The Gatherings of the World Assembly in Durban and Abu Dhabi: Consolidating the voices of our constituency, and speaking directly to the World Urban Forum

23 February 2020

The World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, our constituency’s political mechanism to the international arena, has formally met twice over the last six months: Once, at the World Assembly of Local and Regional Leaders in Durban in November 2019; and again, in the framework of the 10th World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi.


The sitting of the World Assembly was a moment to reflect and celebrate the achievements of the constituency of local and regional governments to celebrate the achievements since Habitat III: The spaces opened at the HLPF, the Renewed UN-Habitat Assembly, or the mobilization towards the various COPs and UNEA-4.The World Assembly is aiming to consolidate spaces for dialogue with civil society and other spheres of government to co-create the transformation societies and communities around the world are calling for, incorporating the visions from the civil society and regions from all over the world.


Over 200 participants, and 30 speakers, took place at the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments in Durban.


The World Assembly was introduced by Mpho Parks Tau, then President of United Cities and Local Governments, representing UCLG; Laia Bonet, Vice-Mayor of Barcelona, as Co-President of Metropolis; Tri Rismaharini, Mayor of Surabaya, representing ICLEI; and Reverend Mpho Moruakgomo, Chairman of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum Board, and facilitated by Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of UCLG.


The gathering formally offered an opportunity for the constituencies of the civil society to provide their recommendations to local and regional governments, certifying its opportunity to consolidate the voices and actions of and constituency, and to enable the urgent transformation that societies and communities around the world are calling for through the principle of solidarity. The World Assembly formally received the recommendations of the World Summit, as well as the outcome documents of the 10 Special Sessions of the Summit.

We are entering a decade in which everything is at stake, and the World Assembly gathered in Durban provided an opportunity to renew the shared commitments to leave no-one and no place behind, to accelerate actions to achieve sustainability, and to rethink partnerships among all stakeholders holding this shared vision. 

Throughout the session, participants called for the New Urban Agenda to be brought to the table as an accelerator of the SDGs, and all of the universal development agendas. Further, they commended all of the sister Networks of the Global Taskforce for their work in enhancing local efforts on the implementation of the agendas.


The first panel, Challenges and priorities: the quest of Local and Regional Governments in the current context, was led by mayors who discussed challenges such as climate change, an adverse financing environment, and enhancing dialogue among all spheres of government, and moderated by Kobie Brand, from ICLEI. Souad Abderrahim, Mayor of Tunis; Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva; Madelaine Yorobe, Mayor of Iriga; and Gunn-Marit Helgesen, Councillor of Telemark, were the participants of the first session.


Mayor Abderrahim placed a specific emphasis in furthering dialogues with national governments to reinforce the role of cities, whereas Mayor Kanaan and Councilor Helegsen called to strengthen the multilevel system, calling on national governments and international institutions to acknowledge local and regional governments at all stages of the decision-making process. Mayor Yorobe called for adressing the rural and urban linkages to ensure a cohesive development, which will result in more resilient cities, able to face not just natural disasters, but also man-made crises.


The gathering included recommendations by the Huairou Commission who provided outcomes of the Town Hall meeting on Gender Equality, such as fostering partnerships among grassroots women and local leaders, disseminate and incubate knowledge regarding gender equality, and affirm the role of the Networks of the Global Taskforce in women-led equality organization.


The World Blind Union provided the inputs from its constituency on the Town Hall on Sustainable Urban Development, stressing that designing cities that leave no one behind means collectively defining clear objectives and lines, developing the principle of accountability, and having the capacity to work together, under a clear common vision.


The second panel, “Driving policy innovation from the bottom-up”, was moderated by Greg Munro, Secretary General of CLGF, and dealt with the innovations driven by local and regional governments in order to carry out the agendas from the level closest to their citizens. Representatives from the local and regional governments’ constituency presented their positions and programmes to overcome national frameworks and contribute to the achievement of the global agenda.


Dave Cull, Mayor of Dunedin, argued for taking a whole-of-society approach to achieve the goals, listening and providing platforms to all stakeholders. The role of the Civil society as an integral partner for implementation was highlighted by Rohey Malik Lowe, who also commended the role and inputs of grassroots women. Vice Mayor of Paris Patrick Klugman highlighted local and regional governments as the link between communities and national governments.


Mayor of Ouagadougou Armand Beouindé called for this link to be strengthened by renewing financial mechanisms, and innovating on the ways in which local governments could access finance. Mayor of l’Hospitalet Núria Marín echoed this sentiment, calling for enhanced policy frameworks and better access to finance to allow local and regional governments to feel accompanied through a multilevel governance system.


The Global Platform on the Right to the City provided the inputs on the Town Hall of the same matter, and called to build coalitions among local governments, and other stakeholders with the aim of “co-producing” cities that mainstream a human rights perspective. The Platform further emphasized that mainstreaming the Right to the City across cities is the way to bring the voices of communities to their institution.


The final panel, Leading the local-global coalition towards the implementation decade, was moderated by Octavi de la Varga, Secretary General of Metropolis, and highlighted how local and regional leaders were acting together with other stakeholders to carry out the goals. Mayor of Subang Jaya Noraini Roslan called for working together to ensure that actions carried out by local governments have a global impact. Vera Galushko, Mayor of Krasnodar, argued for ensuring this global impact by consolidating structural spaces of dialogue with national governments and the international systems and involving in the monitoring and reporting of the global agendas.


