ICLEI World Congress and Rio+20: Local Governments Lead the Way to Sustainable Development

Nearly 50,000 participants, including more than 100 heads of state or government, gathered in Rio de Janeiro two weeks ago for the United Nation Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), better known as the Rio+20 earth summit. During the conference, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union’s Committee of the Regions (CoR) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) recognizing the need of strengthening the role of local and regional authorities within the policy-decision making process and opening a new phase of cooperation between the two institutions.

The agreement sets out a framework for strong cooperation on five areas:

  • Multi-level environmental governance;
  • green economy and resource efficiency;
  • climate change mitigation and adaptation;
  • biodiversity and ecosystems management;
  • decentralized cooperation for development.

Leaders from both UNEP and the EU acknowledged the leadership role that local governments across the globe have taken in designing innovative sustainability policies and programs. Particularly relevant is the role of cities and regional authorities in catalyzing energy efficiency in buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy security, and generate new “green jobs.” The City of Portland, Oregon, for example, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program with funding from the Recovery Act to undertake an energy efficiency conversion financing experiment. Seeded by $2.5 million of federal stimulus money, a local bank will grant 500 homeowners low-interest loans for home improvements. Building owners and tenants will have the opportunity to pay back energy efficiency loans on their utility bills. As part of this financing venture, the City hired six contractors and linked them to community colleges where new workers will receive training. Portland’s financing initiative was highlighted in an online article published in February on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website. The editorial showcased the efforts of three other US cities (San Jose, California, on the West Coast; Indianapolis, Indiana, in the Midwest; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the East), which received stimulus money to invest in the green job growth.

Closely linked to the UN Rio+20 summit and held concurrently, the ICLEI World Congress 2012 in Belo Horizonte, brought together more than 1,400 ICLEI members, partners, global strategists, academics, businesses, and NGO’s to discuss examples of sustainability programs at the city and local level. By discussing local variants of the key themes of Rio+20, namely green urban economy and local governance and leadership for sustainable development, the conference charted the way forward for local governments.

“We had in Belo Horizonte the biggest event in the history of ICLEI, as the largest mobilization not only of mayors and governors, but also to the public. This is the century of cities, is the century in which, to achieve a green and inclusive urban economy, we need to understand that cities are incubators of change, innovation incubators, where the action is actually the case, the level of governance is more close to the citizen,” said the executive secretary of ICLEI South America, Florence Lalöe, in a message to the Rio+20 leaders.