UBC TALKS discussed integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals into strategies

Cities play an important role in the successful implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and cities around the world are joining the global movement of voluntarily reporting on the progress of the SDGs and the UN 2030 Agenda.  In our previous UBC TALKS webinar we explored how to get started with the Voluntary Local Review (VLR) process. This time the topic was to take a look on the different ways our member cities work with this framework locally.

Integrating the SDGs into city strategies

Our first speaker was Team Leader Alice Siragusa from the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC).  The JRC has published a European Handbook for SDG Voluntary Local Reviews, guiding European cities in adapting the SDG framework to their context. Ms Siragusa provided us examples on how to integrate the SDGs into strategies and she presented us four different steps of integration: 

  • SDG awareness raising - This step consists for example in communication and stakeholder engagement campaigns to raise awareness among the city organization and citizens about the UN 2030 agenda.
  • Local SDG mapping - Mapping of the city's priorities vs the SDGs is an exercise to map if the city's actions/programs contribute to one or more of the SDGs.
  • SDG Voluntary Local Review  - A review measuring the achievement of the SDGs presented to the UN HLPF.
  • Full alignment of the SDGs into the strategic plans - In this step, the 2030 Agenda is fully integrated into the definition of the strategic plan and it is used as a framework for the identification of priorities, actions and monitoring actions.

Examples of SDG work from UBC member cities

Our first presenter, Ulf Simolin, Environmental Coordinator from the City of Mariehamn was unable to join the webinar, but an informative slide set on the work the city is doing with the SGDs is available. For example the City Council has decided on an environmental program for the period 2019-2030, which has been developed based on selected SDGs. City councils and companies must have plans in their business plan for how they intend to achieve the goals. To keep track on how they are reaching for example the environmental goals, the city of Mariehamn does annual follow-up.

Dr. Stephan Braun, Climate Protection Officer from the City of Greifswald presented how the city has started to develop a sustainability strategy planned to be finalized in 2021. In addition to this work a state-of-the-art report on the SDGs has been prepared and steering committee for sustainable strategy has been established. Greifswald highlighted the importance of engaging the citizens and other stakeholders and involves its citizens in this process via surveys.

Next, we heard from Mr. Ola Nord, Head of EU Office from the City of Malmö. He introduced the systematic approach the city has been doing for the past few years ensuring that the 2030 Agenda is integrated in the city organization’s decision making and strategies. In 2018 the Municipal Board adopted the Strategy for the long-term implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development in the city and long-term governance and prioritizing is ensured by integrating the SDGs in the City’s goal structure. Read more on the SDG work in Malmö here and watch a short video showcasing concrete measures taken in Malmö.

Our last speaker, SDG Manager Ville Taajamaa from the City of Espoo presented their approach to integrating the 2030 Agenda framework in the city. The continuous and systematic work the city does also led to the city’s first Voluntary Local Review published in the summer of 2020. Espoo’s objective is to be permanently the most sustainable city in Europe. In 2018, Espoo joined the United Nations leadership programme for sustainable development and Espoo is committed to reaching the UN’s sustainable development goals already by 2025.

After the presentations during the Q+A session the speakers emphasized the fact that working with the SDG framework is an individual process for every city, however some common factors do exist – the need for commitment and support from leaders, the importance of involving the whole city organization and the benefits that cities can get from collaboration, peer learning, national level connections and different partnerships.

Some of the questions directed to the panelists could not be addressed during the webinar due to time constraints – answers to the questions not addressed can be found below.  

Watch the full recording of the webinar here and access all the presentations.

Here are the questions that were not addressed during the webinar.

  1. Awareness raising is key to ensure both political commitment and stakeholder engagement. Any tips on how to get started?”

ESPOO: Espoo has two focus areas at the moment: First is organization. We have workshops with all the units of the city focusing on how Agenda 2030 could be implemented to their actions as framework, metrics and communication. Second track is youth. We want our youth to become a driver of sustainable development. As for tips both need clear commitment from leadership and allocated resources.

GREISWALD: In Germany there is a sample resolution (for UN targets) which cities can sign. The German Association of Towns and Municipalities makes this available (see link below). That makes it very easy that city parliament can decide on this resolution. It is just 4 pages (every city can use the same text). So it’s the question whether such documents/recommendations are existing in the other countries. If you think it is more less an unknown topic for political decision makers, you should do some press releases about the SDGs with practical aspects.

In our case we combined the commitment for UN targets with the target to get fair trade city (SDG target 12) because the UN commitment is “quite abstract” and to get fair trade town is a first practical step in the right direction (the combination with another target like fair trade can be an idea – it is not in all cases a good idea – but if you think it could be helpful – think about what could be your first more practical step regarding SDGs).

https://www.staedtetag.de/themen/nachhaltigkeit-auf-kommunaler-ebene-gestalten (in German)

https://skew.engagement-global.de/files/2_Mediathek/Mediathek_Microsites/SKEW/Themen/Global_Nachhaltige_Kommune/Beschluesse_und_Papiere/Musterresolution_2030-Agenda.pdf (in German)

https://skew.engagement-global.de/musterresolution-agenda-2030.html  (actual map about all German cities who signed the resolution- in German)

  1.  ”Which stakeholders should be involved in local steering committees and how to ensure their commitment?”

ESPOO: In Espoo everything starts with residents and committing them to co-create the future of the city. Our strategy is done together with even 6 year olds! When things are done together they tend to work. In addition to political decision makers and the organization other partners like industry, academia and ngos are also crucially important.

GREISWALD: There is certainly no general recommendation here. The different departments of city administration are important and of course also civil society. It is always the question about find the people who are really willing to support the topic.  Sustainability means environment, economy and social aspects (so you have to have this in mind for the steering group).

  1. ”How to define an acceptable level for each SDG?"

ESPOO: Yes, cities can and must achieve the SDGs! And this is not enough. Every city has to, in addition to achieving the SDGs, find their global role in how they contribute to planetary level development of our global and local sustainable future. There is simply no alternative. This is a process of local, regional, national and international collaboration. It can only be achieved through active dialogue.

GREISWALD: It is important just to start. Acceptance is the result of the participation formats. From my point of view we can’t start with the 169 targets (you have to prioritize – climate protection could be a starting point – it is in generally accepted).