An Opportunity to Reshape the World in the Aftermath of the Pandemic – The UCLG Dialogue for the Post-COVID Era

Acknowledging that the international system needs to change substantially, United Cities and Local Governments Secretary General presents the organisation’s political charter for a world after the pandemic.

The world has been thrust into a state of uncertainty over the past months. The COVID-19 pandemic has put to the test sanitary systems all over the world, public health care and service provision have been the most important tools to protect populations and communities. While those with strong public systems have suffered, those with weak or poorly funded ones have had to brace for the very hard consequences.

Global North and South alike have had to put their commons to the test and local and regional governments, with or without competences, with or without resources, have demonstrated to be at the frontline of the response.

The Pandemic as a Magnifying Glass

The pandemic has showcased many of the contradictions of our current system. The only way we can fight its worse effects is by staying at home – and yet there are millions of people who cannot stay at home, and many more who do have a roof over their heads, who do not have the conditions to maintain physical distancing. The crisis is making us distance ourselves, yet the urban era has created a planet where people live closer to each other than ever. Finally, the world is turning to the public sphere to rescue us, when we have been neglecting and deconstructing that public sphere over the past decades.

The pandemic has also made visible the invisible, our informal economies on which the livelihood of a very big part of the population depend. It has shown us how important waste picking and management is, how cleaners, drivers, and workers in the food chain are indispensable.

A Silver Lining

In the midst of the outbreak, local and regional governments around the world started to come together and talk to each other more than ever before. Even then, they also started to think about the day after. The aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak bears, according to these local leaders, a silver lining. It has provided us empirical evidence of what needs to be done and how things can be done. In short: to rethink what we want our world to look like. It is becoming clear that the recovery from this outbreak needs to be different from how we recovered from previous crises. We will need to protect basic service delivery, we will need to care for those that have cared for us, and we will need to ensure that the sacrifices of this and future generations are used to make a new world flourish.

To build this world of social closeness after the enforced physical distancing, we need to ensure the proper funding to carry out the basic services that our populations need, and this must be accompanied by a re-evaluation of the relationship between economic growth and public priorities, as well as a shift in the financing system. How do we produce and consume? How can we transform our lives so that crises such as COVID do not undermine our ways of living? And, perhaps most importantly: who is taking the decisions that will shape the future?

In envisioning this world, local and regional governments can provide the tools to co-create, with our communities and local stakeholders, the way forward, and guarantee that the universal development agendas are implemented from the bottom up in a time in which they might be overlooked due to the urgency of the recovery.

The UCLG Decalogue for the COVID-19 aftermath

This display of political will, vision, and spirit of global solidarity has been the driving force behind our UCLG Decalogue for the post COVID-19 era. It is a document envisioned and shaped by the Presidency and the membership of UCLG that is already driving our advocacy in these times of crisis, guiding our contributions to the call of the United Nations’ Secretary General to define the world we want in 2045 at the occasion of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

The document, an outcome of the shared knowledge of local and regional leaders from the entire world, frames co-creation with our communities and local stakeholders as the way forward to ensure the future that our communities need and to ensure that local 2030 principles and global goals remain the framework for the transformational measures we need.

Through ten transformative actions, it becomes a starting point to renovate the international system and the ways it interacts with our communities. It aims at protecting those that need it the most, and ultimately strives to ensure that the sacrifices that we are undertaking during the pandemic and in the immediate aftermath do not become a burden for the communities of the future.

The decalogue underpins the need to guarantee public services and the protection of common goods; it challenges the current unsustainable models of consumption and calls for proximity production models that consider local producers and re-evaluating models of consumption and production; it calls for a worldwide green deal that makes our communities more resilient despite talks for the post-COVID future in which ecology is relegated, and it calls for ensuring financial mechanisms to allow local and regional governments to carry on their work at the frontline.

It calls for culture to be put at the heart of our development, declaring it the antidote for the consequences of this crisis. Indeed, the creativity of our communities and our artists have and are still providing inspiration. It calls for a determined Generation Equality with no exception. It also makes a significant call for a stronger multilateral system that helps us overcome global problems as one.

Meeting Aspirations

The world that we envision can only be built if we all take responsibility, if all stakeholders work together to tackle the emergencies we face, and develop a global plan that emphasises the dialogue among spheres of government and that brings all stakeholders to the table.

Local and regional leaders are ready to lead the discussion on the transformations necessary to ensure we meet the aspirations of the communities considering the interest of the future generations. As a global network, United Cities and Local Governments with its sister organisations will be happy to facilitate the platform for that conversation to happen and for global solutions to be built on local realities

Emilia Sáiz is Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). She has worked with the international movement of local and regional governments in different capacities since 1997, leading programmes and initiatives on institutional capacity building, the participation of women in local decision-making and decentralized cooperation. She played a critical role in setting up the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, and has followed and represented local and regional governments in iconic international processes such as the Rio and Beijing +20 as well as the Climate Agreement, the SDGs and Habitat III and facilitated the contributions from local constituencies to the United Nations process.
Emilia Sáiz