The international municipal and regional movement is multilateralist at heart.
The movement celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013. In 2020, it joins the celebration of the United Nations 75th anniversary (UN75). Since the creation of the United Nations, and in particular since the late 1990s, local and regional governments have been asking for a bigger say in the global agendas set by the United Nations and specifically have been warning about the necessary shift of vision linked with the urban era. The call for accelerated action and unity by the United Nations Secretary-General at a time of many converging challenges seemed like the perfect occasion to join in on a global dialogue to discuss the priorities of the world and how we can build a better future for all.
The international municipal and regional movement, convened by the Global Taskforce facilitated by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), responded to the call with a report outlining the challenges and world trends communities are facing in 2020, what the state of multilateralism should be like in 2045, and the structural shifts needed to achieve a renewed multilateral model that responds to the dreams and expectations of our communities.
The premises of the report are clear: no one and no place can be left behind. The future needs to be shaped and owned by communities and global solutions will be vital to achieve the resilience we need.
Current trends and present times
Interdependence, inequality, unsustainable production and consumption models and unprecedented opportunities made possible by technology and innovation are signaled as the defining trends of our times leading to emergencies and shocks which, despite their frequency and continuity, are not addressed in a structured manner. The climate and housing crises, growing unrest and urban violence: human rights are put to the test around the global and the distance between governments and communities is growing. Recentralization and authoritarianism are trends that have increased in recent years.
Digital rights for a few, if any
Present technological advances are not equally shared by all and this is contributing towards the digital divide and inequality. And even when access to technology and the internet is guaranteed, rights are not safeguarded. The absence of open and ethical digital service standards and data were outlined in the report by local and regional governments as important challenges today. Tools such as artificial intelligence were also referenced underlining the importance of ensuring AI does not contribute towards bias and inequality.
2045: A future that starts in our communities
Looking towards the future, local and regional governments highlight that they view the world in 2045 as an inter-urban world centered on the principles of social justice, equity, fundamental rights, and sustainability with local democracy at its core. They foresee a decentralized world and multilateral system with strong community participation and based on multi-level governance and dialogue reinforcing the push towards the achievement of future social contracts. A world that is centered on rights-based approaches at both the physical and digital levels, in which gender equality is the norm, and in which the climate crisis has been mitigated.
Digital rights in 2045
With specific regard to technology and digital rights, the current pandemic has shown how unequal access to technology has a negative effect for social equality and welfare. The report stresses that by 2045, local and regional governments view smart cities and regions initiatives as based on solidarity and the respect of the ecological transition.
A different, stronger role for governments as protectors of rights will need to be foreseen but also a much broader concept of citizenship will need to emerge. Digital technologies can no longer be seen as commodities and need to be part of the commons if we do not want a deeper gap to arise. A new balance between overregulation and privacy will need to be found.
The structural shift: An Interdependent world and interdependent solutions
Structural shifts are needed in many fields to address current challenges including a different relationship with the planet, transformation of governance at all levels that allows for ownership and co-creation, and partnership mechanisms allocating competences, responsibilities and resources to different spheres of government with stakeholders at the forefront. It is necessary to acknowledge that our references for development might not be solely related to growth as we currently understand it and that solidarity be the beacon of security.
This all will imply more global solutions and a greater emphasis on the role that public service provision needs to play in development. These global solutions need to be powered by an inclusive multilateral system with local governments and communities fully involved. Local and regional governments envision the shift as being based on the principle of collaborative governance and subsidiarity through effective decentralization and by being characterized by holding a permanent seat at the decision-making table.
A new concept of technology and its relationship with public service provision will need to be devised. A new conversation with the developers of technology and public administrations will be a priority if we want our post-COVID-19 world to be as inclusive as we hope.
Local and regional government leaders are well aware that our cities, towns and territories will never be the same. It is their hope that it will be better and they are committed to work towards a 100th anniversary of the UN with that spirit in mind. Digital Rights will be a critical in that path.
Author: Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments