Local, Regional Leaders Essential Link in Trust between Multilateral Institutions ‘and the People We All Serve’, Secretary-General Says at Advisory Group Launch

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to launch the Advisory Group on Local and Regional Governments, in New York today:

It is my pleasure to launch this Advisory Group on Local and Regional Governments.  I am delighted to be joined in person by the distinguished Secretary of State for International Cooperation in Spain, Pilar Cancela, and online by the distinguished members of the Group.

Before we hear from all of you, I would like to say a few words about why I am so excited about this initiative and so grateful to you for being a part of it.  The reason is very simple:  local leaders are vital for global solutions.  You are an essential link in the chain of ownership and trust between multilateral institutions and the people we all serve.

Before becoming an international civil servant, I spent 18 years in political affairs in my country, as Member of Parliament and Prime Minister of Portugal, but I was always member of local committees and parliament member of the municipal councils in the village which my family belongs.  I was not mayor, but President of the Municipal Council, and could witness how important local governance is to build trust in political institutions, and how strong connections are between the different political institutions (from village to Parliament).

My wife was also Deputy Mayor of Culture in Lisbon, which gave me further exposure to the importance of local power.  I would say the role of local power can even be more important than national power for the political life of a country, in multiple ways.

As we consider ways to make multilateral institutions more effective, and to meet the current and future challenges facing people and planet, we need the perspectives and engagement of local and regional authorities. Hence the launch of this Advisory Group.

I am looking to you for ideas on how we can best engage local and regional governments in our efforts to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and on the many issues to be discussed at next year’s Summit of the Future.

Those issues include new ideas and proposals on peace and security; deep reforms to the global financial architecture; and an agreement on coordinated approaches to the governance of digital technology, which are linked to the necessary renewal of the social contract, for more justice in international relations.

The outcome of the Summit will be a Pact for the Future that must make multilateralism fit for purpose, reflecting today’s economic and political realities. It must turbocharge action for the SDGs, and it must address today’s emerging challenges and responsibilities.

The SDGs are eminently local.  SDGs can only be reached if they are reached at each of the different municipalities, at different states, which represent all SDGs, from education, to health, poverty, and hunger, which are all essentially local, before they become national.

There is a certain resistance from many Governments to have multi-stakeholder approaches, including local authorities [and] civil societies, among other, but the United Nations has a firm determination to make the multilateral system have a strong connection to local and subnational authorities, independently of the intergovernmental nature of the system.

The Summit itself will be an intergovernmental process.  National leaders will take the decisions.  But those decisions will affect everyone.  So, they must reflect everyone.  An extensive, open consultation process is the only route to the inclusive, networked multilateralism we need.  Your contributions will allow decision makers at the Summit to benefit from the diversity and richness of local and regional governments; and from your closeness to people and their communities.

The Summit of the Future will address the multiple and overlapping crises of today and tomorrow:  the climate emergency, the soaring cost of living and the continued effects of the pandemic in many parts of the world.

Halfway to 2030, progress on most of the SDGs is sluggish; on some, it has gone into reverse.  Carbon emissions continue to rise even as the evidence of climate chaos is all around us. Resilient, inclusive governance at all levels, from local to regional, national and global, is vital in order to turn this around.

I therefore urge this Advisory Group to engage with our work across the board.  Your advice can help to fuel the efforts of the Local 2030 Coalition, the UN-supported network for delivering the SDGs at the local level.  I also encourage you to cooperate with our UN Country Teams at the national level. They are at your disposal.

Local and regional authorities are on the front lines of Sustainable Development Goal action, taking important initiatives on your own account, and implementing national decisions.  Many of you are tackling poverty and hunger, building resilient infrastructure, creating jobs, managing pollution and waste, promoting diversity and building strong social bonds within your communities.

The fight against climate breakdown will be lost or won in cities, which account for 70 per cent of carbon emissions.  I also see the most dynamic forms of climate action in cities. More than 1,000 cities have now joined the Race to Zero, pledging to take rigorous, immediate actions to halve global emissions by 2030.

Here in New York, sustainability is being integrated into the city’s strategic priorities through a roadmap to a more sustainable future, protecting people from climate threats while providing education and training for new jobs in the green economy.

As we look to accelerate progress on the SDGs, we need speed, scale and coordination to take local initiatives to the national and global level.  Local and regional governments are essential partners in this work.

This group of national, local and regional government practitioners is gender-balanced and geographically diverse. I am particularly pleased that many of you have experience at different levels of government. Members will work in their personal capacity, and I encourage you to consult widely and transparently.

I have delegated two co-Chairs:  Pilar Cancela Rodríguez, Secretary of State for International Cooperation in Spain, and Fatimetou Mint Abdel Malick, President of Nouakchott Region in Mauritania.  Under-Secretary-General Guy Ryder will be my representative throughout the process. But of course, I am also interacting permanently with this cause.

I am confident that together, you will make an important contribution to the inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism that our world demands and that we are trying to build.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.