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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.

Cities are on the front lines of the biggest issues facing our world today. From the climate and pollution crises to questions of effective democratic governance, cities are where it all happens. The Western Hemisphere is the world’s most urbanized region, with over eighty percent of the population living in cities.

As pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change drive extreme weather events, mayors are devising adaptation, mitigation, and resilience strategies to respond when disaster strikes. While there are many linguistic, cultural, and topographical differences within our hemisphere, mayors and local officials share a common goal – providing high-quality services to their citizens.

In late April, mayors, local leaders, partners, and stakeholders from the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean gathered in Denver for the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas. The summit fostered regional cooperation on our most pressing global issues.

While in Denver, we launched Cities Forward, the State Department’s flagship urban sustainability initiative in the Western Hemisphere. The State Department selected ICLEI-USA, ICLEI Mexico, ICLEI South America, and their partners Resilient Cities Catalyst and the Institute of the Americas to implement this transformative program.

The goal of Cities Forward is to help participating cities develop and implement solutions to promote sustainability, inclusivity, and resilience in neighborhoods and communities. The program will build a peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing network starting with 12 cities from Latin America and the Caribbean paired with 12 cities from the United States. We will share lessons from those pairings with another 50 cities throughout the entire region. The application is open through June 15, 2023, for cities in the hemisphere to apply.  

Cities are leading the way on our most complex issues, including the global crisis of plastic pollution. According to the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), “Seventy-five percent of all plastic produced has ended up as trash in landfills and water bodies and cities generate approximately 70 percent of the world’s total waste and suffer costs to human health and the environment.” 

Local governments are an essential part of the solution and important partners as we look to develop an international agreement to address plastic pollution. The mayors and leaders of Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI) made a commitment to reduce plastic waste in the Mississippi River Basin in 2018. More than 40 percent of the continental United States drains into the Basin. Plastic waste and other litter travels through storm drains, and tributaries into the river and eventually into the ocean. At the summit in Denver, mayors from the initiative showcased their work of collecting data about the locations, quantities, and types of plastic pollution to determine how best to tackle the problem.

MRCTI’s efforts are an example of the defining themes of the Cities Summit:  connection and collaboration. The only way we will solve our collective problems — from climate adaptation to preserving and defending democracy around the world — is through collaboration. We will continue to engage local leaders to bring real solutions to the global stage. 

U.S. Department of State

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