The Presidency gathers in our UCLG Retreat to address the inequalities in the recovery.


The first meeting of the UCLG Presidency for the year 2021 took place in the framework of our Annual Retreat: A global community that cares. An exercise of open windows and open minds that brought the engines of the network together with participants from over 70 countries, coming from 210 cities, more than 60 Associations, and over 620 participants throughout the week.

The Presidency meeting received reports from the policy discussions and confirmed priorities for the Presidency. 

President Mohamed Boudra opened the meeting by honoring the memory of former UCLG President (2010-2016) and Mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbaş. His dedication to UCLG, his work towards strengthening the global voice and his commitment to enhancing the diversity and inclusivity of the Organization were highlighted as they were in the very first day of the Retreat.   

Members of the UCLG Presidency addressed the debates of the Retreat, and confirmed the important focus of the three axes of our Pact for the Future: they emphasized the need to seize the opportunity to develop a new social contract. 

They welcomed the progress made in enhancing partnerships with all stakeholders and particularly the United Nations which were represented at the highest level by Maimunah Mohd. Sharif, Undersecretary-General of the UN and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, and Ulrika Modéer, Deputy Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for External Relations and Advocacy, as well as as Todd Howland, Chief of Branch, Development, Economic, Social Rights at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 

Maimunah Sharif  Executive Director of UNHABITAT  UCLG Retreat & Campus

The presence of these partners in the Presidency meeting reflects the priorities of the UCLG Pact for the Future strategy: strong local governments underpinned by the implementation of the New Urban Agendas. The universal concept of development built around the SDGs and the people centered social contract with human rights at the heart of policy development.  

“Our Retreat opened our windows to a year that is complex but thrilling. It has also allowed us to further the debates on the Pact for the Future that our World Organization has been mandated to implement. A new social contract for the people, for the planet and for government.” Mohamed Boudra, UCLG President, Mayor of Al-Hoceima, President of the AMPCC.

The priorities of our Presidency at the forefront of our efforts

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona and UCLG Special Envoy for the United Nations and the 2030 Agenda, argued for the need to push forward, as partners for the transformation of the international system, to ensure the inclusion of our communities in the decisions that affect them and as a means to overcome systemic crises. In her role as Special Envoy of UCLG for the United Nations, she called her colleagues to make renewed strides to enhance the partnership with the United Nations. She further stressed food systems as a priority coming out of the pandemic. She stressed her interest in enhancing the role of UCLG as we work towards the Food Systems Summit of the UN in the role of Barcelona as European Food Capital and part of the Milan Pact. This sentiment was echoed as well by Armand Beouindé, Mayor of Ouagadougou, and Vice-president of UCLG for Africa

“The pandemic has taught us that our destinies are linked, that we cannot overcome these great challenges separately, that we will only overcome the pandemic when vaccines reach us all.” Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona and UCLG Special Envoy for the United Nations and the 2030 Agenda

Uğur Ibrahim Altay, Mayor of Konya and UCLG Copresident laid out many of the challenges that the MEWA region had been facing throughout the pandemic, in particular the rise of inequalities as well as the opportunities arising in areas such as public transportation, and the need to address migration as a global topic, linking it with the climate and territorial agendas.

“Combating poverty caused by pandemic is something we need to do. This calls for ensuring fair resources so that LRGs can provide access to basic services, especially health, during the pandemic and beyond” Uğur Ibrahim Altay, Mayor of Konya and UCLG Copresident

Johnny Araya, Mayor of San José and UCLG Copresident, also addressed the increasing inequalities, in particular in regards to vaccinations and how to ensure that more vulnerable populations have access to vaccines and play a stronger role in the recovery. UCLG, he argued, needs to play an active role in ensuring that recovery from the crisis does not only favour those with more resources. This sentiment was echoed by Carlos Martínez, Mayor of Soria and UCLG Presidency Envoy for the New Urban Agenda, who argued that territorializing and ensuring all territories have equal access to vaccines and resources will be critical to recovering as one humanity.

“One of the great post-pandemic challenges is to tackle the inequality that has grown exponentially. One of the guiding stars of UCLG is a more socially and environmentally balanced world.” Johnny Araya, Mayor of San José UCLG Copresident  and President of FLACMA

“We talk about health coverage, equality… but if it is not territorialised we will not achieve it. The NUA is the key to leaving no territory behind and to achieving all of the global goals.” Carlos Martínez, Mayor of Soria and UCLG Presidency Envoy for the New Urban Agenda

Thembisile Nkadimeng, Mayor of Polokwane UCLG Copresident, President of SALGA, argued for the need to strengthen the capacities of local and regional governments to be able to respond to this and further crises. Eliminating institutional overlaps, she argued, will be key to respond with clarity to the challenges that await us in the future.

“We need to rise to the challenge with strong emergency systems that can respond to the crises, ensuring proper food distribution and that municipalities are able to respond on the ground” Thembisile Nkadimeng, Mayor of Polokwane, UCLG Copresident, and President of SALGA

The UCLG Treasury was represented in its entirety by Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener, and Madelaine Alfelor, Mayor of Iriga. Mayor Vrbanovic celebrated the continued financial support provided by members to the world organization, even in these difficult times. He stressed that the World Organization has demonstrated its capacity to adapt and its relevance for the membership.  He further reported on the state of affairs of the UCLG External Assessment, which will develop a series of recommendations towards our Executive Bureau in the second quarter of the year.

