Local Government and the SDGs– an untapped opportunity?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a groundbreaking framework of 17 transformational goals to tackle our social, economic, and environmental challenges by 2030. Adopted by all 193 UN Member States at the United Nations in New York in 2015, all countries, companies and civil society are responsible for their achievement. Local Government have a huge contribution to make when it comes to the achievement and delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and opportunity to reap multiple benefits by integrating the goals to drive transformation, integrating existing plans and engage their diverse stakeholders.

Globally, Mayors are leading the way

Mayors and municipal governments have shown unprecedented leadership in addressing global development challenges for some time, including but not limited to the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, and other initiatives such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and The New Urban Agenda.

In September 2015, at the SDG Summit, Mayors from 40 countries met and declared their support and intention to drive the goals, in a declaration of cities commitment to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. As well as calling for the localisation of the 2030 agenda, the Mayors particularly welcomed the inclusion of SDG 11, Sustainable Cities as a ‘powerful driver of transformation’. Given that cities are growing worldwide, councils are critical to ensuring this growth happens sustainably, with much of the work they do touching most, if not all of the goals directly and indirectly.

Australia’s leaders on the SDGs

The City of Sydney was one of the first councils in Australia to build the Sustainable Development Goals into their Community Strategic Plan.

Their Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan is aligned to the SDGs, and their new 2050 strategy currently being developed will also be heavily aligned. With strong environmental reporting in place since 2008 and a set of community wellbeing indicators from 2012, they already report on local outcomes for approximately 40% of the 169 SDG targets. The City looked at each of the goals and not only mapped them to existing plans, but looked at who has a primary responsibility from a policy perspective, which targets they had direct and indirect control of and which other targets they could influence or advocate for.

The City of Melbourne, wrote an opportunities and recommendations report in 2017, and looked at how the City of Melbourne’s plans were delivering on the SDGs. Their assessment revealed opportunities in their interconnectedness and integration across 9 key SDGs and Plan directions. Their Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 details the strategic SDGs and provides a monitoring framework to track the plans progress towards achieving the SDGs, a framework that could be used by other cities.

It’s clear that councils can use this framework systemically to support integrated planning, and localise the SDGs not only for council projects, but as a means of engaging their diverse stakeholders and bringing the goals to life for community. What is needed is localisation and the ability to translate the global agenda into the local setting in a meaningful way.

Unfortunately, many councils have been slow on the uptake to integrate the SDGs into their planning process and community strategies.

Patricia Garcia, United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) National SDG Manager said that ‘We are seeing some councils start to take an interest in SDGs, particularly Mayors, however we want to work with all councils across Australia to integrate the SDGs into their cities and towns. Our approach to the SDGs is international thinking, national planning and local action.’

Federal, State and Local Government, who is responsible?

The United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) in its submission to the SDGs Senate Committee enquiry stated ‘For Australia to achieve the SDGs all Australian governments, Federal, State/Territory and Local need to dedicate resources and efforts to 'demystify' the SDGs, and to make them more widely understood’.

The federal government co-leads for the SDGs are the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade DFAT and Prime Minister and Cabinet, however state and local government actors will have devolved responsibility for SDG achievement.  In the Australian voluntary national review (VNR) published in June 2018, the federal government stated that:

“For Australia, many targets in the SDGs are in the purview of sub-national levels of government” and “The Australian Government has adopted an approach to the SDGs that is appropriate for our national circumstances, with government policy responsibilities and priorities devolved to the relevant agency and level”.  

What is clear is that state, region and local government need to work together to use the SDGs to better integrate their strategies and scale impact towards them.

A leading organisation who spotted the integration and impact potential of the SDGs was Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council (EMRC) in Perth. The EMRC and its member Councils were one of the first organisations in Australia to incorporate the SDGs into their Regional Environment Strategy 2016-2020. Their forthcoming 2020 strategy will continue this focus on SDGs and expand to more detailed targets and data. The cross collaboration between councils at this level means they can better collaborate on projects and advocate for better outcomes.

In summary, Councils have an untapped opportunity to use the SDGs to:

  • Drive transformation, particularly on SDG 11, Sustainable Cities.

  • Integrate - use the SDGs as the integrated framework it was designed to be, and better integrate plans, strategies and reporting.

  • Align - a diverse set of stakeholders in the interest of advocacy and collaboration projects.

  • Engage their employees and communities in the sustainable development agenda to raise public and widespread awareness.

Find out more about the SDGs opportunity at this upcoming workshop, LOCAL GOVERNMENT STRATEGY AND THE SDGS – Feb 19th, SYDNEY - book here.

Can’t make it? too far away for you? Leave an expression of interest for future dates and other locations, by clicking here.

Asha Kayla