Policy Report Calls for Data Management to Localize SDGs in ASEAN Cities
UN Photo/Kibae Park
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An Institute for Global Environmental Strategies policy report surveys stakeholders from ASEAN member governments to examine city-level expectations and priorities around SDG implementation.

The report finds lower levels of SDG awareness in cities and local authorities than national government agencies, but notes that "frontrunner" cities are taking a lead.

Data collection – even in frontrunner cities – is severely lacking, and needs to be incentivized, the authors conclude.

7 May 2018: The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) released a policy report on how “frontrunner” cities in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are localizing the SDGs. The report notes that, while national governments are incorporating the SDGs into their development plans, the SDGs must be implemented “on the ground, where sub-national governments are the key drivers,” requiring multiple levels of government to work together.

In researching for the report, IGES surveyed government stakeholders that participated in the ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable Cities (ESC) Model Cities Programme, regarding local expectations and priorities around SDG implementation. The findings emphasize local data management, as reflected in the report’s title, ‘Early Views of ASEAN’s ‘Frontrunner Cities’ on the SDGs and Local Data Management.’

Among other findings, the authors note lower levels of SDG awareness in cities and local authorities than in national government agencies. This is natural, they suggest, since city officials by and large did not participate in the global agenda-setting process. But there is also a need to make the SDGs more tangible at the city level, as few respondents saw benefits of reframing local actions using the SDGs. Some felt that the SDGs span too many areas and that cities cannot realistically address all of them, especially without intensive guidance from the UN system or their national governments. Others highlighted systemic barriers such as lack of legal jurisdiction, which restricts action by city officials.

Frontrunner cities have not waited for instruction from national agencies to incorporate the SDGs into local action.

The “frontrunner” cities highlighted in the IGES report are those that, in contrast, have not waited for instruction from national agencies on incorporating the SDGs into local action. But there are challenges to taking action independent of “higher level” government entities: staff capacity and fiscal autonomy are both reduced at the city level; cities are dependent on disbursements from national governments for their spending; and technically complex areas such as infrastructure, energy and transport require significant investments in political, financial and human capital to shift away from their current trajectories. Frontrunner cities have had to, at times, act independently from national governments, even overreaching their scope of authority to change the status quo, the authors write.

The report also finds city-level data collection – even in frontrunner cities – to be “almost non-functioning.” Data are either not collected consistently, are scattered across city departments, are of poor quality, or are lost during staff transitions. National statistical offices (NSOs) are often tasked with data collection, analysis, and other monitoring efforts, especially in relation to global frameworks such as the SDGs. But local champions and community volunteers may be able to pilot new data mechanisms that can complement higher-level statistics.

The authors recommend innovative reward systems to incentivize data collection at city-level. Examples include working with universities and advanced students to collect and analyze city-level data on priority SDGs and targets. Rewards could include invitations to present their analyses at international conferences. They also propose the establishment of mayor-supervised institutions and committees that bring together disparate stakeholders from multiple levels of government to ensure that data are collected and that they align with both globally-adopted SDG indicators as well as initiatives led by NSOs. [Publication: Early Views of ASEAN’s ‘Frontrunner Cities’ on the SDGs and Local Data Management] [ASEAN Model Cities Programme]

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