Since 2017, the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments has coordinated the compilation of an annual report to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) summarizing the contribution of subnational authorities to each SDG. The fifth edition of the Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization (GOLD V) titled, ‘The Localization of the Global Agendas,’ provides a detailed assessment of implementation of the SDGs and other global agendas based on country reports to the HLPF.

The HLPF review of the first quadrennial cycle of SDG implementation in 2019 identified a major gap between “rhetoric and action,” and concluded that at the current pace none of the SDGs will be reached by 2030. Building on reporting by 142 countries who have presented at least one VNR since 2016, representing “86% of the world’s population,” the GOLD V report aims to provide an up-to-date global mapping of how countries are localizing “the global agendas,” including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on Financing for Development (FfD), and UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda (NUA).

One of the core objectives of the GOLD V report is to contribute to “a critical mass of knowledge” about how local and territorial approaches can help deliver the required basic services and livelihood opportunities for citizens, while contributing to the 2030 Agenda and other global goals. The report notes that the interconnectedness of the SDGs provides “our best shot at tackling the multi-dimensioned challenges facing our societies,” but emphasizes that this cannot be achieved without significantly stepping up policy-making efforts to put in place “a truly multilevel and multi-stakeholder governance system” that is co-owned by and accountable to all stakeholders and puts people at the center of development.

According to the publication, the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas is expected to rise from 55% to nearly 70% by 2050, with the bulk of the additional 2.3 billion urban dwellers likely to be concentrated in low- and lower middle-income territories. The report explores how, as part of their day-to-day responsibilities, local and regional authorities are implementing policies and carrying out actions that, while not always “SDG-labelled,” have a direct impact on the decarbonization of economies and ensuring access to energy, water, food, transport and infrastructure for the world’s population.

The report is structured around seven chapters that assess localization processes in each of the UCLG regions: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eurasia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and West Asia, and North America. An eighth chapter deals specifically with the “metropolitanization” phenomenon, exploring whether the trend towards ever-larger metropolises has an impact on implementation of the SDGs and global agendas. Based on numerous local and regional examples, it provides insights on some of the immediate and longer-term challenges that need to be solved to foster, monitor and scale-up local initiatives by strengthening inclusive and participatory local governance.

Well-resourced localization can help transform the current development paradigm.

Emerging Best Practice

The report suggests that true localization of the SDGs will require a number of policy transformations, including in urban and territorial planning, strategic design, institutional environments and ensuring that political roadmaps are fully “territorialized” to maximize local potentialities, involve all local stakeholders and build on local needs and demands.

The report highlights progress by 72 cities committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 through zero-emission transport, the use of 100% renewable energy, net-zero carbon buildings and zero waste by 2030, and doing so in an equitable and inclusive way. Another bottom-up initiative highlighted in the report is the growing “right to the city” movement, in which cities and regions commit to deliver efficient, inclusive and sustainable public institutions and policies and advance a rights-based approach to relaunch the social contract and strengthen citizen’s trust in public action.

The report underscores the importance of “well-resourced localization” in transforming the current development paradigm by showcasing city-focused climate project preparation facilities, such as the Cities Development Initiative for Asia, C40 Cities Finance Facility and the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) Transformative Actions Programme. At the recently-concluded UCLG World Assembly and World Summit for Local and Regional Leaders in Durban, South Africa, UCLG announced the launch of the International Municipal Investment Fund (IMIF), a joint initiative with the UN Capital Development Fund and the Global Fund for Cities Development (FMDV). The fund will be managed by Meridiam, an independent investment company currently managing a portfolio of public infrastructure projects with EUR 7 billion in assets.

Tackling Data Gaps

The report notes that the continued lack of disaggregated and localized data as well as the lack of technical and human resources have significantly affected the ability of local and regional governments to contribute to monitoring and reporting at national and regional levels. Efforts to address such gaps at regional level include the EU’s Eurostat-developed system of 100 SDG indicators and the Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), with 30 “objectives” applicable to all municipalities. However, the report notes that such mechanisms are yet to be translated into comprehensive monitoring of implementation at the local level.

At the national level, the report highlights initiatives to develop integrated SDG statistical platforms in Belgium, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand, with the involvement of associations of subnational authorities. The eThekwini-Durban municipality and Gauteng region in South Africa are highlighted as one of the few examples from Africa of local authorities that are building systems to generate place-based data to support SDG monitoring. Other examples of country-led initiatives include: Indonesia’s Satu Data portal that links provincial data hubs; score card systems in the Philippines and Rwanda that monitor SDG performance linked to specific funds; and a pilot of localized SDG indicators in China’s Zhejiang Province with the aim of adapting and upscaling it to other localities.

The report also mentions a number of innovative alliances that seek to bridge local-global data gaps, including: the ‘Know Your City’ initiative, which aims to address scarcity of data on informal settlements in Africa by bringing together networks of slum dweller institutions and federations, in partnership with UCLG Africa and the Cities Alliance; the creation of dashboards for a number of European cities and Brazil by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) based on city-level indicators; and the development of metrics to assess performance and compliance with global goals, and associated ISO certification, by the World Council of City Data, under which more than 100 cities on different continents have already filed for certification.

Next Steps

The report concludes with a call to local and regional governments and their global and regional organizations to “galvanize forces for localization of the 2030 Agenda in our cities and territories” through, among other actions:

  • Adopting the SDGs as a reference framework in their policies, programming, planning and budgets;
  • “Co-creating” policies with other local stakeholders to foster greater ownership and attain real local buy-in of communities policies;
  • Fostering an ecological and systemic relationship between people and nature; and
  • Promoting “labs” to experiment with innovative ways to implement, review and follow-up the localization process.

The report also highlights actions at the global level to strengthen governance of the SDGs and other global goals at the local level, including:

  • Fostering a global-local movement to localize the SDGs by making localization a pillar of national sustainable strategies to implement the SDGs;
  • Creating an enabling institutional environment for localization, as defined in the 2007 UN-Habitat International Guidelines on Decentralization, through empowered local and regional governments and adequate financing flows to support localization;
  • Supporting the production and dissemination of disaggregated data for the monitoring, evaluation and impact measurement of localization of the global agendas, including the SDGs;
  • Building vertical and horizontal partnerships for SDG implementation through the effective involvement of all spheres of government, civil society and key stakeholders; and
  • Developing a global governance system that brings together local and regional governments and civil society to boost implementation of the global agendas.

The report concludes with a number of specific recommendations for the reforming the global governance architecture to support localization of the SDGs. These include: “reshaping” the HLPF to enhance participation of different stakeholders and “facilitate true innovation and learning”; and consolidating the Local and Regional Governments Forum as a critical space for interactions between local and regional governments, UN Member States, and the UN system. [Publication: GOLD V 2019: The Localization of the Global Agendas: How Local Action is Transforming Territories and Communities] [UCLG Announcement] [GOLD Website] [IISD RS Coverage of 2019 UCLG World Summit]