A high-level event, convened by the UNGA, FAO and UN-Habitat, addressed the role of cities in sustainable development, food security, nutrition and climate change.
Issues discussed include: the need to address the lack of resources cities and local governments have access to; the need for finance to go directly to the cities; the importance of local activism in advancing global agendas; the need for clear regulations and stable regulatory environments when engaging with the private sector for resources; and the need for solidarity among cities instead of competition.
19 February 2019: Mayors and representatives from cities gathered for a high-level meeting to share experiences of effective local practices, innovative strategies, and lessons learned in addressing climate change, food insecurity and malnutrition, and food supply and consumption sustainability. The meeting was convened by the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, together with the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).
The event addressed the theme, ‘From Global Issues to Local Priorities: The Role of Cities in the Global Agenda, Including Cities for Sustainable Development, Food Security, Nutrition and Climate Change,’ and took place on 19 February 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.
Participants discussed ways to address “key global challenges that require holistic local solutions,” including food insecurity and malnutrition (SDG 2), human well-being (SDG 3), sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG 12) and climate change (SDG 13), that “can be spearheaded by visionary leadership from cities that strive to become inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (SDG 11). Represented cities included: Valencia, Spain; Quito, Equador; Praia, Cabo Verde; Surabaya, Indonesia; and New York.
Opening the event, Espinosa Garcés noted that currently more than 55% of the world’s population is urban, with the percentage expected to rise to 68% by 2050, which makes urban population a central player in global economy and development. In order to overcome the common challenges cities face, Espinosa said major cities are increasingly developing a network-based “city diplomacy.” She further underscored that the relationship between climate change, food security, and urban action is central to delivering on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Graziano da Silva pointed out that “we cannot only blame the mother if her child is obese.” He explained that there are currently no consistent or comprehensive regulations for healthy food. To address that gap, he gave the successful example of some countries that use taxation and ban marketing of unhealthy food to children.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat, said the issues that the event was focusing on are considered in an interlinked manner in the 2030 Agenda, the New Urban Agenda (NUA), and the Paris Agreement on climate change, with cities and local governments playing a key role in the implementation of these agendas.
To support the growing global population, we need to build the equivalent of a city of 1.4 million people every week for the next 30 years and deliver 70% more food.
Mauricio Esteban Rodas Espinel, Mayor of Quito, added that vertical integration is essential for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and the NUA. He noted that we need to define new responsibilities for local governments, but also to provide them with the legal expertise and financial resources they need to fulfill those responsibilities. We also need to rethink the financial architecture, he said, to allow cities and local governments to access the financial resources they need. Espinel emphasized that cities are “the real laboratories for SDGs,” allowing to localize the Goals’ implementation through responding to local priorities and circumstances.
Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner for International Affairs, New York City, noted that New York is the first city to report to the UN on SDG implementation, having presented a Voluntary Local Review during the last session of the High-level Political Forum. The city is at the forefront of global migration advocacy, she said, adding that cities are responsible for their “new neighbors” and for ensuring that they have the resources they need. She announced the creation of a network of 50 cities to ensure that local voices are involved in the global discussions on migration, and said New York City will “keep being at the forefront” of the Global Pact on Migration.
Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), noted that “we need to show local people that they matter.” She said “our cities are bought by funds that we do not know,” which makes housing prices go up and become unaffordable. Pointing to a lack of control of the food systems that are feeding cities, Saiz stressed the need for “food democratization.” She added that cities need to stimulate villages’ creative capacity to respond to current challenges, emphasizing that “the rural is not here to feed the cities.”
Joan Ribó, Mayor of Valencia, noted that “humanity’s issues are too important to leave them only in the hands of States.” He mentioned that Valencia is investing in its peri-urban area to capitalize on its potential, and is including ecological aliments in the food provided to schools. In addition, he highlighted Valencia’s policy efforts in the context of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and an agreement with FAO on producing quality food and supporting health.
Tri Rismaharini, Mayor of Surabaya, presented Surabaya’s successful programmes for urban farming, highlighting the importance of free trainings for small businesses as a way of supporting business activity for food security. She also shared a local initiative that plants fruit trees in public spaces, which city inhabitants can enjoy for free.
Oscar Humberto Evora Santos, President of the Municipal Chamber of Praia, highlighted the role of micro-finance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to address food security, which will also help bring the informal economy into formal economy. He further shared the example of a fitness park Praia created, where people can enjoy sports activities for free, which helps with addressing non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Mike Sonko, Governor of Nairobi, Kenya, said Nairobi is constructing several markets to ensure that people have access to fresh produce. He explained that food market information is in place to enable city inhabitants to know where the food products can be found and at what price, including through a mobile application aimed at increasing usability. Sonko highlighted the need to increase urban forest cover in order to address the effects of climate change.
Eugenie L. Birch, University of Pennsylvania, cautioned about the challenges of policy incoherence. Underscoring the need to bear in mind demographic dynamics when it comes to city planning, she noted that in order to support the growing global population, we need to build the equivalent of a city of 1.4 million people every week for the next 30 years and deliver 70% more food.
In the ensuing discussion, participants raised issues related to, inter alia: the need to address the lack of resources cities and local governments have access to; the need for finance to go directly to the cities; the importance of local activism in advancing global agendas; the need for clear regulations and stable regulatory environments when engaging with the private sector for resources; and the need for solidarity among cities instead of competition. [Event Website] [Statement by UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]