This year High Level Political Forum (HLPF) started on 10th July 2023, one of the first sessions held at the UN Headquarters in New York was centered on how local governments are using Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a tool to make their cities more sustainable and inclusive.

The official side event is part of the traditional presentation of the recommendation of Venice City Solutions 2030 to the HLPF.

The event was moderated by Pablo Fernandez, Chief of Staff of UCLG, who introduced the framework of this side event, that for the fifth time brings to HLPF the recommendations of Venice City Solutions. He also introduced the focus of Venice this year: to ask ourselves how SDGs are shaping the we we govern, design and think our cities in a different way.

Marco Romiti, First Councilor of the Italian Mission to the UN shared the experience in implementing its national sustainable development strategy, the tool that Italy is using to implement the Agenda 2030 through a participatory approach to plan at national, regional and local levels. Since 2017, the Italian Government has work closely with local and regional governments to ensure territorial coherence and joint action. Twelve VLRs have been prepared by regions and metropolitan cities to showcase Italy commitment to the SDGs. Italy also supports scaling up SDGs through programs in Africa and Latin American countries. Cities are fundamental drivers of economic and social activity, and they are innovating design and urban development. During the past Italian presidency of the G20, we worked together with UN-Habitat to launch city-to-city partnerships to invest in greater urban areas, circular economy, public services and renewable energy.

The moderator reminded how the Urban 20 has become the formal mechanism of engagement for cities with the G20. He also made reference to how cities come to the HLPF to be heard “Listen2cities” but also how local governments come to the HLPF to listen to other partners and ideas.

Shipra Narang Suri, Chief, Urban Practices Branch, UN-Habitat, expressed the gratitude of the organizers to Italy for their support to the Venice City Solutions initiative that has been facilitating a conversation between global leaders, cities and stakeholders since 2018 with the objective to provide tools for cities and local governments to contribute to make the SDGs a reality everywhere and leave no one behind.

We observe today how SDGs are almost fading in many countries as we suffer a series of cries that are hindering progress over the past years. We need to get back on track to meet the 2030 deadline. We have come a long way over the past 10 years in positioning cities at the center of the development agenda. This year, HLPF brings SDG 11 progress to be assessed as a common accelerator to achieve all other SDGs. We have analyzed urbanization trends and we observe how we have now 1.1 billion people living in slums, with 2.8 billion living in housing not sufficiently adequate, where only half of the world population do not have access to affordable transportation, only half have access to urban green spaces. From UN-Habitat we advocate for the localization of the SDGs and all the international agendas. Cities must prioritize the wellbeing of their citizens and build partnerships along the way. During the UN-Habitat second assembly, we passed a resolution on SDG localization. Member states now recognize the need to support local governments. UN-Habitat will be partnering with all in the room for the upcoming SDG Summit and future international events.

Laurel Patterson, Director, SDG Integration, UNDP said that one of the areas on the agenda where we have observed slower progress than what they would like was the SDGs directly influencing public budget, financial allocations, and private finance flows. It is a mixed picture across the board, and a shift in where resources are going is key to achieving the SDGs. It requires public and private finance coming together in leading the way. A fundamental shift is needed regarding more sustainable local supply chains, a more robust care economy and the green energy transition must be led locally.

She highlighted the work of the UN SDG Action Campaign to work together with cities in bringing SDGs to the streets. Narratives have been co-created to consider the city streets as opportunities to amplify and give visibility to the extraordinary work local governments are doing.

Digital and data have also become an enable of our work, but it is more important than ever to consider it as a tool for inclusive transformation. In that sense, it needs to be instrumental to articulate and interlink different SDGs. In that sense, UNDP is supporting 95 countries to articulate their ambitions and how to “get there”. The Global Sustainable SDG report points to the need to understand that reaching the SDGs will require a “trade off” and UNDP has been helping to visualize what is holding us back to the bigger objective of leaving no one behind.   

Yücel Yılmaz, Mayor of Balikesir, Turkey explained how his city established a stakeholder ecosystem representing all partners to establish what are the city’s strengths and opportunities. This has contributed to Balikesir’s strategic plan that puts a particular focus on agriculture and wind-based energy. Balikesir needs to move resources and attract more investors to the city to increase and share opportunities. To do that, a city research and development centre has been established to attract and match investments. They are surrounded by two seaports and have access to mountains which gives them great economic opportunities. But Balikesir cannot make it alone, we all need to be good players and work together.

Carla Rey, Director, AICCRE Venice said the year 2030 is approaching, yet the SDGs are slowly advancing owing to dramatic global crisis with Covid-19 as a notable example. To hasten the process, more efforts are required by governments and their partners, and citizens need to be more actively engaged. To gain the support of local stakeholders, cities must communicate better their effort to achieve the SDGs. Globally, citizens are faced with many challenges as they strive for a better future for the next generation.

In 2022, Venice City Solutions met to discuss the status of local government contribution to Agenda 2030, the following recommendations issued from the event:

The need to implement the SDGs in the virtual world at local level. Many cities are rethinking themselves to improve the quality of life of citizens and to promote new public services.

To flip the script to communicate SDG local action and

To create trust and putting the care at the center of public services

This side event was organized by UNDP, SDG Action Campaign, UN-Habitat, UCLG, and AICCRE Venice.

For more details on the event, the recording is available HERE