The role of local government, local partnerships, and local action has never been more important. At a time when the country is looking to build back from the Covid-19 pandemic, local leadership will be critical to shaping the future of this country and ensuring that we can restore the economy, tackle climate change, level up and address the extreme inequalities that this crisis has revealed.
In July, the UN Global Compact Network UK, in partnership with the APPG on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development, convened a conversation between government, parliament, business, and civil society to discuss the importance of local leadership and comprehensive action to achieve sustainable development and ensure no-one is left behind.
The session was opened by Theo Clarke MP and keynote speaker, Rt Hon Justine Greening, Former Cabinet Minister and Founder and Chair of the Social Mobility Pledge and Levelling Up Goals who spoke about both the challenges and increasing importance of having a joined-up approach to development.
Guests then heard case studies of the ways towns, cities, and broader regions have used the SDGs as a framework in policy and decision-making processes in both the UK and internationally. Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice, began by sharing the work that Wales have done to embed the SDGs in the Future Generations Act and build mechanisms into the legislative framework to measure progress and look at long term issues.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, then highlighted the need for partnerships and collaboration. He shared Bristol’s Voluntary Local Review on the SDGs and spoke about how the ‘global’ issues framed within the SDGs are now becoming very local and very relevant to cities in the UK. Marvin commented on the value of having a global language that cities can use to speak to each other and that the SDGs can protect us from simplistic, single-issue, activism, but he also spoke about the lack of financing and joined-up partnerships between city leaders and national government which is creating a barrier to advancing this agenda.
Junko Ota, Policy Researcher at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), joined from Japan to speak about their SDG Future Cities programme and how Kitakyushu have established numerous governance structures for stakeholders to work together on the city’s SDGs plan. She announced Kitakyushu’s SDGs Future Bond, the first Sustainability Bond issued by a local government in Japan, which will equate to approximately £60 million to implement public projects proposed in the plan.
Finally, Stella Psarropoulou, who works in the Department of Operations Planning & Development in the Municipality of Thessaloniki, shared the Resilient Thessaloniki 2030 Strategy which was developed with a robust and participatory approach to transform the Greek city. She spoke about their work mapping the SDGs and their role in economic recovery, but also commented on the challenges of funding and attracting investment.
Attendees from all over the UK – including Scotland – had an opportunity to share their own experiences in breakout rooms and discuss what needs to happen next to advance local sustainability. Overall, both speakers and attendees agreed that the common challenges include the difficulty of harmonizing multiple standards and languages used for the same agenda, gathering meaningful data from necessary stakeholders, and the lack of finance for businesses to transition. Recognising the importance of both national and local leadership to enable coordinated action will be a key focus area going forward, along with maximizing the value in working with faith-based and community-based leaders who have strong dialogues they can use and focusing greater attention on local governance rather than just local government to empower everyone to collaborate together.
A recording of the event can be found here This session was part of the Responsible Business & SDGs Summit which explored a number of other themes across two days of practical workshops and inspirational panels. If you’re interested in joining these conversations in the future, get in touch to receive information about the UN Global Compact Network UK’s SDG Advocacy Working Group, or visit our website for more events, resources, and support on the SDGs.
Jessica is the Global Goals Programme Manager at the UN Global Compact Network UK and currently sits on the SDG Network Scotland Steering Group.