belief that climate funding should also trickle down to municipalities, where the impact can be most important. In relation to that, he pointed at two international funds that may provide resources to cities, including the IFRC disaster response emergency fund as well as a more recent IFRC climate fund.

UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director Michal Mlynár welcomed the opportunity to engage directly with mayors in particular since it does contribute to the more inclusive and networked multilateralism as promoted by UNSG Guterres in the “Common Agenda”. He invited mayors to engage in multilateral processes, in particular the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which can only be successful if local governments get on board. DED Mlynár informed mayors about the upcoming launch of the UNSG Advisory Board on Local and Regional Governments on 6 october. The board will be composed of 5 States and 15 mayors and its mandate will be to issue recommendations on how to realize a more inclusive multilateralism in view of the 2024 Summit of the future. Further, DED Mlynár also informed about the next World Urban Forum to be held in Cairo in November 2024 and invited all mayors to attend this important urban gathering.

The meeting organized by the Global Cities Hub provided an excellent opportunity for mayors to engage with crucial actors of the International Geneva ecosystem. Dialogue must be strengthened as mayors’ contributions to multilateral processes help find solutions to global challenges and as international organizations value their partnerships with local governments to make a real difference on the ground. The GCH will therefore continue in the future to create opportunities for mayors to meet with international organizations, while also including States in these substantive exchanges.