The UN Secretary-General has identified SDG localization as one of three essential areas of action and established a Task Force on the Future of Cities.
The publication titled, ‘Leading Locally: The Origins and Impact of the Voluntary Local Review,’ highlights the role of local actors in achieving sustainability and documents the influences that led to the “VLR movement”.
The New York City Mayor’s Office of International Affairs and UN-Habitat issued a report on the emergence of voluntary local review of SDG implementation (VLRs). The report highlights the NYC Declaration on the Voluntary Local Review, which 333 subnational governments have signed.
The publication titled, ‘Leading Locally: The Origins and Impact of the Voluntary Local Review,’ was released in December 2021. It highlights the role of local actors in achieving sustainability and documents the influences that led to the “VLR movement.”
In September 2019, New York City launched the Declaration on the VLRs, aiming to create a “global movement of cities” that would foster more direct engagement between local authorities and the UN. Signatories to the Declaration make three commitments:
- Identify how their existing strategies, programs, data, and targets align with the SDGs;
- Provide at least one forum where stakeholders can come together to share experiences, lessons learned, and information gathered using the framework of the SDGs; and
- Submit a Voluntary Local Review to the UN during the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
The Declaration emphasizes using existing resources to undertake the VLR process in order to keep the threshold for entry low and open to different circumstances and models of growth and development. The publication reports that for Helsinki, Finland and other cities that have conducted a VLR, the “low barrier to entry” and the comparability with the VNR format made the process appealing.
In a foreword to the report, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed notes that two-thirds of the SDG targets will not be reached without the engagement of local and regional governments. Therefore, the UN Secretary-General has identified SDG localization as one of three essential areas of action, she writes. He also established a Task Force on the Future of Cities to consider how to better engage local authorities in the UN’s work.
UN-Habitat’s Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif writes that New York City’s submission of the first VLR was timely, as it coincided with the first Quadrennial Report on the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda, showing countries’ efforts to implement that Agenda. In that year the HLPF also conducted an in-depth review of SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities). New York City’s VLR complemented those discussions by providing a “municipal perspective on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and on the attainment of SDG 11.” Going forward, Sharif notes the need to identify institutional arrangements to link VLRs with national and intergovernmental planning processes.
Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York City until 2021, writes that the VLR process was created by his Office of International Affairs. The Commissioner of that Office, Penny Abeywardena, recalls that the SDGs lined up with the City’s own plan for sustainable development, called ‘OneNYC.’ This plan features commitments to:
- Dramatically expand the city’s organics program (composting) to accelerate the diversion of tons of organics from landfills;
- Implement advanced energy codes for new buildings in 2019 and very low energy design targets in all new buildings;
- Pursue the procurement of 100% renewable electricity for municipal operations;
- Develop at least 50 new miles of bike lanes per year (including 10 miles of protected bike lanes); and
- Lead the development of a global protocol for cities to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
In 2021 the UN General Assembly agreed on measures to strengthen the HLPF. The resolution recognizes local authorities’ efforts to conduct local reviews, and calls for more attention by the HLPF to bolstering local efforts for the SDGs. It also encourages the regional forums to discuss trends and findings from VLRs.
The 2022 session of the HLPF is scheduled for 5-15 July. At a workshop for the countries who will prepare VNRs, one government noted that the better VNRs are those that are more inclusive, and local and subnational reviews help to improve the quality of VNRs.
Five localities in Africa recently released VLRs, through a partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). [Publication: Leading Locally: The Origins and Impact of the Voluntary Local Review]