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Global Goals, Global Cities: Achieving the SDGs through Collective Local Action

RESEARCH Report by Kris Hartley
Crowds at Chicago's Cloud Gate in Millennium Park.

Cities have a crucial role to play in translating the high-level, ambitious, and multidimensional vision of the SDGs into practice through local policies—that is, localization.

Key Findings

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.” While the goals were designed to provide a nonbinding vision to guide policymaking at the national level, such a massive agenda requires stakeholders at all levels of government and society, including cities, collaborate to achieve the intended outcomes. This participation is more urgent given that the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network found that no country is on track to meeting all the goals by 2030.

Cities have a crucial role to play in translating the high-level, ambitious, and multidimensional vision of the SDGs into practice through local policies—that is, localization. This report serves as a resource to help policymakers better understand the opportunities, challenges, and complexities facing cities and their strategic stakeholders in advancing the SDGs.

The report

  • Outlines the unique strengths of cities in implementing the goals, given their administrative flexibility, capacity to engage directly with citizens, access to city networks and collaborations, and an increasing amount of city-level guidance.
  • Highlights efforts to advance the SDGs through city diplomacy, public–private partnerships, and empowering youth and other local actors.
  • Recognizes the challenges cities need to overcome, such as insufficient fiscal capacity, ineffective governance, poorly regulated public–private partnerships, data-related issues, the need for complex physical infrastructure, and difficulty navigating global engagement.
  • Recommends that cities continue to stimulate progress by building smart capacity, embracing a comprehensive view of knowledge, and engaging and networking strategically In an era of dire warnings and systemic crises, the SDGs are currently the best embodiment of global collective agreement about the urgency to move forward. Cities are essential to achieving results, and they need to build on the current momentum propelling their initiatives and strategies forward.

This report was informed by a private workshop on “the SDGs and Cities” held on June 6 at the 2019 Pritzker Forum on Global Cities, hosted in partnership with the Financial Times. The forum was made possible with the support of lead sponsors—AbbVie, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Pritzker Foundation, and UL; supporting sponsors—Grant Thornton, Kirkland & Ellis, and United; and patron sponsors—Brinks, Hyatt Hotels Foundation, and Uber.

The workshop was conducted under Chatham House rules.

Special thanks

To Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, New York City; Kirk Caldwell, Mayor, Honolulu; Alice Charles, Project Lead, Cities, World Economic Forum; Mauricio Rodas, former Mayor, Quito; and Catherine Sheehy, Head of Advisory Solutions, Environment and Sustainability, UL, for contributing their expertise in leading the discussion. Thanks also to Michele Acuto, professor, Global Urban Politics, Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne, and nonresident senior fellow, global cities, Chicago Council on Global Affairs for moderating and collaborating on the workshop and the report.

About the Author
Nonresident Fellow, Global Cities
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Kris Hartley is assistant professor of public policy at City University of Hong Kong and a nonresident fellow at the Council since 2015. He researches power and knowledge in the policymaking process, focusing on technology and the environment. Hartley has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand and has published three books, including one with Cambridge University Press.
Headshot for Kris Hartley