At the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, the United Nations member states began the ambitious process of defining the social and economic priorities for humanity over the next fifteen years. The open and participatory process and the initial negotiations amongst the world’s nations through the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has resulted in a draft document with 17 focus areas and 148 targets to address before 2030. The focus areas span from ending poverty everywhere to advancing rule of law across the world to working to combat climate change. It is a very impressive catalogue, and, if achieved, would truly change the face of our planet.
Inclusive, safe, and sustainable: Goals for urban life in 2030
Nestled among these lofty goals in the current draft of the SDGs is a specific focus area on urban development:
“11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable.”
The urban targets for 2030 include ambitious advances in housing, basic services, transport, planning and management, climate resilience, public spaces, integration with rural and peri-urban areas, and sustainable buildings. These global targets will be difficult to accomplish in 15 years, but not impossible if cities are committed and the international community advances adequate instruments, financing, and institutions.
This dedicated emphasis on cities as key to combatting many of the world’s challenges can largely be attributed to the Seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7). Organized by UN-HABITAT and held in Medellín, Colombia earlier this year, the event highlighted the importance of cities to a sustainable future, with a particular focus on equity in urban environments. In fact, the WUF7 declaration made a specific call for “the need to include key topics for sustainable cities and human settlements in the post-2015 Development Agenda.”
Now, the negotiators are working to make the SDGs more precise in order to give countries around the globe clear targets to be accountable for. The Open Working Group is now integrating repetitive themes, and cutting out some targets. Cities will still likely stand as a focus area after these revisions, as the United Nations recognizes the fact that now half of the world lives in cities – a proportion expected to greatly increase by 2030. Cities are the places where policies are turned into real, physical developments, and so city governments dedicated to a sustainable future have enormous potential to make inroads on issues like climate change and equitable communities. This emphasis on cities as a focus area in itself, instead of being a word spread throughout several different focus areas, is important because it influences the scale at which change is made and the magnitude of that change.
A broader look at the international development agenda
The SDGs are a critical piece of the international development agenda, particularly for international development institutions, which base their portfolio on the United Nation’s agreements. The SDGs will guide bilateral government-to-government cooperation and connections between local and national governments. Similar to the 2000 – 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which advanced important issues related to extreme poverty and health, the new development agreement will be key in pushing countries and cities to build and manage a sustainable, vibrant future. The dedication of cities around the globe, combined with clear measurement and evaluation mechanisms, will be necessary to take these ideals from policy to reality and create a more inclusive, sustainable future for all.
The full text of the draft Sustainable Development Goals is available from the United Nations here, with sustainable cities and human settlements highlighted as focus area 11.