Sustainable Development Goals and public participation in focus at Cities and Regions for International Partnerships forum.
Regions and cities will be central to the European Union's efforts to support sustainable development in Europe and across the world in the coming years, the European Commission told politicians and officials from scores of countries at an event co-organised by the European Committee of the Regions. They also heard that the EU will soon launch a portal to make it easier for regions and cities on different continents – Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America – to team up as they seek to achieve the United Nations' Agenda 2030 including the Sustainable Development Goals.
The forum of Cities and Regions for International Partnerships was held on 29-30 November, on the eve of an announcement by the European Commission that it will try to raise €300 billion in public and private funds by 2027 to finance infrastructure projects abroad, including projects and programmes to support a green and sustainable recovery from the pandemic.
Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, said: "Cities not only produce 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, but can also be havens for poverty, inequality and political instability. Therefore, ensuring the world's cities and regions are well designed, managed and financed must be one of our top goals."
The European Commission, which has changed the name of its development department for 'development cooperation' to 'international partnerships' to reflect the central role that partnerships will play in achieving the SDGs, has €500 million of funding that it can allocate directly to regions and cities between 2021 and 2027. It has also changed how it structures its work, based on geography rather than issues. The hope is that this will lead to more integrated projects and programmes, with closer partnerships between stakeholders in particular countries as well as with the EU. "We need to give local and regional authorities the strongest possible say," said Martin Seychell, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for International Partnerships.
Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions, highlighted the challenge, saying: "The loss of the specific local authorities' thematic programme must be compensated by increasingly taking into account local and regional authorities within national and multi-country programmes." Reflecting on his experience of the international climate talks in Glasgow in October, President Tzitzikostas said: "We need to find collective solutions, including through cooperation. Strategically speaking, we need to create partnerships because member states alone do not go far; neither international organizations can achieve much alone; we need all levels of governance work together to achieve results. Mayors and regional leaders are ready to cooperate, because a lot can be achieved on the ground and with a bottom-up approach."
President Tzitzikostas also stressed the role of local leaders in improving how decisions are made. "Good governance means also to shorten the distance between rulers and citizens," he said. "In this challenge, local authorities help in bridging institutions and citizens thus helping in better shaping decision which have territorial impact; this is valid in Europe, and elsewhere."
This year, the forum, which has been held once every two over the past 12 years, focused specifically on collecting feedback from local and regional politicians and municipal and regional officials on the challenges that they are facing and solutions that they are finding in their work on sustainable development and efforts to involve local communities. The forum, held this year entirely online, itself adopted a participatory approach, with the roughly 700 registered participants – a record – working in 23 specific groups.
Speaking for the European Committee of the Regions, Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES), member of Catania Municipal Council, said that the results would be used as "strategic recommendations to be considered by EU services and partner governments when finalising programming documents and to guide EU engagement with local and regional communities during the programming".
Distilling some of the feedback, Fatimetou Abd el Malick, president of the Regional Council of Nouakchott in Mauritania, said that increased resilience, cooperation between and across sectors and levels of government, and social acceptance were among the principle challenges. Funding to develop the capacity of local authorities, public-private partnerships, and educational campaigns would, she suggested, be critical for progress. She also highlighted the value of city-to-city and region-to-region partnerships. Nouakchott itself has a partnership with the Swiss city of Lausanne, focused on improving conditions in its shanty towns.
To encourage similar collaboration, the European Commission will in the coming months launch a portal to help cities and regions to find partners and to develop peer-to-peer activities.
Donal Cannon of the European Investment Bank said that there is now significant potential to develop a "virtuous circle" for sustainable urban infrastructure and environmental goals. A recent €1.5 billion bond issue by the EIB to support biodiversity had been 15 times over-subscribed, he noted, and Kampala had managed very successfully to transform greater financial independence from the national government into a "virtuous circle" of greater tax revenues, strategic investment, improved financial credentials, and greater financial investment. "Cities can do no better than to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals", he said.
President Tzitzikostas and Commissioner Urpilainen
Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES)