Town Councils Demonstrate Their Commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals

Town Councils Demonstrate Their Commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals

31.7.2019
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[This article has been written by Gonzalo Fanjul and Leire Pajín and originally published in Spanish in the '3.500 millones' blog from 'El País']

Several recent initiatives show that local goverment bodies may have a better understanding of the 2030 Agenda than some other institutions

In the midst of the confusion surrounding the administration and application of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), some actors have managed to demonstrate that they see the agenda as something more than just a flashy accessory. Their actions are transforming real policies and practices, defining a powerful narrative of shared progress and driving the creation of improbable partnerships and alliances.

On this blog, for example, we have read about the inspiring ways universities and companies are using the SDGs as a way to support areas of common interest, such as energy, food and health. However, perhaps the most lasting impact may come from the level of goverment closest to the street—town councils.

Since the SDGs were first launched, the people in charge of municipal policy have shouldered their responsibility for an agenda that affects the welfare of all citizens and establishes the obligation of government to act.

Few efforts would appear to be more justified. About 80% of people in this country live in urban areas. The management of local resources determines people’s rights and affects the limits of our planet in a way that every citizen can recognise. The recent deplorable reversal of the Madrid Central initiative shows how susceptible society can be to the whims of the populist currently in power. While the competences of local governments do not extend to essential services like health and education, we have all seen how such institutions can support or undermine policies set by others.

A little under a year ago, the Spanish Network for Sustainable Development ( Red Española de Desarrollo Sostenible : REDS) published a report entitled “Mirando hacia el futuro: Ciudades sostenibles” (Looking towards the future: Sustainable cities). The report provides a snapshot of the current situation in Spain based on an analysis of the country’s provincial capitals, metropolitan areas and urban centres with a population of more than 80,000 inhabitants. Thirty-six of these cities did not have a single indicator in the red. Most of them performed well on goals such as health, water and sanitation, security and the strength of their institutions. But the analysis also exposed structural weaknesses in some areas—for example, decent work and economic growth—reflecting the deficiencies of the country as a whole.

ODS Blog - Photo by David Monje Unsplash

This is the third report published through the network’s international umbrella organisation: the SDSN initiative. The other two deal with the situation in the United States and Italy. The purpose of the report is to support the efforts of municipal authorities by offering guidance and assessing the effectiveness of the work done to date. Because reflecting on the road travelled allows us to see what is working and what is not. At an event that took place in New York last week as part of the UN High Level Forum, the mayors of Soria and Seville explained to an international audience just some of the lessons learned in recent years, starting with the recognition that there would be no 2030 Agenda in Spain without the enthusiasm of municipal governments channelled by bodies like the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (Federación Española de Municipios y Provincias: FEMP).

The challenges they face are considerable. Local authorities have to engage in a task for which they often have no budgetary muscle or appropriate legal framework. Governments and the populace would both benefit greatly if municipal employees had the training and opportunity that would allow them to escape the constraints of their professional niches and forge a link between the different areas of public policies that affect sustainable development (health, urban planning and mobility, for example). Or if they were able to engage in initiatives involving diverse actors without getting trapped in the bureaucratic morass of public procurement. Today, such flexibility and the ability to transcend boundaries is still a pipedream in far too many places.

Today, such flexibility and the ability to transcend boundaries is still a pipedream in far too many places

When they face difficulties, imagination and a will to act are the only resources available to muncipal agents. Problems are overcome through collaborative and creative solutions, such as participatory budgets, local power generation, and urban redesign—solutions that could be replicated and scaled up elsewhere. This realization has given rise to a proposal to set up a database of good practices to facilitate the dissemination of this knowledge and to encourage the creation of partnerships and forums for dialogue between cities inside and outside our country. It is hoped that this initiative will give new meaning to the concept of municipal development cooperation and leverage the efforts of other public and private actors.

Who knows what impact the reverberations of this revolution will have. Just a few months ago in Seville, Local 2030 achieved consensus on a commitment from national governments in Europe, Africa and America as well as local and regional governments, companies, NGOs and universities. The body responsible for the government of the province of Barcelona (the Diputació de Barcelona) has just announced the creation of an SDG Office, which will be led by the mayor of one of the cities in the province. Meanwhile, a coalition involving REDS, ISGlobal, the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (ITD) at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, SEGIB and Iberdrola is building Ibero-American platforms to link up and replicate the experiences of different cities. When 2030 comes around, those mayors and many others will be able to look back and recognise that the value of the SDGs goes beyond the rhetorical fanfare that may accompany them.

When 2030 comes around, those mayors and many others will be able to look back and recognise that the value of the SDGs goes beyond the rhetorical fanfare that may accompany them

The lives of their fellow citizens will have been transformed in tangible and everyday ways that affect the things on which our happiness ultimately depends: the commute time we steal from our families, the quality of the air we breathe, protection from a mortgage going bad, involvement in community affairs, and the privilege of walking around safely at any time of the day or night. While these may seem like small things, they actually define the fabric of our lives.