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On the occasion of the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, UN representatives and high-level authorities from subnational governments gathered at Regions4’s event on 1 July, to address the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda and the interconnectedness of the well-being and prosperity of people and planet.

The event Building a Sustainable and Resilient Future: Subnational governments leading integrated approaches for people, planet, and prosperity showcased examples of how subnational governments are building back better and greener, getting back on track toward the 2030 Agenda, while strengthening multi-level governance.

The high-level speakers highlighted the desired outcomes of the 2021 HLPF, COP15 and COP26, stressing their interlinkages and integrated approaches. They called for increased ambition, solidarity, cooperation, and greater inclusion of subnational governments to design integrated solutions for the current global emergencies and to achieve the Global Goals.

During her opening remarks, Ms Arantxa Tapia, Regions4’s President and Basque Minister for Economic Development, Sustainability and Environment, expressed that “We are gathered here to call for a more meaningful participation at the UN fora and to voice our aspirations and contributions for the 2021 meetings. We offer our expertise and commitment to work for an inclusive multilateral system. We bring the contributions of the voluntary subnational reviews. We offer a message of solidarity for a common cause: building back better by addressing the environmental, economic, and related social justice issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore.”  

UN messages on the path to recovery

Regions4’s event had the participation of the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), as well as the Race To Resilience campaign led by the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action (MPGCA) and the High-Level Climate Champions.

Ms. Lotta Tahtinen, Chief of the Outreach and Partnership Branch, Division for Sustainable Development Goals at UN DESA, highlighted the lessons learnt from the Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) and the potential on the growing recognition of SDG localization. “We are extremely excited over the last years to see how the voluntary local reviews prepared by regional governments has turned into a movement that is rapidly gaining traction around the world. We see that these VLRs can be an effective tool to further localize the SDGs, help to support and enhance dialogue, and coherence between the different levels of government and their reviews of the 2030 Agenda.”

Dr. Susan Chomba, Global Ambassador of the Race to Resilience, discussed the conditions to create integrated resilient solutions and synergies: “Local communities are at the forefront of climate change action, as they are the first impacted. However, inclusive, and territorial resilience must be facilitated by the national level to achieve the required accelerated action. We must make the most of mechanisms such as the National Adaptation Plans, Nationally Determined Contributions and Voluntary National Reviews. The path to the recovery requires coordination and collaboration among all levels of government; further decentralisation of decision-making; and fiscal decentralisation.

Ms Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, addressed the leverage of subnational leadership to build back greener: “Regions, states and provinces have a major role to play at the upcoming biodiversity and climate change conferences and for all the SDGs. We need to adopt ambitious targets to preserve our collective resilience, and to protect nature as one of the basic assets for human well-being. I invite you to demonstrate your catalytic role and leadership in driving action for climate, biodiversity, and sustainable development by pursuing coherent policies and practices.”

Subnational leadership for a resilient future

Regions4’s high-level event also gathered high-level representatives from ten leading subnational governments from different perspectives and contexts, who shared their strategies and practices in place to tackle the environmental crises and rebuild societies in a post-pandemic world. 

Rt Hon. Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister of Wales, introduced the Welsh experience to make sustainable development the central organizing principle of all public bodies and prioritize the future generations: “Solidarity, locality and cooperation continue to be key to survive the impacts of the pandemic, while we deliver on our commitment to a greener, fairer and globally responsible Wales. We share the bold and transformational vision set out in the Agenda 2030, and the Well-being of Future Generations Act is a clear example of how we set about working towards a sustainable nation.”

Rt Hon. Iñigo Urkullu, Premier of the Basque Country, shared the comprehensive approach to localize the SDGs, mobilizing multiple stakeholders and integrating agendas for a common vision: “The key element of Basque Government’s leading experience on SDGs mainstreaming is the collective work. We have promoted a vision of the 2030 Agenda built on policy coherence, shared leadership, and the creation of partnerships with public and private actors. At regional level, we continue to enhance multi-level governance and collaboration. At global level, we support the efforts for a sustainable and resilient future that puts at the forefront cooperation, solidarity and participation in decision-making of all political and social actors.”  

Rt Hon. Abdessamad Sekkal, President of Rabat-Salé-Kenitra, showcased how subnational governments and territorial policies lead on the sustainable development efforts that put environment first: “To build resilient territories anchored in a sustainable development, Rabat-Salé-Kénitra is working to ensure the innovative reorganization of territorial and local levels and their articulation; promote integrated territorial development, improve housing and the living environment, and strengthen connectivity and mobility; and, preserve natural resources to strengthen the resilience of our territory to climate change.”  

