City Leaders Boost Role of Voluntary Local Reviews of 2030 Agenda
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Mayors and other municipal leaders reflected on their experiences in pioneering “voluntary local reviews,” at a Local2030 network special event.

Speakers said VLRs put the spotlight at the level where the bulk of SDG implementation is happening.

Participants also drew attention to tools to support SDG localization, and upcoming events on municpal SDG action.

17 July 2019: Mayors and other municipal leaders reflected on their experiences in pioneering “voluntary local reviews,” at a Local2030 network special event. The two-day gathering took place on the sidelines of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The event titled, ‘Local Action for Global Commitments,’ took place from 16-17 July 2019. It was co-organized by the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Capital Development Fund, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Global Compact and UN-Habitat.

Chairing the session on local reporting, Lotta Tahtinen, DESA, said municipal authorities are coming forward with voluntary reviews that compliment their national government’s official voluntary review of SDG implementation (the VNRs – voluntary national reviews). She said local “VLR” reports put the spotlight at the local level, which is “where the bulk of SDG implementation is happening.”

Among the first municipalities that have prepared local reports is Helsinki, Finland, which presented a VLR in early July 2019. Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori said that while sustainable development is a long-standing priority for the city, preparing a VLR allowed it to connect that commitment to the SDGs and generate more knowledge about sustainability.

Sophie Howe, Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, said the country of Wales reported on its SDG actions within the 2019 VNR from the UK. She noted that Wales has adopted legislation based on three emerging concepts in policy making: well-being, implementing the SDGs, and intergenerational equity. Wales’s legislation mandates its government to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, and this requires long-term planning, preventive action, and ensuring that problems do not get worse. For example, health care resources must be shifted from treatment to prevention.

Francisco Resnicoff, Buenos Aires City Government, Argentina, said his city has also launched a VLR, and outlined why cities should adopt and report on the SDGs: the Goals’ targets and indicators help a city set priorities and evaluate outcomes; and they provide a common framework across cities, so they can learn from each other. In this way, the SDGs are not just “old wine in new bottles,” but add value for cities.

The SDGs provide cities with a common language and vision, one that is unprecedently consensual and participative.

Joana Balsemao, Counselor of the Municipality of Cascais, Portugal, echoed the idea that the SDGs provide cities with a common language and vision, one that is unprecedently “consensual and participative.” She explained Cascais’s approach of training every government worker on the SDGs, with the curriculum tailored to their respective fields (social work, waste collection, etc.). Those workers will then help determine the expertise needed, develop indicators and localize monitoring.

Junko Ota, Kitakyushu City SDGs Council, Japan, said her city launched one of the world’s first VLRs in 2018. She reflected that Kitakyushu had become prosperous as a major industrial city, but the steel industry created pollution, and a women’s movement to get “the blue sky back” spurred efforts to integrate economics with environmental protection.

Alexandra Hiniker, New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, said the City had found it more useful to look at the SDGs’ targets rather than their indicators, since “each city measures things in a different way.” She said the City had had tools in place to prepare a VLR because it was already reporting annually against its own sustainability strategy.

Hiniker also underlined the value of framing the VLR process as a chance for city departments to learn something new, rather than as an additional burden, and affirmed the idea that the SDGs provide a common language for cities to share what works well and learn from others to do better. New York City released its second VLR during the 2019 HLPF.

Other municipal leaders and representatives shared the experiences of:

  • Bacarena, Brazil, a city in the Amazon that was the first municipality in Brazil to publish a report on its SDG implementation process;
  • Durban, South Africa, which prepared a VLR this year and found a need for city-level data to feed the review process;
  • Bristol, UK, which launched its VLR during the 2019 HLPF and noted the benefits of local universities, both for financial support and student assistance for the mapping and groundwork of the review process;
  • Los Angeles, California, US, which launched its first VLR on 18 July along with a community-sourced online platform to index SDG-related activities in the city, and an open-source local data reporting platform.

Speakers also said: a discussion is needed on a “core set of principles” for VLRs, to ensure they can inform each other; it is important to conduct the reporting process each year, so as not to lose the partnership, learning and cooperation that is built in the process; only 40% of the VNRs presented in 2019 mentioned local and regional governments; and there is a need to finance localization of the agenda.

Recent and forthcoming resources were also highlighted, including the ‘VLR Lab’ online platform from IGES; a United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) training handbook for local leaders on preparing VLRs; a forthcoming EU handbook to support the VLR process for cities in EU member States; and support for creating indicators from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Upcoming gatherings on local SDG action will include: the second Local and Regional Governments Forum during the SDG Summit in September 2019, organized by DESA, UN-Habitat, Local2030 and the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments; the sixth UCLG World Congress in Durban, South Africa, in November 2019; the tenth World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), in February 2020; and the second edition of Venice City Solutions on financing localization.

Closing the special event, Tahtinen observed a need for gatherings for municipal leaders to share experiences in preparing VLRs, and for a more coherent way to capture VLRs, as more cities begin to produce them. She also said that DESA’s survey on improving the HLPF has signaled an interest in more space to hear reporting from other stakeholders, such as civil society, business, and local authorities.

In addition to the session on the VLRs, the special event featured sessions on local-level financing for the SDGs, as well as local implementation of the SDGs under review at the July 2019 HLPF session (Goals 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 17). [Webcast of VLRs session] [Webcast of Closing Session]


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