Synergies and Challenges Ahead

Localizing the SDGs: Role of Local and Regional Governments


  • Cities are test-beds for implementation of the SDGs, and a successful New Urban Agenda will create an opportunity to enhance the Goals’ effectiveness. Though the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets are often described as aspirational, cities are where they become tangible to regular citizens. SDG 11 aims to make “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Hence, achieving this Goal depends in part on the level of engagement of local stakeholders, regional governments, community-based organizations, academia and the business sector, as well as on adequate synergies between national and local policies. The linkages between the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda may seem apparent, but there are open questions regarding: implementation and monitoring at the local level; the importance of “localization” and the connections between political leadership and technical solutions; and the means by which local governments can find solutions at the nexus of the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs.
  • Some argue that “localizing” the SDGs is a good way forward. Localizing refers to accounting for subnational contexts in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda, as well as prioritizing a bottom-up approach to urban development. That is, the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda provide a policy framework within which bottom-up action from local authorities can provide support. United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), an organization representing the interests of local governments on the world stage, has advocated for localization, arguing that successful implementation of the SDGs depends on the strong involvement of local and regional governments. All SDGs have targets that are directly related to the delivery of basic services, which means that all SDGs have implications for the responsibilities of local governments. Among the areas of relevance for the average citizen’s quality of life in an urban setting, the SDGs aspire to overcome poverty, gender inequality, combat climate change and insecurity, and provide high quality public goods, including education, health care, water, energy, clean air, housing and the conservation of natural resources. While the SDGs are global, their implementation is local.
  • Localizing the SDGs is a political process, as well as a technical one. Local governments can be held accountable by citizens if they fail to lead local development, and such democratic accountability could become a powerful driver of achieving the SDGs at local level.