Local linchpins: Mayors commit to the SDGs

City officials from around the world will attend this month’s Sustainable Development Goals summit to pledge their critical support for the new framework.

More than 65 mayors, pictured here with Pope Francis, gathered at the Vatican this summer for a two-day conference that highlighted local-level commitments to climate action and implementation of the urban SDG. Mayors will again be gathering later this month in New York to commit to the full SDGs framework. (Pontifical Academy of Sciences)

The world is on the cusp of a historic moment: Through human ingenuity and partnerships, we have the potential to eradicate extreme poverty within the next generation.

Just one generation ago, this would have been unimaginable. But through the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, expected later this month, U. N. member states will embark on a future where the planet is protected and prosperity is shared in peaceful, socially inclusive societies.

The framework, which consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 related targets, provides the structure for balanced sustainable development across economic, social and environmental considerations, all underpinned by the promise of good governance. This goal-based, target-driven path to progress can inspire public and private action, promote integrated thinking and lead to innovative solutions to complex challenges.

[See: Urban SDG and Habitat III safe as marathon negotiations reach consensus]

None of this can occur, however, without the full engagement of and partnership with the world’s cities. Already, more than half of the world’s population resides in urban areas. Further, this trend is expected to accelerate, with more than two-thirds of the global population residing in cities by 2050, according to U. N. projections.

While rapid urbanization will continue to be a defining trend in the 21st century, so too will the challenge of meeting the needs of swelling populations. Without intervention, unchecked growth will continue in a haphazard, resource-depleting and income-polarizing fashion.

Although sometimes home to extreme deprivation, cities are also places of urban opportunity. If planned correctly, cities can capitalize on their density, networks, labour pools and income-producing potential to drive transformative change and implement solutions.

“None of the new development agenda can occur, however, without the full engagement of and partnership with the world’s cities.”

At the beginning of this year, a group that has been advocating for the inclusion of an explicit urban focus in the SDGs — the Campaign for an Urban SDG — met for a consultation in Bangalore, India. According to that meeting’s outcome document, adherence to and implementation of the full SDG agenda “could imply by 2030 the end of urban poverty, hunger, and slums; the creation of over hundreds of millions of new incremental jobs across the world; and universal provision of health, education, housing, water, energy, waste and transport services for 5 billion urban residents.”

In further acknowledgement of the critical importance of city engagement, the Vatican and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, along with the U. N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), mobilized more than 65 mayors for a two-day event at the Vatican in July. That occasion included keynotes speeches by the mayors of New York and Rome.

[See: Pope Francis, mayors pledge action on climate change and the urban SDG]

At the Vatican, regional and local leaders affirmed their commitment to the care of our common home and the protection of our most vulnerable citizens. In so doing, they met Pope Francis’s call for global action, issued in his Laudato Si’ encyclical earlier this year. It is through the tireless advocacy of the global urban community that cities today are increasingly recognized as bastions of sustainable development within which the SDGs will succeed or fail.

Declaration of commitment

The same sentiment is now being prominently underscored through the inclusion of a stand-alone SDG on cities. It was less than two years ago that the Campaign for an Urban SDG was launched to advocate for that very purpose, with members including UN SDSN, UN-Habitat, the World Urban Campaign, United Cities and Local Governments, Cities Alliance, ICLEI, the Communitas Coalition for Sustainable Cities and Regions and many others.

Over the past two years, these groups have worked to mobilize city officials, mayors and other crucial stakeholders to ensure a stand-alone SDG. Goal 11 — “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” — is now an indelible part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. It is also a victory for persevering urbanists.

[See: All of Citiscope’s coverage of the urban SDG]

Now, harnessing the momentum generated at the Vatican event through shared awareness of responsibility and spirited passion for their cities, the world’s mayors will meet once again on the eve of the SDGs summit to declare their commitment to implement the new goals.

The high-level event — “Cities Driving Sustainable Development: Endorsing the SDGs and Committing to Their Implementation” — will be hosted on 24 September by the UN SDSN in partnership with the Campaign for an Urban SDG, the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, and the New School in New York.

Edmund G. Brown, the governor of California, will give the keynote address. This will follow an afternoon signing of the Under 2 MOU, under which state and local leaders pledge to work to keep global warming from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.

[See: In Lyon, cities and regions commit to cutting 1.5 billion tons in emissions]

Presentations are also expected from some of the world’s leading progressive mayors, including from Johannesburg, Bogotá, Seoul, Belo Horizonte, New Orleans and many more. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to offer concluding remarks and to speak at the ensuing reception to address OneNYC, the city’s new strategy for integrated sustainable development, and its alignment with the SDG agenda.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the director of UN SDSN and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, will conclude the event by reading the “Declaration of Cities’ Commitment to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”. The declaration is expected to be endorsed by all mayors in attendance as well as by other regional and local government leaders ready to showcase their commitment and mark their intent to implement the SDGs.

Although still under consultation, the declaration could include commitments to develop an SDGs strategy by 2017. It could also include pledges to decarbonize and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other pollutants, and to provide basic needs for human well-being. And it will almost certainly aim to engage a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including all levels of government, citizens and business, academic and religious leaders.

In committing to the SDGs and their local implementation, mayors also commit to support their means of implementation and help to create new channels for urban sustainable finance and long-term planning. As mayors stand together collectively, they are empowered to influence global goals, compelling national and regional governments to support sustainable cities as well.

For more information and to register for “Cities Driving Sustainable Development: Endorsing the SDGs and Committing to their Implementation”, please follow this link.

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Jessica Espey

Jessica Espey is associate director at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Danielle Petretta

Danielle Petretta is a PhD student affiliate at the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute in New York.