Tools for SDG Localization through Urban Development

I had the wonderful opportunity to join the virtual High-Level Political Forum 2020 as a UNA-USA delegate. Since moving to New York, the issue of city and urban development has greatly interested me, and I decided to explore that in some of the sessions of the Forum. Through being involved with UNA-USA, I had learned much about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, but something new I learned at HLPF was the importance of SDG localization and the impact of urban development on the progress of the SDGs.

The SDG Reporting system is a global system made up of 231 indicators for all targets which were designed at the country level. This involves periodically reporting to the UN General Assembly with voluntary reviews conducted by Member States. While the Sustainable Development Goals were established in 2016, it wasn’t until 2017 and 2018 that New York as a city and Basque County in Spain created a process called “Voluntary Local Review”. These local reviews often didn’t accurately reflect the competencies or improvement areas of local actors as the benchmark for the SDGs were made for national governments. The purpose of localizing the SDGs is vital as it involves local groups such as local governments, academia, civil society, private sector, and religious organizations which have a significant impact on the behavior of large portions of the population.

One effort to support local voluntary reviews has come out of Europe where in February of this year at the World Urban Forum the European Handbook for SDG Voluntary Local Reviews was introduced. Its purpose is to provide a framework for the selection of appropriate indicators to tailor the reviews to the local context and to ensure comparability among cities. As we move toward an increasingly more data-focused world we must create the network that will allow us to accurately measure, assess, and implement important sustainability measures. While it may seem like a small step, the establishment of locally relevant goals with the involvement of community actors has already contributed to hopeful projects. One includes the city of Catalan in Spain where the local government aims to bring local and Sustainable Produce Back to the City. In Paris, UPEC has pledged to become a “committed university”, focusing on challenges of social transformation, social justice, and equity. Efforts include partnerships with regional and local authorities, local stakeholders to establish a living lab, promote citizen science & open science practices.

That being said, universities are influential local stakeholders and UNA-USA chapters can encourage their universities to actively involve themselves as voluntary contributors to their cities Local Review, or if none is in existence yet, build coalitions with other universities and local government to push for a Voluntary Local Review in cities such as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh or Orlando.