New York City’s Voluntary Local Review of the Sustainable Development Goals shows local progress for global action.
In December 2015, the New York City’s (NYC) Mayor’s office for International Affairs launched the Global Vision | Urban Action (GVUA) program to use the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a common language to share sustainability innovations and challenges with cities and countries worldwide. Identifying the connections between the SDGs and OneNYC, the city’s sustainable development strategy, this mapping became the basis of work to connect NYC’s public agencies with communities across the five boroughs to share best practices related to NYC’s implementation of policies. Conversely, the Mayor’s office for International Affairs has also ensured that NYC’s experience and the voice of New Yorkers are included in UN policy debates.
In July 2018, NYC became the first city in the world to report directly to the United Nations (UN) on local progress in achieving the SDGs by developing a Voluntary Local Review (VLR). The NYC Mayor’s office for International Affairs modelled the VLR on the Voluntary National Review (VNR), which countries may submit to share SDG progress.
In April 2015, NYC committed to the principles of growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency through the OneNYC strategy, a model for sustainable development at the local level. The consultative process to develop OneNYC, which began in late 2014, involved 71 New York City agencies, and included residents and businesses as well as an advisory board comprised of civic leaders, policy specialists, and community leaders. OneNYC includes commitments, milestones, and metrics; the city administration publishes an annual progress report.
Though the SDGs were agreed at the national level, cities are at the frontline of implementation; cities are also hubs for innovative solutions developed through cross-sector partnerships. Residents feel and see the challenges addressed by SDGs daily, in their streets and communities.
Since December 2015, the Mayor’s office for International Affairs has demonstrated the links between OneNYC and the SDGs through the Global Vision | Urban Action program launching the VLR.
Some cities do report on their local implementation of the SDGs as part of a national framework. However, the United States has thus far not expressed intent to submit a VNR, so NYC decided to submit a report directly to the UN to ensure we can join global discussions about issues that affect New Yorkers.
NYC’s VLR is precursory because cities have never intimately engaged with the UN on the SDGs. The VLR and related activities provide a practical tool for NYC to engage partners (cities, countries, and the UN) in meeting current challenges while increasing resiliency to meet those of the future. In addition to submitting the VLR to the UN, the International Affairs Commissioner presented the findings during the formal plenary of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) at the session focused on the implementation of SDG 11. Site visits and other activities were organized to complement the VLR in the lead-up to the HLPF, connecting our NYC colleagues with the international community to discuss in practical terms shared challenges and solutions using the SDG framework.
The VLR was conceived, executed, and written by the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs in partnership with the Offices of Operations, and Climate Policy and Programs, and in consultation with other relevant NYC agencies. It was further shaped in consultation with SDG stakeholders including UN agencies, UN member states that have submitted VNRs, and city network representatives. Government and civil society experts involved in the development, implementation, and monitoring of the SDGs were also consulted.
The NYC Mayor’s office for International Affairs did not use additional funds to implement the
Global Vision | Urban Action program or to develop the VLR. We built activities that complement the work already outlined by OneNYC. Our office has one Strategic Relationships Manager who is also responsible for the GVUA program. NYC agency staff time is occasionally needed to conduct site visits, with the understanding that all participants benefit from these activities by discussing shared challenges and solutions.
NYC’s VLR is a benchmark for the city’s progress on the SDGs. It also provides an example of local initiatives being shared globally. NYC already tracks more than 1,000 indicators through a monitoring system that the NYC Mayor’s Office of Operations has developed since the 1970s, and examples of the data that NYC collects. These qualitative metrics are used to measure progress, assess success in engaging with other cities and stakeholders on linking local strategies to the SDGs.
The VLR is a new tool that was developed by IA, modelled after VNRs but adapted to reflect the experience of cities. This innovation is cross-cutting as it is relevant to policy at the local and global level. NYC can use it as a tool to engage with other cities and stakeholders on practical issues, and in policy arenas to demonstrate the critical role that cities place in achieving the SDGs. Examples include:
- The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments committed to promoting VLRs.
- NYC is helping individual cities in the U.S., and worldwide to develop their versions VLRs.
- The UN Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, the UN Development Programme Administrator, the UN Habitat Executive Director, and numerous other high-level UN representatives have lauded the VLR
- NYC civil society groups invited IA to present our work and have requested closer cooperation.
- NYC agencies have requested more systematic engagement using the SDG framework.
- Advocacy groups like the UN Foundation have identified the VLR as a trend to watch.
The VLR provides an opportunity to identify social, economic and environmental challenges facing the city and help develop innovative solutions through partnerships and collaboration between local governments, non-profits and the private sector.
Since SDG commitments are made at the national level, not a city level, reporting on progress could potentially be seen as an unnecessary burden for NYC agencies who are tasked with providing services to New Yorkers, rather than engaging in global affairs. We avoid this by tapping into existing NYC efforts and demonstrating to NYC agencies the opportunity they have to share best practices while learning new techniques to improve their service delivery. Agencies are now approaching us to identify ways they can cooperate more systematically.
Recognizing that cities around the world are also responding to the challenges laid out in the SDGs, NYC welcomes collaboration with those who are interested in mapping their local actions and reporting on them at the global level. The VLR will be most effective if other cities and subnational governments undertake similar reviews, and we are seeking opportunities to discuss the content, format, and process of our VLR and hear from others about enhancing overall SDG monitoring and reporting.
While submitting reviews like the VLR happens once a year, implementation of the SDGs takes place every day. We hope that the VLR can serve as a catalyst to identify additional possibilities for engagement with cities and other stakeholders, and as a way to exchange best practices and to build momentum towards achieving all 17 SDGs by 2030.
Global Vision I Urban Action: New York City’s Voluntary Local Review (VLR) Of The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Shows Local Progress For Global Action, Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation: http://www.guangzhouaward.org/award_d.aspx?CateId=285&newsid=1431
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