Emilia Saiz: Guangzhou Award is a Live Library of Innovation Practices

2022-12-20 17:01:15

The 2022 Workshop for Thought Leaders and Guangzhou Award 10th Anniversary Celebration took place in Guangzhou from December 12th to the 15th. Representatives of over 120 cities in more than 50 countries and regions, associates from international organizations, and experts and scholars in the field of urban studies attended the event. 

As one of the co-sponsors of the Guangzhou Award, the World Organization of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) is the largest organization in the world for cities and local governments. UCLG is committed to making a better future by promoting fair and sustainable societies, influencing the global development agenda, sharing the innovative initiatives of local and regional governments at international level, and enhancing multilateral cooperation. The Local4Action HUBs and the Pact for the Future, generated by UCLG, are both playing an important role in the overall promotion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda).

During the workshop, the reporter of Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp. (SFC) conducted an interview with Emilia Saiz, the Secretary General of UCLG. According to Emilia, the Guangzhou Award not only provides innovation incentive mechanism for global cities and local governments, but also acts as a platform for sharing experience and knowledge. In addition, she also answered questions about the concept of the 2030 Agenda.

Guangzhou Award is the “Nobel Prize for Local  Governments”

SFC: In 2012, the Guangzhou Award is co-sponsored by UCLG, Metropolis and the City of Guangzhou. What were your expectations of the award when you got involved with the Guangzhou Award?

Emilia: As the largest Network of local and regional governments from all over the world, and together with our Metropolitan Section, we believed Guangzhou Award  enables us to develop a live library of innovative practices by recognizing the value of urban innovation to inspire cities all over the world and place innovation as a central pillar of public policy at the local level.

Hence the expectations for the Award were very high when we started getting involved. I remember fondly when our President, the late mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbaş, referred to it as the “Nobel Prize for local governments”. We hope it’s more than an award but an inspiration.

With its growth over the past year to include new categories, and with the initiatives that have been celebrated -from museums, to women’s markets, to projects that work to upset the climate emergency- I feel like we can really talk about a prize that contributes to the global agenda of local and regional governments, one that addresses the challenges and opportunities of the urban era from the bottom-up.

SFC: What are the current priorities for local and regional governments in achieving UCLG’s global agenda?

Emilia: It will be critical to ensure that each level of government has the capacity both technical and financial and in terms of competences to address the multifaceted challenges that we face. Sectoral approaches do not work anymore. Our problems are too complex and interdependent. Our public service delivery will need to overcome access barriers and make sustainable use of our common resources. Low tech solutions, community knowledge, proximity, and circular economy need to play a bigger role in our societies. 

This does not imply losing the connection with the world and reverting back to old models, but making sure that connection provides added value. The solution to global problems needs to be based on local knowledge and respond to the needs and aspirations of our communities.

SFC: What impacts might rapid population growth have on local governance? How can cities around the world improve local governance and urban innovation?

Emilia: The global population has just reached 8 billion, it will continue to grow in the coming years, and it will become eminently more urban than it has ever been, with 70% of the population expected to live in cities by 2050, the role of local and regional governments will need to rise in prominence in order to face these challenges.

Addressing spatial limitations will need to be at the core of our efforts. We will need to address the morphology of our urban settlements from a different perspective in which time and technological infrastructure play a much bigger role than they have done today. Mobility, accessibility, and proximity will necessarily need to be at the centre of our efforts.

Neighborhoods will become more important centers of our life and polycentrism will need to include in the governance architecture of cities big and small. Giving voice to communities, involving different stakeholders and exchanging experiences from different contexts will need to inspire us, to open our mind for future opportunities.

Efforts for achieving the 2030 Agenda

SFC: After the proposal of the 2030 Agenda, UCLG has developed its own Global Agenda for Local and Regional Governments, what are its core concepts? 

The Agenda that was approved in the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in October in Daejeon is what we call the Pact for the Future of Humanity. 

Through this Pact for the Future, UCLG members and the organized constituency of local and regional governments restate their commitment to the power of collective action, empowerment, shared ownership, cocreation, and international cooperation and solidarity: the very cornerstones of harmonious and sustainable societies.  

The Pact for the Future of Humanity identifies three axes (People, Planet, and Government) that will be shaped into commitments in the coming years. 

The Pact for the Future for People places people at the center, deepening the needs of current generations and expanding the rights of future ones by guaranteeing access to public services and the commons. 

The Future for the Planet promotes systems and ways of living in harmony with our planet while building resilience and sustainability through policies that renature our production and consumption models.

The Future for Government is driven by our communities, with the goal of rebuilding trust between ourselves and our institutions. We are in a once-in-a-generation opportunity to review and improve our tools to respond to the challenges we face, to ensure we drive a profound transformation of our societies and our systems.

SFC: How can UCLG and the Guangzhou Award contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda?

The Guangzhou award, which has integrated the SDGs into its fifth cycle, I believe is a critical element to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The initiatives and measures that the award promotes and commends are a basis to analyse how local and regional governments are incorporating the 17 goals into their plans, and how the New Urban Agenda is being implemented locally.

The visions and aspirations that are a part of the Pact for the Future acknowledge the transformative potential of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. 

Local and regional governments need to be a part of the multilateral system, to ensure that the global decision-making process includes the level closest to the problem and vertical and horizontal integration will be critical, and this is the work that UCLG does to ensure that the 2030 Agenda is built on the aspirations of local communities.

International organizations such as UCLG also work to showcase how local and regional governments work, day to day, to localize the sustainable development goals. Through initiatives such as the UCLG Local4Action HUBs, a community of members that, through concrete innovative solutions, address the challenges and aspirations of their communities by bringing care at the centre of their action and inspire others with their action. In this way, the agenda is more than a framework and really guides local actions.