17 July 2018
First Local and Regional Governments Forum Discusses Conditions for Localizing SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

The first Local and Regional Governments’ Forum convened on the sidelines of the HLPF to discuss local and regional governments’ engagement in the preparation of Voluntary National Reviews and integrated territorial planning to achieve the SDGs.

The Forum focused on rethinking subnational financing systems to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, local and subnational monitoring of the SDGs, and synergies and coherence, among other issues.

Co-organized by DESA, UN-Habitat, the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, and Local2030, the Forum gathered approximately 200 local and regional governments and other stakeholders.

16 July 2018: During the first Local and Regional Governments’ Forum, participants called for engaging local and regional governments in international and national discussions on the SDGs, noting that they are at the “forefront” of SDG challenges, and are faced with global problems that cannot be managed without local solutions. The Forum convened on the sidelines of the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

As an outcome of the Forum on 16 July 2018, in New York, US, local and regional government networks adopted a statement of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, in which they commit to develop further partnerships with civil society and other stakeholders to ensuring the achievement of the SDGs, support the proactive involvement of local and regional governments in the process of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), and promote Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) at both city and regional levels that include the development of accountability mechanisms.

The Forum gathered approximately 200 local and regional governments and other stakeholders, in addition to UN Member States. Some local and regional government representatives said they should not only be invited as “guests” in international fora but be more actively engaged in discussions and “have a seat at the table.” They also called for: strengthened support from national governments; rethinking local finances; defining new partnerships; ensuring coherent implementation; and collecting local data to monitor progress.

Miroslav Lajcak, President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), highlighted key development areas where national and regional partnerships are needed, including on: inequality; planning to avoid slums, poverty and vulnerability to disasters; and creating the right environment for funding and investing “locally.” Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, remarked that urban sustainability is a “critical cross-cutting and far-reaching” issue since what happens in cities and human settlements has a direct impact on health, quality of life, and the environment. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), called on all cities to have an integrated holistic sustainable development plan that can be “understood by all levels,” operationalized, and evaluated. Sustainable cities and communities are the subject of SDG 11, which is one of the six Goals on which the HLPF held an in-depth review this year.

Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, said the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, together with the UN system, has worked tirelessly to develop an ambitious ‘Local2030’ agenda that will help reframe how the world implements the 2030 Agenda at the local level. Referring to the ongoing UN development system reform, she stressed the need to transform the way the UN system works and supports local governments to help local authorities own and lead on SDG implementation via the Local2030 strategy. The strategy, she said, must include innovative investment funds, a Local2030 facility for local governments, and a more robust Local2030 expertise in the UN system.

Parks Tau, President, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), on behalf of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, presented the local and regional governments’ report to the 2018 HLPF, titled, ‘Towards the Localization of the SDGs.’ The report provides information on the active engagement of local and regional governments in the dissemination and implementation of the SDGs at the local level. He reported that 23 out of 43 countries consulted local and regional governments in their VNRs in 2017, and that many local and regional governments are still “unacquainted” with the SDGs. Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of Bonn and member of the Global Taskforce, noted that the ICLEI Montreal Commitment and Strategic Vision 2018-2024 serves as a framework for change and includes five strategic pathways for sustainable cities, based on low-emission, nature-based, equitable and people-centered development.

In a session on SDG 11 and its interlinkages with the other SDGs under in-depth review at the HLPF, Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, Spain, stressed the urgency of addressing the issue of housing to safeguard human rights and the SDGs, adding that in some instances, middle class families can no longer live in their neighborhood because of the real estate speculation and the high cost of housing. She announced that a ‘Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City’ is being finalized and will be supported by many cities. Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, outlined the ‘Shift,’ a new worldwide movement to reclaim and realize the fundamental human right to housing, that she initiated in partnership with UCLG and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Michael Müller, Mayor of Berlin, Germany, underscored the importance of platforms, such as UCLG and Metropolis, to collaborate and “network” with other cities and local governments worldwide. Referring to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, agreed by the UNGA on 13 July, Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montreal, Canada, highlighted the importance for cities to think about how to manage migration, and said Montreal has adopted the sustainable development plan ‘Sustainable Montreal 2016-2020.’ She reported that mayors and leaders of local and regional governments sent a letter to the Group of 7 (G7) that convened in Charlevoix, Canada in June 2018 to outline critical challenges that national governments need to tackle in partnership with regional and local governments, such as climate change, peace and security, and gender equality.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed stressed the need to transform the way the UN system supports local governments to help them own and lead on SDG implementation.

On local and regional governments’ engagement in the preparation of VNRs, William Cobbett, Director, Cities Alliance, noted that “far too many” governments do not find it important to consult with their local and subnational governments. Echoing Cobbett, Johnny Araya, Mayor of San José, Costa Rica, said that while national reviews should consider cooperation at all levels of governments, there is a different reality on the ground. He remarked that subregional participation in the preparation of Costa Rica’s VNR in 2017 was “very scarce and minimal.”

