Local government and Sustainable Development Goals – an untapped opportunity?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a groundbreaking framework of 17 transformational goals to tackle our social, economic, and environmental challenges. Local government not only has a role to play when it comes to the achievement and delivery of the SDGs, it also has opportunities to reap.

Globally, Mayors are leading the way

Mayors and municipal governments have shown unprecedented leadership in addressing global development challenges. In September 2015, at the SDG Summit, Mayors from 40 countries met and declared their support and intention to drive the SDGs, in a declaration of cities.

As well as calling for the localisation of the 2030 agenda, the Mayors particularly welcomed the inclusion of SDG 11, Sustainable Cities as a ‘powerful driver of transformation’.

Australia’s leaders on the SDGs

The City of Sydney was one of the first councils in Australia to build the Sustainable Development Goals into their Community Strategic Plan. Their Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan is aligned to the SDGs, and their new 2050 strategy currently being developed will also be heavily aligned.

The City of Melbourne looked at how its plans were delivering on the SDGs. Their assessment revealed opportunities in their interconnectedness and integration across 9 key SDGs and Plan directions.

Another leading organisation that spotted the integration and impact potential of the SDGs was Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council (EMRC) in Perth. The EMRC and its member councils were one of the first organisations in Australia to incorporate the SDGs into their Regional Environment Strategy 2016-2020.

The role of local government

Local government will have devolved responsibility for SDG achievement. In the Australian voluntary national review (VNR) published in June 2018, the federal government stated that:

“many targets in the SDGs are in the purview of sub-national levels of government” and “The Australian Government has adopted an approach to the SDGs that is appropriate for our national circumstances, with government policy responsibilities and priorities devolved to the relevant agency and level”.

Councils have an untapped opportunity to use the SDGs to:

  • Drive transformation, particularly on SDG 11, Sustainable Cities.
  • Integrate – use the SDGs as the integrated framework it was designed to be, and better integrate plans, strategies and reporting.
  • Align a diverse set of stakeholders in this universal agenda.
  • Engage their employees and communities to help achieve the goals.