Utrecht: A Global Goals City

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Main actors

City Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2017/01

Localizing the SDG’s through multi-stakeholder partnerships

When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were initiated, Utrecht City Council confirmed its commitment by declaring Utrecht a “Global Goals City.” Facing growing urbanisation and sustainability challenges, Utrecht municipality views the SDGs as an opportunity to guide its mission to achieve healthy urban living for everyone. The approach to localize the SDGs focuses on two areas: Activating and cooperating with local stakeholders and connecting local initiatives and expertise with international developments.
To boost local SDG action and reach a broader audience, Utrecht municipality cooperates with the local foundation Utrecht4GlobalGoals. To stimulate responsible business conduct and investments to accelerate SDG achievements, the municipality partners with local businesses. Together, these public and private partners aim to reach the 350,000 citizens of Utrecht and inspire and facilitate them to take local and global action for the SDGs. Furthermore, Utrecht municipality is developing local SDG indicators to measure and track its own SDG performance.

Sustainable Development Goals

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Guangzhou Award

This project was shortlisted for the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2018.

Utrecht, Netherlands

Size and population development
330,772 (as of 2014); fourth largest city in the Netherlands

Main functions
University city; transportation hub

Main industries / business
Healthcare, ICT and financial services

Political structure
The city is governed by a mayor and a city council. The mayor is appointed by the national government for a renewable six-year term

Administrative structure
Utrecht is part of the Utrecht Province which includes 26 municipalities

In the City of Utrecht, growing urbanisation and traffic flows will make it a challenge – now and in the future, and for all its 350,000 inhabitants – to keep the city as healthy as possible. It is the ambition of Utrecht municipality to develop a model for "healthy urban living for everyone"; a city in which health is central in everything we do, where healthy citizens live in a healthy environment and work in a healthy economy. This requires an integrated, interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach. That is why Utrecht has adopted the SDGs as a framework to orient the city’s development. The global outlook of the SDGs allows the municipality to connect its local development strategy to international sustainability standards.

Within the Utrecht Global Goals City framework (applicable until 2030), the municipality localizes the SDGs, together with citizens, the private sector and knowledge institutions, by:

