20 June 2019
14 Cities Discuss Common SDG Commitments, “Worldwide Movement” Towards VLRs
Yokohama, Japan / Viviane Okubo on Unsplash
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The brief from the Brookings Insitution reflects on city experiences with SDG implementation, following a meeting it convened in April 2019 to “advance a city-specific perspective and consensus” on localizing the SDGs.

Per the brief, the 14 cities that participated in the meeting committed to integrate messages about their SDG commitments into public remarks by their mayors and other senior city leaders and to consider undertaking voluntary local reviews, among other actions.

18 June 2019: The Brookings Institution issued a brief on the experiences of 14 “SDG Leadership Cities,” including recommendations for SDG implementation by cities. The brief is based on discussions at a meeting in Bellagio, Italy, to “advance a city-specific perspective and consensus” on localizing the SDGs.

The Bellagio meeting took place from 3-6 April 2019, with the participation of the following cities: Accra (Ghana); Bristol (UK); Ethekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa); Helsinki (Finland); Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Pittsburgh (US); Madrid (Spain); Malmo (Sweden); Mannheim (Germany); Mexico City (Mexico); Milan (Italy); and Yokohama (Japan).

The brief reports that these cities have committed to:

  • meet three times over the next 18- 24 months, with Brookings Institution support, to share best practices, solve mutual problems, and develop tools helpful in achieving local progress on the 2030 Agenda;
  • integrate messages about their SDG commitments into public remarks made by their mayors and other senior city leaders;
  • promote SDG localization with peers and within their city-to-city networks;
  • continue deepening their work on data and evidence;
  • consider undertaking a voluntary local review (VLR); and
  • share their practices, challenges, and innovations with others to support and scale up local SDG implementation.

Titled ‘Shaping the global agenda to maximize city leadership on the SDGs: the Experiences of Vanguard Cities,’ and authored by Anthony Pipa, the brief notes that mayors and local government officials are forming the frontlines of SDG implementation as they translate the 2030 Agenda’s “lofty and sometimes abstract aspirations” into progress felt by “real people living in real communities.”

The brief indicates that the 14 participating cities view the SDGs as integrative rather than something new, as their city leaders are already working on issues of equity and inclusion, social cohesion, economic growth, democratic participation, and climate change and environmental sustainability.

Participating cities were skeptical about standardizing a set of city target or indicators, suggesting instead a common “data floor.”

On measuring SDG progress, the author reports that participating cities were skeptical about attempts to standardize a set of city targets or indicators that would be applicable to each of their specific contexts. Instead, they suggested identifying a small subset, or a data floor, that might be common to all cities pursuing the SDGs, recognizing a healthy tension between comparability across cities, and customization to their local realities.

On financing, Pipa states that budget-related policies provide cities with leverage for catalyzing progress on their SDG priorities, and adds that the SDGs provide a platform to experiment with outcomes-based budgeting and/or participatory budgeting. He reports that some cities are already changing their procurement policies to reflect their priorities within the SDGs. He notes that cities find it difficult to access information and knowledge about what might be available or under consideration by investors, credit rating agencies, and public and private financiers.

On review of progress at the local level, the brief says the VLR is emerging as an important tool and “sparking a worldwide movement, with cities and municipalities globally moving to develop their own VLRs.” It reports that the group of cities gathered in Bellagio developed a set of principles that guide different approaches, uses, and audiences for a VLR, and Brookings will refine the principles and share them with key partners. The author also notes a suggestion to ensure that mayors and VLRs are part of every country’s delegation during the second UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2023.

Finally, the brief outlines a set of recommendations to help scale and deepen the advancement of the SDGs at the local level, including:

  • moving towards a “widespread” adoption of VLRs, including by having an official standing of VLRs within the UN architecture, finding ways to incorporate VLRs into voluntary national reviews (VNRs), and organizing VLR peer reviews;
  • having access to high-quality, city-specific research tools on SDG implementation, that are easily accessible and usable, including tools related to localizing SDG data and indicators, and case studies; and
  • increasing exposure to financing opportunities by organizing trainings with corporate leaders, private investors, or by exploring how to develop transformational partnerships and investment models.

The brief also highlights an urgent need for donors and others to increase investments in local data. [Publication: Shaping the global agenda to maximize city leadership on the SDGs: The experiences of vanguard cities] [Brief landing page]

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