This first brief of 2018 looks at thought leadership that has emerged independent of negotiations, expert meetings, and conferences, given the break in events over the holidays. Untethered from international summits, the brief explores new ways to consider the SDGs and their various dimensions, and zooms in on important work to localize the Goals at the city level. Of note, reports from different organizations show that tracking the SDGs at the local level is particularly important where women are disproportionately affected.

The Legal & Economic Empowerment Global Network’s (LEEG-net) “temple of SDGs” offers a new visualization for the Goals, with eight temple pillars representing legal foundations for people’s rights, especially for empowerment of the poor and vulnerable groups. For example, the seventh pillar is “right to information,” which LEEG-net notes has a direct positive impact on: SDG target 12.8 on ensuring that people have information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature; target 14.5 on conserving coastal and marine areas in a way that is consistent with law and scientific information; and target 16.10, which calls to ensure public access to information. Each pillar rests atop foundations of other multilateral agreements, the UN Charter, and four core principles: democracy, good governance, peace and security. An Explanatory Guide notes that the infographic and the SDGs relate to LEEG-net’s core work on legal empowerment, as SDGs 5 and 10 (gender equality and reduced inequalities) deal with the issue explicitly.

An SDG 8 brief shows that, in Baltimore, enacting a US$15 minimum wage may not achieve a living wage for some households with children.

On localizing the SDGs, three briefs look at the US city of Baltimore, Maryland, aiming to help advance the city’s tracking of progress towards the SDGs. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics published the briefs with the Hewlett Foundation and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. The first brief examines methods for tracking SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), and proposes a living wage calculator that uses technology developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Based on MIT’s analysis of data sampled, only 13% of households including one parent and one child earn more than the living wage (and only 6.4% do so with two children). The policy implication is that, although a US$12.33 per hour minimum wage would bring non-children households in line with local living standards, even an increase of the city’s minimum wage to US$15 per hour, as has been proposed and hotly debated, may not achieve a living wage for some households with children.

The second brief focuses on SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), through data on evictions and landlord-tenant disputes. The brief notes that a consultative process to identify locally-relevant justice indicators yielded little consensus, but that the “criminalization of poverty” is a key issue. More specifically, housing cases are of high importance, as they are found to disproportionately affect female-headed households and persons of color.

The third brief explores the feasibility of an open data portal for Baltimore, drawing on insights from the US National Reporting Platform and New York City. As such a portal is dependent on individual city agencies’ capacity to upload and maintain data, the brief outlines staffing needs required to maintain the open data portal with relevant data to track the SDGs, while also developing a local reporting platform. The three briefs build on an earlier report titled, ‘Baltimore’s Sustainable Future: Localizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Strategies and Indicators.’

Also on cities, a joint report from C40 Cities and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment report looks at approaches to taking climate action at the city level. It highlights four areas of opportunity in cities that have direct links to SDGs 7, 9, 11, 12 and 13: decarbonizing the electricity grid; optimizing buildings’ energy efficiency; enabling mobility; and improving waste management. The report sheds light on near-term actions that can accelerate progress in these four areas, recommending more robust procurement strategies, innovative financing approaches, increased community engagement, and leveraging networks to share information, collaborate across sectors and build consensus to spur action.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) also examines approaches to localizing the SDGs, through the lenses of economic development and gender equality. A blog post reviews lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and outcomes from the Fourth World Forum on Local Economic Development convened in October 2017, noting the evolving role of the state. The authors highlight a need for multi-layered institutions, and local development strategies that incorporate both social and environmental standards and are gender-inclusive. The blog cites a recent joint study carried out by UNDP and McKinsey, which finds that women’s participation in public administration has positive correlations with financial inclusion, improved education, increased levels of sanitation and better health care. Such results amplify the importance of on-the-ground analyses to track the SDGs at the local level, particularly where women are disproportionately affected, as noted in the above SDSN brief on SDG 16. A UN-led partnership titled, ‘Localizing the SDGs,’ summarizes further initiatives and offers a toolbox for implementation here.

On resilience, the Rocky Mountain Institute predicts on GreenBiz that the need for resilience will become “the new normal.” Total economic losses from disasters exceeded US$306 billion and claimed more than 11,000 lives in 2017. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) released a ‘Resilience Scan’ that summarizes experts’ views on coastal resilience, features a broader discourse analysis of online discussions in 2017 and reviews the coverage from both academic journals and “grey literature” on the subject. The expert views identify the 20 cities facing the highest relative coast flood risk, and highlight coastal mitigation and adaptation pathways that can maintain natural functions and preserve ecosystems. In the discourse analysis, the Scan finds that online discussions in 2017 took a more expansive view, looking at resilience through the lenses of climate, agriculture, food security, conflict, and urban, water and economic issues. The review of the non-traditional, or “grey” literature, looks at risk information, finance/investment, hard and soft infrastructure, and fragility. Overall, the Scan offers a multi-dimensional look at the complex and far-reaching implications of resilience in society.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.