  • Facilitating a local campaign to raise awareness and stimulate local SDG action; 
  • Creating and supporting coalitions with local stakeholders to address international sustainable development challenges.
Utrecht City Council confirmed its commitment to the new set of 17 Global Goals in 2016, by declaring Utrecht a “Global Goals City.” Rather than creating a top-down policy, the aim was to provide a framework of action, whereby the municipality facilitates local and global public-private partnerships for the SDGs, and cooperates with local businesses, knowledge institutions, and citizens. Simultaneously, the municipality takes its responsibility by measuring the impact of local policies on the SDGs. 
The City Council approved a work plan with concrete actions and results that will be evaluated and renewed every three years. The first actions under this framework are summarized in a three-year plan (2017-2019):
• Organise and support a local awareness-raising campaign together with Utrecht4GlobalGoals;
• Stimulate businesses to co-develop local and international SDG strategies and activities;
• Facilitate a local network to exchange knowledge and to communicate about sustainability initiatives in relation to the SDGs
• Build a public-private partnership to make an international contribution to SDG 11 in Uganda
• Develop local SDG indicators to align municipal policies with the SDGs
Utrecht municipality and Utrecht4GlobalGoals continuously adapt the strategy to localise the SDGs. The underlying policy document ‘Utrecht Global Goals City’ deliberately allows experiments. This proves vital to translate a global framework to a particular local context. It takes time and exercise to bridge existing sustainability initiatives and siloed municipal departments under the SDG umbrella. 
Within the municipality, the aim is to align local policies and strategies with the SDGs. By connecting the SDG targets to existing local indicators and municipal data, transversal policymaking is encouraged, and the municipality becomes aware of its global footprint. 
Externally, new forms of cooperation between local government, knowledge institutions, civil society and the private sector accelerate SDG actions that contribute to local and global sustainable development. Encouraged by and in partnership with the municipality, local businesses and entrepreneurs use local expertise and skills to work on sustainable development elsewhere in the world, thereby simultaneously stimulating CSR and creating new, sustainable, business opportunities.
Utrecht4GlobalGoals annually receives 80,000 euro from the municipality. This is included in the annual 283,000-euro municipal budget for the SDG approach, with 1.8 FTE committed. On top of private investments, Utrecht municipality and its consortium received a 300,000-euro grant from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, for the SDG 11 project in Uganda. The municipality is currently exploring European funding possibilities to boost the local SDG indicators research.
The Millennium Goals campaign had been fuelled by strong civil society involvement and the municipality was keen to build on this legacy when transitioning to the SDGs. Existing civil society organisations joined forced to create Utrecht4GlobalGoals, as the new foundation leading local cooperation on the SDGs. Besides this, Utrecht municipality and Utrecht4GlobalGoals are looking for opportunities to partner with local businesses connecting their products and services with the SDGs and complementing their expertise to form public-private partnerships contributing to the SDGs globally.
In 2017, a citizen’s survey showed that 28% of Utrecht citizens were aware of the SDGs. The goal is to reach 30% in 2019, leading up to 75% in 2030. It is expected that increased citizen's awareness will compel local businesses to join in SDG actions because they want to speak to their customers values. 
Localizing the SDGs is expected to boost transversal policy- making it  better to tackle sustainability issues. An already successful example is the new, upcoming socially responsible purchasing policy. Using the SDGs as a point of departure, it applies the people, planet, prosperity pillars of sustainable development to guide the government’s procurement and purchasing practices. Thereby combining the previously separated social and environmental dimensions of procurement policy.
To map and track the municipality’s own SDG performance, the departments of international affairs and research started developing local SDG indicators. To show the connection between the SDGs and local policies, existing local indicators were linked to the SDG targets and UN indicator framework. By rearranging existing data, about i.e. public health and energy, according to the SDGs, municipal departments are stimulated to recognise the interconnections and consider the broader impact of local policies.
A data dashboard was developed to present local SDG data in a user-friendly way. This tool can combine multiple data sources, visualise it, and allows users to customise it to meet their specific needs. These characteristics make it suitable to measure the SDGs, because it encourages the user to discover connections between siloed policy data, which stimulates transversal policy-making.  
The goal is to develop a participatory data tool. Local stakeholders can complement the quantitative municipal data with qualitative case studies of local SDG projects. These are already being collected by Utrecht4GlobalGoals in an online platform. Besides showcasing and awarding good practices with SDG awards, it increases visibility of the SDGs and inspires others to contribute as well.
By putting the mission ‘healthy urban living for everyone’ at the heart of localizing the SDGs, Utrecht is increasingly being recognised, as a city that respects the people, planet, prosperity pillars of sustainable development. Utrecht’s SDG approach was mentioned as a best practice in the Dutch voluntary national review on the SDGs to the UN, and in the UCLG report to the UN High Level Political Forum in 2018, where Mayor Jan van Zanen presented examples.
Bridging the interests of local stakeholders and securing financial commitment to establish effective partnerships proves challenging. This is illustrated by the difficulty to find the first stakeholder willing to invest in the Climate Planet event. Eventually, a successful crowd funding campaign, initiated by Utrecht4GlobalGoals, took away the hesitation and convinced public and private stakeholders to commit to the financial risk together.  
Second, the siloed structure of Utrecht municipality does not allow for immediate acceptance and integration of the transversal SDGs.

The lessons learned have cumulated into new and unexpected local stakeholders joining the Utrecht4GlobalGoals movement. For example, a multi-stakeholder coalition of Utrecht municipality, local businesses and Utrecht4GlobalGoals are bringing the international Climate Planet to Utrecht. Within this 20 metre high globe, a 360 degree film shows the urgency of climate change and provides inspiration for a sustainable future. The fact that local stakeholders, supported by the municipality, take the lead and share the financial risk, creates high involvement and responsibility to guarantee the impact of the event. The total cost of the event is over 750,000 euros and the aim is to attract 50,000 visitors.

Utrecht and other cities are uniquely positioned to be leaders, catalysts, educators, facilitators, implementers, and patrons of the SDGs because they are the common link connecting so many of the other key players in this story. They are responsible for the health and opportunities of their residents and businesses, and at the same time, they engage with national and international entities to shape policies, fund projects and programmes, and create norms, all of which can be leveraged to support the SDGs. Utrecht takes this responsibility seriously and invites any entities or individuals working to advance the SDGs to be in touch about collaborating.

All the products and services it has developed or co-created, such as the local SDG data dashboard and the Utrecht4GlobalGoals communication campaign, can be copied or applied by other cities, anywhere in the world. Only by supporting other cities and regions in their efforts to achieve the goals, especially those with fewer resources, will the SDGs be achievable on a global scale. Utrecht is already sharing its experiences and cooperating with a coalition of Dutch SDG municipalities, and an informal network of European SDG cities.

Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation, Localizing the SDGs through Multi-Stakeholders Partnerships,

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