Carlos Martínez, Mayor of Soria, Spain, noted that participation of local governments and civil society in VNRs and reporting is not something “spontaneous,” but needs to be planned and organized through a process. Yoka Brandt, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands, said Dutch municipalities played an “important role” in the Netherlands’ VNR report and presentation in 2017, adding that the Association of the Netherlands Municipalities aims to raise SDG awareness. Juan Francisco Montalbán, Ambassador for the 2030 Agenda, Spain, noted that his country is presenting its VNR in 2018, and there was an “open” dialogue at various levels of government regarding the Agenda’s implementation.

Álvaro García, Office for Planning and Budget, Uruguay, said his office coordinates the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Uruguay, and noted that his country presented its VNR at the HLPF in 2017, and will present one again in 2018 and 2019. He reported on various initiatives taken by Uruguay to involve local authorities and communicate the SDGs, including a mobile public exhibition on the Goals that was presented to cities and towns, and consultations with civil society and the private sector in each city. He added that nine departments at subnational level of government have incorporated the SDGs in their “daily policies.”

In a panel on integrated territorial planning to achieving the SDGs, Robin Ogilvy, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Special Representative to the UN, said the OECD launched a programme that focuses on a territorial approach for the SDGs.

Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, President, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe, said local and regional authorities must have proper autonomy of action and decision making to achieve the SDGs, adding that the European Charter of Local Self-Government, ratified by 47 member States of the Council, seeks to ensure this autonomy, including on the use of local resources and planning local development.

Raffaele Cattaneo, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Lombardy, Italy, said the principle of subsidiarity should be a key element in achieving the SDGs and setting up multilevel governance, and added that Lombardy prepares an annual report on the SDGs. Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid, Spain, reported that Madrid government created a plan for achieving the SDGs, and noted the importance for local governments to have their own platforms, including their own SDG evaluation and review processes.

On rethinking subnational financing systems to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda, David Jackson, UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), underscored the need for a shift in “how we think about finance,” moving away from a zero-sum game where local and federal authorities compete for limited funds, and creating instead a financial ecosystem that is conducive to local funding.

María Ángeles Elorza, Secretary for External Relations, Basque Country, Spain, outlined the Basque Country Agenda 2030, which identifies 93 commitments, 80 tools for planning, 19 legislative initiatives to be approved by 2020, and 50 indicators to monitor progress towards the SDGs. She noted that the Basque country has a special bilateral tax arrangement with the Spanish Government, and maintains full power of management and tax collection.

Mauricio Rodas, Mayor of Quito, Ecuador, said the New Urban Agenda (NUA) gives local governments more responsibilities than they had previously, but remarked that cities face “political vulnerability.” In the case of national government transfers for example, he explained that if a local leader does not have a good relationship with a national president, then that leader might not receive the resources needed to meet the SDGs. He called for a vertical integration scheme that brings international development banks, national and local governments, the private sector and other stakeholders to design plans for SDG actions at local level.

On local and subnational monitoring of the SDGs, Kenji Kitahashi, Mayor of Kitakyushu, Japan, described the national Japanese Government’s integration of environmental, social and economic pillars through “eco-model” cities, and noted that these are monitored via localization of the SDGs, targets and indicators. Jan Van Zanen, Mayor of Utrecht, the Netherlands, listed the steps that Utrecht has taken to select a set of local indicators based on the SDGs which will be made visible in a dashboard that tracks progress on the SDGs in the coming years. This “global Goals data tool,” he noted, can be used by all Dutch municipalities to benchmark and report progress made by local government, but pointed to data limitations and uneven capacities across municipalities. Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener, Canada, called for collaboration within and between different levels of government on SDG implementation and monitoring, noting the need to integrate local data into national reporting systems. He described the city of Winnipeg’s fourth edition of ‘Our City: A Peg Report on Sustainability,’ which evaluates progress on the SDGs via an indicator system set up by local community.

On synergies and coherence, Célestine Ketcha Courtès, Mayor of Bangangté, Cameroon, lamented that VNRs do not talk about specific strategies that have been used to support local authorities. Adam Vaughn, Parliamentary Secretary, Canada, identified a mismatch of resources that can impede SDG implementation. He noted that although 82% of Canadians live in large urban centers, and cities control 60% of infrastructure, they only have access to 10% of the tax base. He noted that since the federal elections of 2015, the national government has invested heavily in cities via a 12-year CAN$180 billion infrastructure plan, complemented by a ten-year CAN$40 billion national housing strategy. He added that the national housing strategy is working directly with cities, fostering increased coherence to build smarter, more resilient cities that contribute to the SDGs, and to meet national and international targets on climate change.

The Local and Regional Governments’ Forum 2018 was co-organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), UN-Habitat, the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, and Local2030. [Local and Regional Government’s Forum] [Concept Note and Preliminary Programme] [Remarks by UNGA President Miroslav Lajcak] [Remarks by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed] [Remarks by Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin] [Local2030 Website] [Local and Regional Government Statement] [Towards the Localization of the SDGs]

This story has been written with the collaboration of Adam Fishman.

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