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ICLEI Outcomes from the Cities Summit of the Americas: Showcasing Local-to-National Collaboration

Cities Forward Launch Event

Photo above: Acting Assistant Secretary Littlejohn conducts a panel at the Cities Forward launch with Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken, New Jersey and Commissioner Brigid Shea of Travis County, Texas, ICLEI USA Board Chair.

“President Biden has said on more than one occasion that we have everything we need to deliver for our people right here in our own hemisphere – and work being led by cities across the region, which you’ve shared throughout this summit, shows exactly how we’re doing that.” In his closing remarks for the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken laid out a vision for a Western Hemisphere united by its local governments—from Saskatoon, Canada, to Santiago, Chile, and hundreds of cities in between—as engines of economic growth and challenge-solving ideas for global problems. Across a week of programming from April 24-30, 2023, multilevel action was in the spotlight, showcasing what collaboration across levels of government can look like.

Hosted as a partnership between the United States Department of State and City-County of Denver, Colorado, the Cities Summit was a first-of-its-kind event built from the ninth Summit of the Americas, which engaged nations across North and South America in 2022 on a number of themes: sustainability, resilience, digitalization, health and safeguarding democracy. The Cities Summit mirrored these themes for more than 250 mayors, county commissioners, and regional leaders, who gathered with an additional 2,500 representatives from cities, state and federal agencies and city-serving networks.

Multilevel Collaboration in Focus

In the process, the Cities Summit furthered U.S. examples of multilevel collaboration, which has included creating the first U.S. Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy position with Ambassador Nina Hachigian in the role, and installing an office for community sustainability in the Department of Energy (DOE).

Early on, the U.S. The Department of State involved networks including ICLEI in preparations. For ICLEI USA, supporting the Cities Summit was a natural fit: Not only have we worked with hundreds of cities to advance social equity, nature-based solutions, and climate action over three decades, but we call the City of Denver our hometown as host to ICLEI’s headquarters in the U.S.

Here we recount a few of our advocacy milestones during the Summit. Also, read the innovative ideas coming out of our Member Meetup, which gathered more than 50 of our member cities from across the Americas.

ICLEI Outcomes from the Cities Summit of the Americas

ICLEI and partners launch Cities Forward, the U.S. Department of State’s flagship urban sustainability initiative. A collaborative partnership of the U.S. Department of State, ICLEI’s offices across the Americas, Resilient Cities Catalyst, and The Institute of the Americas, Cities Forward provides peer-to-peer exchange, capacity building, and diplomatic engagement, all focused on implementing projects that solve critical urban challenges around sustainability, inclusivity, and resiliency.  Across two years, this transformative program will help Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) cities create sustainable, inclusive, and resilient futures with knowledge sharing from U.S. cities. Interested to be a Cities Forward city? U.S., Latin American, and Caribbean cities can apply by June 15, 2023.

Climate change-driven migration is featured. ICLEI USA Board Chair, Commissioner of Travis County, Texas, Brigid Shea joined Secretary Blinken for the closing plenary of the Cities Summit, which focused on the issue of climate-induced migration. “Dozens of cities from across the hemisphere also came together to sign the Denver Declaration, which reflects their shared commitment to addressing the challenges facing our cities, including affordable housing, migration, and the climate crisis,” said Secretary Blinken during his closing remarks. “ I’m so thrilled to be joined by literally hundreds of mayors and governors, tribal and other indigenous leaders, along with dozens of networks which support them, like ICLEI, U.S. Conference of Mayors, C40 Cities Group.”

Methane reduction discussed in SCALE roundtable. ICLEI’s offices from across the Americas mobilized a group of mayors in conversation with Ambassador Nina Hachigian  to explore how the Subnational Climate Action Leaders’ Exchange (SCALE), announced during COP27, can be implemented with local government support. The roundtable focused on methane associated with solid waste activities and best practices for avoiding food waste, deploying advanced landfill management, and decreasing transportation to waste facilities.

DOE and ICLEI host a clean-and-just energy roundtable. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) and ICLEI USA hosted a roundtable on “Advancing Equitable Clean Energy Transitions” with a diverse group of mayors—with Cities of Fremont, Fort Collins, Hawai’i County, Ann Arbor, and more among them—to share insights and solutions on the practical strategies they are working on, from policies and local ordinances to programs and partnerships. DOE and ICLEI will collaborate on an outcomes report, compiling highly-replicable actions for achieving 100-percent renewable energy.

DOE and ICLEI Energy Roundtable

ICLEI hosts circular economy and nature-based solutions Summit sessions. ICLEI’s Americas offices delivered the Summit’s circularity track session, convening two panels of mayors to highlight ICLEI Circulars work on food systems, construction-and-demolition recycling, and green workforce development. In a “living lab” side session, ICLEI collaborated with Denver Botanic Gardens and City-County of Denver to showcase examples of nature-based collaborations with botanic gardens across the country.

The Cities Summit of the Americas provided the unique space for local, state, Tribal and federal leaders to interact in a first-ever event—and one we hope will become a recurring opportunity for the region. Throughout 2023 and beyond, ICLEI will leverage the U.S. leadership on multilevel action toward this year’s SDGs Summit, United Nations COP28 climate conference, next year’s ICLEI World Congress, and beyond.

Kale Roberts is a Senior Program Officer at ICLEI USA and works as advocacy and international collaboration lead.