Rt Hon. Cecilia Méndez Mora, Prefect of Azuay, presented their approach to preserve the environment and address the COVID-19 pandemic through dialogue, inclusion and integration: “We must learn from popular wisdom and traditional knowledge to recover from the pandemic and to ensure a truly sustainable and resilient future. As intermediate governments, we have a duty to care for nature and the conservation of biodiversity, species, primary forests, or water, which have a direct impact on people’s health and most vulnerable populations. In Azuay we work with indigenous communities, local governments, civil society, and companies to face the pandemic in a collaborative way, while we continue to fight poverty and the economic crises. We remain firmly committed to the inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development putting nature and people at the centre.”

Rt Hon. Pere Aragonès, President of the Government of Catalonia, reaffirmed the political will to ensure sustainable development to be achievable as showcased by the 920 commitments that their government made for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda: “The COVID-19 has affected the most vulnerable communities and it has increased poverty and inequality, and it is our duty to emerge from this pandemic leaving no one behind. We must not wait to transform public policies until our lives are threatened. In Catalonia we continue to fight the climate change and biodiversity crises and prioritise SDG implementation in our territorial budget. We work on a comprehensive transformation driven by political leadership and social engagement.”  

Rt Hon. Aka Aouélé, President of Sud-Comoé and President of the Economic, Social, Environmental and Cultural Council of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, shared how subnational governments from the global South are not only leading the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but creating a sustainable development model based on a climate resilient future: “The policy of the regional council of Sud-Comoé consists of prioritizing climate change and youth employment as key elements of the strategic planning of the regional development. We are promoting the integration of youth in economic activities such as tourism, biological agriculture, sustainable fishing, or the management of community-led natural reserves. We are diminishing and adapting the negative effects of climate change by empowering our communities and young people as the next drivers of our global green project.”  

Hon. Annette Holmberg-Jansson, Minister of Social Affairs and Health of Åland Islands, introduced their worldwide recognised sustainability model as the key to the recovery from the global crises:A resilient and sustainable development has long been an essential part of the society on the Åland Islands, with the understanding that nature is the foundation for human existence. In 2014 we adopted a common goal of total sustainable development in Åland, no later than 2051. We have since designed a true inside-out, bottom-up process and a network for multisectoral collaboration and guidance that truly fosters change. This has been our guiding tool during the pandemic, and we have learned that a well-established long-term agenda for the development of society builds resilience for times of crisis.”

Hon. Sergio Graf, Secretary for the Environment of Jalisco and Regions4 Vice-President for the Americas, presented their regional best practices to leverage the power of nature and the conservation of biodiversity while ensuring prosperity, and their aspirations for the 2021 UN meetings: “Jalisco is the second largest economy in the country, and the main food producer. To combine economic strength with sustainable development, we have designed, among others, a state strategy for integrating biodiversity into the agricultural sector to ensure that these production chains are free of deforestation. As a signatory government to the Edinburgh Declaration and also a member of the Advisory Committee of Subnational Governments of the Convention on Biological Diversity, we call for accelerated ambition, real cohesion, and strong determination to realize the 2050 vision of Living in Harmony with Nature.

Hon. Eduardo Trani, Sub-Secretary of Environment of São Paulo, reminded that the path to the recovery must have a strong territorial approach and the involvement of all key actors: “The post-covid recovery agenda must be based on the integration of the climate, biodiversity and SDG agendas, with a strong territorial approach. In Sao Paulo we are working on renewable energies and advance fuels; forest recovery and bioeconomy; air quality and sustainable transport; water and environmental sanitation; and resilient municipalities and sustainable cities. We have joined the Race To Zero and Race To Resilience campaigns to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and ensure the resilience of the territory from a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.”   

Mr. Jean Lemire, Envoy for Climate Change, Nordic and Arctic Affairs, Government of Québec and Moderator of Regions4’s high-level event, delivered the closing remarks by stating that: “Subnational governments gathered here today are an example of leadership, ambition, and integrated action needed to build forward better. Political will, partnerships, and strong multi-level governance are requirements to face the development challenges with coherent policies. We invite the UN to further acknowledge the subnational efforts to jointly tackle the climate and biodiversity crises and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We offer our commitment to build an inclusive multilateral system for the future we want.”

In partnership

The event was organised by Regions4 Sustainable Development, the Governments of Åland Islands, Azuay, Basque Country, Catalonia, Cross River, Jalisco, Québec, Rabat-Salé-Kenitra, São Paulo, Sud Comoé, and Wales in partnership with the Race to Resilience, Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, ORU Fogar, AER and the UNFCCC’s Constituency of Local Governments and Municipal Authorities.

Learn more

To revisit the event, please visit Regions4 Youtube Channel.

To meet our high-level speakers, read their bios.

To hear more about Regions4’s participation and shared messages at the 2021 High-Level Political Forum, follow our Twitter coverage.

To learn more about about Regions4’s actions to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, please contact Sustainable Development Manager, Ivy Moraes at