Mayor Alfelor addressed the need to balance health and the economy in the recovery without compromise. She further highlighted the strong support she had felt from the network and commended the efforts made to stay in touch and to exchange experiences.

Carola Gunnarsson, Mayor of Sala, President of SALAR and Vice-President of UCLG for Europe commended the efforts to continue the quest for gender equality. She called for determined action to ensure that equal representation between men and women in political life is a common goal that we develop together.

The Vice President of UCLG for MEWA and President of the Union of Dannieh Municipalities, Mohamed Saadie addressed risk reduction and the need to work hand-in-hand to enhance the resilience of our planet. He called for the special needs of his region to be taken into account in both the actions and the strategy. Pablo Jurado, President of CONGOPE, and Vice President of UCLG for the Forum of Regions called on the need to join forces among spheres of government to ensure unity between the urban and rural spheres.

Chen hangchun, “Vice-President of the Xi’an Political Consultative Conference and Secretary General of the Xi’an Municipal Government of Xi’an, addressed the work of the city around the three axes of the Pact for the Future and in particular, their work around the Policy Council on Opportunities for All. Arnaud Ngatcha, Vice-mayor of Paris, called on the importance given to gender equality by the city of Paris, in particular in regards to women’s representation in political and social life. He confirmed the interest of Paris to contribute to redefining the priorities of local governments in the recovery context putting sustainability and democracy at its core. Peter Knip, Director of VNG and on behalf of Co-president Jan Van Zanen, introduced the importance of the Peace Agenda in 2021 and 2022, in particular calling attention to the process of UCLG’s Peace Prize. He further reinstated the importance of rebuilding trust among communities and their governments, in particular in a time in which tensions among the public and institutions is at a low point.

Furthering our work with the United Nations

In the year 2021, when the New Urban Agenda will be reviewed, it will be crucial to establish a direct link between the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the development and implementation of sub-national urban policies carried out by local and regional governments worldwide and promoted by UN-Habitat.

Undersecretary-General of the UN and Executive Director of UN-Habitat Maimunah Mohd. Sharif laid out the importance of the year 2021 for defining the future of humanity, praising the advocacy and policymaking work of UCLG to further the agenda of basic services and arguing that the process of review of the New Urban Agenda is an opportunity for local and regional governments to place their priority in the centre of the debate, and to call for support for local and regional governments in regards to ensuring frameworks that can allow us to deliver.

“National recovery depends on the degree cities and communities are able to rise again from the impact of the pandemic. Multilevel coordination mechanisms and stimulus packages need to be put in place to do so.”

UCLG has also been working with UNDP on the consolidation of the localization of the SDGs and as part of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments. This year is an ideal moment for our constituency to make its contribution to the UNDP strategic plan, thus institutionalising the partnership between UNDP and UCLG.

The next steps of the partnership between our World Organization and UNDP was introduced by Ulrika Modéer, Deputy Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for External Relations and Advocacy, who argued that “UNDP wants all of your skills, ideas, to be part of UN response. We recognise UCLG as a critical partner to rethink development, this is why we invited UCLG to be a part of our plan.”

Todd Howland, rep

resenting the UN High Commissioner expressed the interest in  cooperating between our World Organization and the Office of the High Commissioner building on the work we’ve done in the p

ast, in Geneva, to increase the number of partnerships with stakeholders on the field of human rights.

The outcomes of our Retreat and our Policy Councils, on the way to enhancing the renewal of our Strategy.

UCLG Secretary General Emilia Saiz highlighted the importance of the interaction that had been achieved in the Retreat, and how the virtual nature had achieved the largest #UCLGMeets Retreat in our history. A whopping 600 people from 210 cities around the world had registered to participate in our sessions.

The Secretary General commended the Secretaries General of our Regional Sections for bringing to life the sessions on the regional and sectional priorities in our agenda and reminded of our work to showcase the power of “we” and the platformization of our World Organization in order to enhance the knowledge management of the network.

She also provided a brief overview of the results of our Policy Councils, highlighting expected focus of each:

  • The rights agenda took centre stage in our Policy Council on the Right to the City, with explicit mention to the second generation of rights
  • The Policy Council on Opportunities for All highlighted the role of Culture and addressed whether “opportunities for all” is a title that reflects the challenges that it covers
  • The Policy Council on Multilevel Governance addressed the renewal of democracy, the metropolitan aspect of multilevel governance, and the need to enhance the dialogue among spheres of government
  • An undeniable link between our equality agenda and our Agenda on the Ecological Transition was established in our Policy Council on Safer, Resilient, and sustainable cities, who also committed to participating in the raised ambitions in COP26.
  • The Policy Council on the New Urban Agenda, which had been introduced by the Mayor of Soria, had held its first-ever meeting with the commitment of our constituency to start a process of policy discussions to be presented at the Habitat III+5 Conference

(Read the full coverage on our Policy Councils by IISD here)

Next Steps: Our upcoming events and where we go now.

The session closed by reminding the importance of the gender equality agenda, with CSW taking place in March, as well as with the upcoming HLPF in July, which will host a Forum on Local and Regional Governments. The Culture Summit and the UN Summits this year are high on our agenda as well.

The upcoming Executive Bureau in the second quarter of the year, set to take place in San José, was agreed by the Presidency to take place now virtually, with the hopes to be able to gather physically in San José should the conditions be favourable in our World Council in the second half of the year.