Mohamed Boudra, Mayor of Al Hoceima, and President of UCLG called to ensure that the collective learning of Networks and associations be put to good use by local and regional governments. Manuel de Araujo, Mayor of Quelimane, further called on sister organizations to localize the global agendas and commended their work on behalf of local governments, which is where they gain their legitimacy


The local-global partnership that gave birth to the Seville Commitment was called on to enhance multilevel dialogue by Soham El Wardini, Mayor of Dakar, who commended the World Assembly as the political mechanism that builds from the diversity of our constituency, amplifying the voices at international level.


The recommendations of the Town Hall on Addressing Informalities were provided by Cities Alliance, who stated that providing specific references to the urban poor, ensuring access of informal workers to housing and public services, and planning for inclusivity were the only ways to ensure equal access to the city.


The outcomes of the Town Hall on Sustainable and Inclusive Cities were provided by the UN Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility, citing that sustainability is essential for attaining SDG 11, and necessary for sustainable development.


The Outcome Document of the World Assembly in Durban envisions a renewed and stronger World Assembly, calling to accelerate actions to achieve sustainability, and rethinks its partnerships among all stakeholders and civil society. The Outcome document views the World Assembly as a mechanism that goes beyond the amplification of voices of local governments, and towards a space of joint policymaking.


Sister organizations, networks and associations of local and regional governments called on the World Assembly to continue carrying out full decentralization to empower local and regional governments, securing dialogues among spheres of government, and enhancing capacities and access to finance for local and regional governments to ensure the renewal of the multilateral system


The Outcome Document acknowledges the “implementation decade” as a “final window of opportunity to bend the curve of the current trajectory”, and argues that the localization of the global agendas is essential to solve the interconnected challenges that the planet is facing. The World Assembly is a platform that will enable the local-global movement for localization to contribute to their achievement and thus the wellbeing of humanity.





Structured around three moments, the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments in Abu Dhabi gathered 50 speakers, ranging from local and regional governments, national governments, and other stakeholders, exchanged perspectives, provided practices and examples, and laid out recommendations to the World Urban Forum in the dialogues that took place.


Representatives from all of the networks of the Global Taskforce facilitated a World Assembly that spoke directly to the dialogues that took place within the World Urban Forum, bringing forward the role that local and regional governments can play in developing a sustainable development model strongly anchored in culture and human rights, upholding public service provision to ensure adequate living standards for all.  


With strong participation from national governments as well as the cultural sector and other constituencies (academia, the civil society) the Assembly showcased the commitment of our constituency to open spaces for transformation for all stakeholders building on the outcomes of the previous World Assembly.


Global partnerships and initiatives for sustainable urbanization, and how urbanization affects and is affected by culture and innovation


Throughout the first moment, participants showcased their commitments to securing strong partnerships, and calling for multilevel and collaborative action to achieve sustainable urbanization, raise the global climate ambition, and respond to the challenges of the decade as one humanity.


Participants from local and regional governments argued that local service provision are integral to foster culture as well as to achieve the global goals. Partnerships among all spheres of government, the civil society and other organizations was identified as the way forward, and national governments, the international system and other stakeholders need to be a part of local service provision, developing enabling and sustainable financing mechanisms.


The role of culture and identity in peacebuilding was explored, in particular, by participants from the global south, who identified the necessity of planning cities for everyone. Gender mainstreaming was identified as an essential component for equal access to the city by everyone. The role of local and regional governments in acting and ensuring gender responsive public policies will allow to anchor protective spaces for all of the people in cities.


Local and regional governments play a key role in maximizing the relationship between culture and sustainable urbanization, and are integral to preserve heritage


Participants argued for the inclusion of heritage in urban planning, in particular in areas where it is most threatened, and to evaluate the impact of our actions on our urban heritage to ensure respect for cultural diversity. Representatives from national governments pointed out that dialogue between spheres of government is integral to preserve cultural heritage. Mapping cultural rights and a solid communication among all stakeholders, in particular with the civil society and cultural groups, will allow for creativity and development to flourish in cities.


Throughout, participants reiterated the importance of learning from one’s cultural identity and applying the lessons learnt to truly integrate culture as a strand of global solidarity, asking questions about what heritage entails for the younger generations and how to foster ownership on cultural heritage and identity in a globalized. Cultural diversity was hailed as an essential lever to link local and global heritages, peace, and the achievement of the global agendas.


How local and regional governments shape new technology for the future of their communities, and harness innovation for the achievement of the global goals.


One of the other key themes of the World Urban Forum was innovation. Participants argued for embracing technology as a tool that will allow local governance to thrive and allow a more direct relationship with our citizens, and to train communities to make best use of them.


Representatives from the cultural sector argued that innovation is not born in a vacuum, and that our own heritages, cultures, and identities are in and of themselves essential for innovation. There were also voices that argued for understanding innovation as a concept that goes beyond technology, and called for bridging the gap between territories that are more adapted to new technologies and to make use of technologies in ways that would harness the potential of communities.


The final conversation of the World Assembly was a call to action for the localization of the global agendas, for true local ownership, as the best way in which the innovation and the cultural acquis of local and regional governments would be harnessed for the future of humanity. Participants referred, once again, to basic service provision as integral for the achievement of the global goals, and argued that community involvement is essential for local ownership of the agendas.


The dialogues that took place within the World Assembly contributed to shape the statement of the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, that called on national governments and the international system to join our constituency in securing the place of culture in sustainable development, placing people at the center of human life, and committed to continue consolidating the World Assembly as the representative mechanism for our constituency to provide inputs to the universal development agendas.