The constituency of local and regional governments at the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly: scaling up stakeholder engagement and advocating for inclusive multilateralism towards the localization of the 2030 Agenda

23 June 2023

The second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly (UNHA2) took place in Nairobi (Kenya), from June 5 to 9, focusing on co-creating a sustainable urban future through inclusive and effective multilateralism for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in times of global crises.


Our participation in the UNHA2

In line with the need to rethink our multilateral governance frameworks, the UNHA was established by the UN General Assembly in 2018 as a universal body composed of UN Member States, making it a blueprint for renewing multilateralism.


For the organized constituency of local and regional governments, participating in the UNHA2 was a central moment of our localization agenda, linked with the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) and consultations in between, leading up towards the culmination of 2023 milestones at the SDG Summit and beyond towards the UN Summit of the Future and the World Social Summit. It also was an opportunity to call for the international community to better recognize and further encourage the vital role local and regional governments play in accelerating  transformation from the bottom-up.


As the main legislative and decision-making body on sustainable urbanization and human settlements, what was at stake at the UNHA2 was the identification of key issues for the normative and policy work of UN-Habitat, as well as the adoption of declarations, resolutions and formal decisions, and the definition of recommendations on strategies for the implementation of the global agendas for sustainable development.


Our key takeaways

The World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments convened by the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments as part of the official programme of the UNHA2 was a success, with the participation of mayors and governors from all over the world, exchanging with Member States representatives and partners on commitments to bolster local public service provision as a lever to localize the 2030 Agenda, and reiterating our constituency’s commitments towards the HLPF, the SDG Summit and the Summit of the Future.


Representatives of the Global Taskforce also took part in official sessions and organized different side events throughout the week. Particular emphasis was placed on housing as a right and a basic service, and the Global Observatory on Sustainable Proximities was officially launched by its founding members, including UCLG and C40, placing new visions for urban and territorial planning at the heart of discussions on sustainable cities and communities.


A resolution was adopted focusing on the localization of the SDGs. This in itself is a big step towards recognizing localization as the necessary process of implementing the SDGs in different territories, taking into account their specific contexts. From our perspective, the challenge was to make localization a common objective for all stakeholders and at all levels, and to recognize and support the role of local and regional governments in achieving the SDGs. The resolution only partially meets our expectations, in that it does not recall the historical and current role played by city networks in promoting localization, understood as a political process ranging from decision-making to monitoring and reporting, and acting as a testament of the political will of local and regional governments to meet the Goals.


UCLG participated in the Second Global Stakeholder Forum and in the drafting of its declaration to the UNHA2, advocating for the establishment of a UN-Habitat stakeholder engagement and coordination mechanism recognizing the contribution of self-organized stakeholders. Discussions on this mechanism will be resumed in 2025.


Overall, the UNHA2 didn’t allow for the definition of a political agenda for structurally and systematically integrating local and regional governments, their associations and their networks in global decision-making processes. The terminology around local and regional governments is still causing discussion even though it is part of the coming international agendas. Furthermore, the critical importance of the New Urban Agenda as catalyzer of the implementation of all other global agendas still needs to be further emphasized to meet its potential. We will therefore continue to advocate for renewing multilateralism and multilevel governance, to make them more inclusive and representative, based on decentralization and subsidiarity, and therefore fit for purpose for the challenges and opportunities lying ahead.


Our constituency’s engagement in formal proceedings


In the second Plenary of the UNHA2, during the opening day, Ms. Fatimetou Abdel Malick, President of Nouakchott Region, Co-President of UCLG and chair of the UCLG Standing Committee on Gender Equality, recalled the role of the New Urban Agenda to catalyze the localization of the 2030 Agenda. Mr. Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener and Co-President of UCLG, participated in the high-level thematic session on housing, recalling it as a right and a basic service, a precondition for the fulfillment of other human rights and the right to the city.


Mr. Emil Dardak, Vice Governor of East Java Province, Ms. Rohey Malick Lowe, Mayor of Banjul and President of REFELA, and Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa, participated in the High Level Interactive Strategic Dialogue on Special Theme of the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly. They emphasize the localization of the SDGs as a political process, and the necessity to make it more open, inclusive, and driven by cities and local communities from the bottom up.


The Global Stakeholder Forum and its declaration to the UNHA2


UCLG took part in the Second Global Stakeholder Forum facilitated by the UN-Habitat Stakeholder Advisory Group Enterprise (SAGE). The self-organized stakeholders jointly identified key elements of multilateralism to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs in times of global crises. Our constituency was represented through UCLG in the Drafting Group of the declaration, as well as in the Working Groups on multilateralism and SDG localization


Calling for the establishment of an UN-Habitat stakeholder engagement and coordination mechanism recognizing stakeholder participation as critical to inclusive and effective multilateralism, the stakeholders drafted the outcome document of the Forum: the Declaration of the Second Global Stakeholder Forum: Making Multilateralism Work.


The decision was taken to resume UNHA2 for two days in May 2025, including discussing the stakeholder engagement policy of UN-Habitat if the Executive Board has it ready by then.


The World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments and the Statement of the GTF to the UNHA2


The World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments (WALRG) was convened by the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, facilitated by UCLG, and was held as part of the official program of the UNHA2. As the representative mechanism through which the organized constituency of local and regional governments provides inputs to the global agendas, the WALRG allowed our constituency and its partners, including Member States, international organizations, and civil society, to come together to reflect on the challenges ahead, and the role local and regional governments must play to overcome them. This included recalling the importance of consolidated multilevel and multistakeholder partnerships for the equitable provision of local public services, to enable systemic change and achieve the global agendas.

