The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embrace global aspirations, but they must be rooted in local buy-in and implementation. According to the United Nations (UN) Global Task Force on Local and Regional Governments, “localization relates both to how the SDGs can provide a framework for local development policy and to how local and regional governments can support the achievement of the SDGs through acting from the bottom up” (UN, 2016). Local communities have a role to play in achieving the SDGs. Further, “while the SDGs are global, their achievement will depend on our ability to make them a reality in our cities and regions” (UN, 2016). Two interrelated solutions emerged from the workshops: localization of the SDGs to municipalities and sub-regions and rural villages/communities, and recognition of the value of indigenous knowledge for sustainable development.
Many of the challenges to operationalizing the SDGs at the local and national levels involve people. Local officials and leaders are in a central position to implement the SDGs because of the range of services they must provide, but their large menu of responsibilities is rarely accompanied by sufficient budget and other resources. Although some of the most effective sustainability leaders are embedded in local settings and view the SDGs as complementary to their goals, others perceive the SDGs as yet another competing priority. Even when embraced, scarce resources limit the capacity to follow best practices or maintain ongoing SDG initiatives. For example, among the 100 largest cities in the United States, 45 have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from a baseline
level. But only 32 conducted at least one follow-up from the baseline since 2010, and only 26 actually experienced a decrease compared to their baseline levels (Pipa, 2022).
Capacity challenges exist everywhere at the subnational level. Elected leaders subject to the political cycle face another set of pressures and competing priorities. Even when a locality wants to do the right thing, jurisdictional boundaries, regulatory limitations, and financing can create obstacles. A lack of data standards and disaggregated data collection at the local level further cloud the picture. Disaggregated data are critical to understand trends across different population groups and to ensure adherence to the core element of the SDGs—“Leave No One Behind” (UN, 2022c).
Indigenous knowledge has enabled many communities to sustain themselves for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, for example related to food production, water management, and medicine. Some authors claim that indigenous philosophers who criticized European customs inspired European intellectuals such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and initiated the European Enlightenment (Graeber and Wengrow, 2022). Yet indigenous knowledge communities are often marginalized socially and economically, and their knowledge viewed as “un-scientific.” Conversely, when indigenous knowledge is tapped, care must be taken to develop mutually beneficial relationships and to not simply appropriate what indigenous knowledge offers to achieve the SDGs (IFAD, 2019; Jessen et al., 2021).
CASE STUDIES AND SYNERGIES
Localization calls for the political will to connect the SDGs to the role that local governments play in improving the lives and livelihoods of citizens. The emphasis on localization does not mean that cities should go it alone. In addition to the SDG Leadership Cities Network and Local 2030 Hubs mentioned in Chapter 4, resources include the African Network of Cities (Parnell, 2022) and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), with 250,000 members (Saiz, 2022). An important UCLG activity is sharing successful examples of localization of the SDGs, as well as training materials for practitioners.
The committee’s workshop session on localization underscored the value of Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs). UCLG has found that when these reviews occur, the dialogue between and across levels of government has been positively influenced to accelerate progress toward the SDGs. In addition, discussion about service delivery provision shifts. Going deeper than the national level can reveal where new investments and indicators are necessary, and can help break down internal silos (Pipa, 2022). As shown in Pittsburgh, development of a VLR can also connect local academic institutions to the surrounding community (Mendelson, 2022a). The UN Foundation provides examples of implementation of VLRs in U.S. cities, such as New York City, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Pittsburgh (UN Foundation, 2022). The Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy (ICLD) describes examples in cities across the globe, including successful
practices employed in small towns such as Shimokawa, Japan, with a population of roughly 3,000 (Ciambra and Martinez, 2022).
Local implementation of the SDGs has led to such innovations as multistakeholder boards in Bristol, England, and more integrated regional planning in Orlando, Florida (Pipa, 2022). As noted previously, electoral cycles can be tricky, especially when the SDGs, or sustainability in general, are tied too closely to a leader no longer in office. Durability has taken different forms, from citizen engagement in Mannheim, Germany, to master planning in Bogota, Colombia. Embedding sustainability into government, citizens groups, and informal networks provides the longevity needed.
As an on-the-ground example of localization, Hawai‘i Green Growth uses and contributes knowledge through a number of networks (Box 3-1). The common language of the SDGs can be used to produce data that are transparent and useful.
A public data dashboard shows citizens the progress being made and where work is falling short. Measuring what matters encourages multistakeholder-driven development of local metrics and indicators and an understanding of how diverse metrics are related to each other and to the SDGs. “Progress moves at the pace of trust,” Celeste Connors stressed during one workshop session (Connors, 2022). She also called attention to a vital SDG that is often overlooked—SDG 17, Partnership. People often want to take quick action, but process matters; it takes time to convene and connect diverse partners, identify shared priorities, measure what matters, and
coordinate to drive action. To measure what matters, it is necessary to determine the values and priorities of different stakeholders, which Hawai‘i Green Growth does with an iterative 10-step process across locations and sectors (Figure 3-1).
Similarly, while indigenous communities have traditionally looked inward to develop solutions, such as in India (Box 3-2), the Global Tapestry of Alternatives connects indigenous and other “alternative” communities around the world.
KEY RESEARCH PRIORITIES FOR LOCALIZATION OF THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
The committee proposes the following key research priorities to operationalize sustainable development to localize the SDGs, building on a synthesis of research gaps developed by the International Science Council (ISC, 2021):
- Understand the synergies and tradeoffs that can help to achieve localization of the SDGs, including the appropriate balance between economic, social, and environmental considerations at the local, national, and global levels.
- Identify key mechanisms that address poverty and empower vulnerable communities.
- Identify governance models and arrangements that could accelerate local transformations for sustainable development.
- Explore ways to make science systems more inclusive and equitable, to involve a wider range of voices, institutions, types of knowledge, and approaches to learning that are designed to capture local needs.
- Establish effective frameworks that incorporate both conventional scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge.
POSSIBLE ACTIONABLE STEPS FOR LOCALIZATION OF THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
The committee identifies the following possible actionable steps to operationalize sustainable development to localize the SDGs:
- The U.S. government could commit to creating a Voluntary National Review (VNR) by encouraging more states and cities to conduct VLRs and synthesize already good work at the local level to scale to a VNR roll-up.
- Local officials could commit their support to the SDGs and use the framework to align local policies and initiatives.
- Urban and community leaders and planners as well as philanthropic organizations could learn from excellent case studies of knowledge networks, such as C40 (2022), the Brookings’ City Playbook for Advancing the SDGs (2021), Global Islands Partnership (2022), UCLG Learning (2022), Vikalp Sangam (2022), Global Tapestry of Alternatives (2022), and African Network of Cities (2022), which effectively incorporate indigenous knowledge for advancing sustainability.
- U.S. universities could help surrounding communities and cities conduct Voluntary University Reviews (VURs) and/or VLRs (as described in Chapter 2 on Education and Capacity Building).
- The federal government could provide financial incentives for local and state VLRs and consider federal and state regulatory changes to create flexibility. A scalable model would include Hawai‘i’s Open-Data Aloha+ Challenge process and Dashboard (2022).
- Funding agencies and philanthropic organizations could support initiatives that further the role of indigenous knowledge in the development of scientific knowledge. Examples include the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (2011), the Beijing Center (2022) focusing on the introduction of traditional medicine in China, and efforts to codify traditional medicine in health care and services (Mashelkar, 2001).
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