By Felix Dodds
This week, the UN High Level Political Forum is reviewing the implementation process of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York City. The theme: Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world. Felix Dodds from the Global Research Institute criticizes the missing involvement of urban development actors and calls for a conference on local implementation.
The biggest failure of the New Urban Agenda was that it was not connected with the local implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This failure means instead of being part of the community engaged in implementing the SDGs, it has embarked on another agenda. It’s true that the New Urban Agenda pays lip service to the SDGs, but it doesn’t go in depth with regards to the sustainable cities and communities’ narrative and commitments under the goals and targets.
It was a huge achievement to have SDG11, Sustainable Cities & Communities – Make cities and communities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – as one of the SDGs. This wasn’t easy as there were a number of key governments who did not want to see this1.
But of course, SDG11 isn’t the only goal that addresses cities and communities. There are some 21 percent of the 169 targets that can only be implemented at the local level with local actors, and an additional 24 percent which should be implemented with local actors. A further 20 percent need, although the wording isn’t clear, the engagement of local stakeholders. SDG11 is a particularly appropriate vector/lens to contribute to an integrated and interconnected implementation of the SDGs.
We need a conference for the local implementation of the SDGs
Will the community of urban and territorial development stakeholders/actors be at this year’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in force? I doubt it. Should they be? Absolutely!
There needs to be a full engagement by the community of urban and territorial development stakeholders/actors in ALL HLPFs. To facilitate this, Adelphi, Maruxa Cardama (former Communitas Coalition Executive Coordinator) and I have advocated for a conference on the local implementation of the sustainable development goals to be held prior to the annual HLPF (under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council) with the broad aim of accelerating the synergetic implementation of SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.
Such a conference could:
1. Assess existing implementation initiatives and accelerate integrated implementation through multi-stakeholder partnerships
2. Support synergetic implementation and monitoring approaches of the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda at all levels
3. Support the synergetic global follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda
4. Enhance the science/policy/practice interface so that knowledge can guide sustainable urban development.
Such a proposed annual conference would be aligned with the quadrennial cycle of the HLPF (under the auspices of the General Assembly) to provide input on the urban dimension of the SDGs that are being reviewed that year. The event would help translate global visions into concrete, integrated implementation and multi-stakeholder partnership strategies at the local and subnational level. It would look at how cities are vectors for accelerating the implementation of (almost) all SDGs and the vital importance of global agendas speaking to and being adapted to local communities (localisation).
The conference would start to mobilise the community of urban and territorial development stakeholders/actors while at the same time bring them into coalition or alliance with other stakeholders working on other goals and targets. It would shed light on the practical aspects of making integration and cross-sectoral solutions the new normal for policy-making and implementation strategies at all levels of governments.
Creating local agendas for sustainability
After the Earth Summit in 1992, one paragraph in Agenda 21 had a huge impact at the local level that said:
“local authorities in each country should have undertaken a consultative process with their populations and achieved a consensus on ‘a local Agenda 21’ for the community.”
Within ten years, over six thousand ‘local agenda 21s’ were created across the globe with local authorities acting as facilitators in working with their local stakeholders to develop visions and set agendas with in many cases goals and targets for their communities to become more sustainable. We need to build that kind of mobilisation to implement the SDGs at the local level.
Next year SDG 11 will be reviewed. It is my hope that the community of urban and territorial development stakeholders/actors will also come with input to the other goals being reviewed:
- SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
- SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Risks in different sectors are interlinked and need to be addressed accordingly
Each goal outlined above is very relevant to the community of urban and territorial development stakeholders/actors. They also need to contribute to the Nexus between water-food-energy-climate, a concept that will be the focus of a preparatory conference happening in April 2018 in Chapel Hill. The Nexus concept becomes really important at the subnational level where trade-offs really do impact on people’s lives.
It is not good enough to look at the individual sectors anymore – the SDGs are as much about the interlinkages between sectors and the challenges and opportunities those interlinkages bring. As the German Nexus Conference in 2011 pointed out, by 2030 we will need to increase our energy and food capacity each by 40 percent. At the same time, we will see a shortfall of water availability over demand of 30 percent. Integrated actions on the Nexus agenda can reduce these risks. However, if the community of urban and territorial development stakeholders/actors stay in their individual silos and do not work with other stakeholders, those risks will become realities by 2030.