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Reiterating our constituency’s commitment to accelerate SDG localization and calling for revitalizing multilateralism to drive global transformation from the bottom-up, the Statement of the organized constituency of local and regional governments to the UNHA2 was adopted at the end of the WALRG. More details on the WALRG can be found here.


The WALRG served as a preparatory moment to make sure that the advocacy driven by our organized constituency throughout 2023 contributes towards the SDG 11 review at the United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the SDG Summit and next year's Summit of the Future, placing the right to the city and equality at the core of our efforts for the localization of the 2030 Agenda. Upcoming important milestones for our constituency include the Local and Regional Governments Forum during the HLPF in July, and the next session of the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments co-convened by the Mayor of New York within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly high-level week in September.


Final outcomes of the UNHA2: Ministerial Declaration and resolutions on SDG localization and informal settlements


During the final day of the Second Session of the UNHA, delegates approved the Ministerial Declaration, titled ‘A Sustainable Urban Future through Inclusive and Effective Multilateralism: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Times of Global Crisis,’ and ten resolutions, paving the way for the work of UN-Habitat over the next four years.


The resolution on the “Localization of the Sustainable Development Goals” includes a call for national governments and UN-Habitat to foster engagement with and support to local and regional governments and their associations to localize the SDGs, and strengthen subnational reporting capacities. The resolution recognizes Voluntary Local and Subnational Reviews as “essential tools to show progress and foster exchange on local implementation of the SDGs”.


For our constituency, this resolution is both an opportunity, to build on the role it gives to UN-Habitat in strengthening subnational reporting efforts, and a challenge, as the role of city networks in amplifying awareness, knowledge exchange and commitments to the 2030 Agenda is not explicitly acknowledged. Therefore as part of our collaboration with UN-Habitat and through our participation in United Nations processes, we will continue stressing the political dimension of localization efforts and subnational reporting initiatives, understood as a means to build the case for placing localization at the heart of all global development agendas.


The resolution on “Accelerating Transformation of Informal Settlements and Slums by 2030” calls for an enhanced plan of action to accelerate transformation in close linkages with the localization of SDG 11, through multilevel and multistakeholder governance, participatory spatial planning, knowledge exchange and improved data collection, and adequate and flexible finance models. While steps have been taken to advance towards a whole-of-government approach for partnerships including local and regional governments, they should be integrated in a more structural way and their role in guaranteeing the right to adequate housing should be recognized.


The resolution on “Biodiverse and Resilient Cities – Mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystem services into urban and territorial planning”, recalls the multiple international processes that can contribute to achieving urban resilience, including but not limited to the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the Plan of Action on Subnational Governments, Cities and Other Local Authorities for Biodiversity under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The resolution highlights that these processes recognize the importance of local and regional governments in addressing biodiversity loss and building resilience. However, the resolution does not mention concrete engagement with or support to local governments in its call for Member States and UN-Habitat to encourage a shift in urbanization that takes into account biodiversity and ecosystem services.


Sustainable proximities, the New Urban Agenda and the right to the city, and climate action: the side events co-organized by the GTF



During the UNHA2, the city networks gathered in the GTF organized side events encompassing themes such as integrating sustainable proximities for people centered policy and urban planning, the New Urban Agenda and the Right to the City, SDG localization and accessibility, local finance, and the ecological transition. 


The Global Observatory of Sustainable Proximities was officially launched in Nairobi by its founding partners, IAE Paris Sorbonne Business School Chair ETI, UCLG, UN-Habitat, and C40. As a global common space for reflection, exchange, and action around the theme of urban proximity, the Observatory aims at developing joint proximity principles, indicators, and measures; building a global centre for knowledge sharing and capacity building; and gathering a global network supporting city implementation. Placing people at the centre of urban planning, proximity focuses on ensuring an equitable distribution of all essential social functions of the city, freeing both time from constrained mobility and space from vehicular traffic.


The role of the New Urban Agenda as catalyzer of transformation at the local and global levels was recalled in relation with our vision for the Right to the City, building upon stronger alliances between local and regional governments, civil society and grassroots organizations, national governments and international organizations. Aiming at guaranteeing access to quality public services and accelerating the achievement of all development agendas, commitments were reiterated on the need to eliminate poverty, end forced evictions and guarantee access to land, and ensure the inclusion and participation of all communities in democratic decision-making processes.


Our constituency and networks of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments focused on the climate emergency, incentivizing action to respond to pollution, foster territorial balance, transform food systems and build upon nature-based solutions, through urban planning, multilevel governance, and strengthened urban-rural linkages.


Looking ahead: towards the HLPF, the SDG Summit and the Summit of the Future


In July, the United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) will be an occasion to reiterate that the realization of SDG 11 is both the beginning and the aim of a sustainable and inclusive future for all, and to highlight the leadership that local and regional governments have demonstrated to achieve it. At the SDG Summit in September, we will further stress the role of the New Urban Agenda and SDG localization as catalyzers of all the global development agendas, and the need for reinforced capacities for local and regional governments to be able to respond to the aspirations of communities. Looking towards the Summit of the Future, the ministerial declaration of the SDG Summit must start paving the way towards a networked set of multilateral institutions enabling transformation towards more distributed decision-making for the collective well-being of us all.


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