Sustainable smart cities

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How can we sustain the implementation of SDG´s in European cities in the light of COVID-19?

Here are my speaking notes from the 2020 High level political forum on sustainable development – VNR Lab on „Innovative approaches to spur action and delivery on the 2030 Agenda: lessons from the regions“ on July 9th, 2020.

On European level, the massive disruption caused by COVID-19 has accelerated some of the trends that are at the heart of the urban vision for the future. Cities have been the hardest hit by the crisis, but they also proved to be innovative and inclusive in their efforts to tackle immediate effects. The need to (re-)build resilient cities and societies now, in a post-corona scenario with an unprecedented recession, will clearly have impact on implementation options for SDGs on local level.

In this context, important lessons can be shared from the perspective of European cities, as they are the places where there is leadership, will and potential to deliver a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive future for Europe. Cities in Europe have already adopted a range of measures in line with SDG´s that can provide a sound basis for recovery, but they need to have the right conditions in their governance frameworks and deployment capacity. This is the more vital as 65% of the targets of the 17 SDGs require the engagement of regions and cities engagement of regions and cities.

The economic and social cost of years of reducing health provision and infrastructure has been clearly exposed by the crisis, as has the need to boost local investment in green, digital and social infrastructure to maintain high-quality, reliable and affordable public services. From the standpoint of cities therefore, the European Union must ensure that EU funding and recovery policies boost the green and digital transformational power of cities and support local efforts for a fair and inclusive recovery. At the same time, there is an evident necessity to close the gap of the last ten years of underinvestment at local level if we are to take the 2030 Agenda ambition further – with the special challenge of declining budgets as tax revenues are lowering down in a recession.

In their current search for sustainable recovery, European cities can and do indeed build on several important sources of inspiration, expertise and commitment, such as the SDG´s, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement. EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities as well as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions have since long taken a clear stand on SDG´s and organised exchange and mutual learning. EUROCITIES created a Task Force on SDG´s and CEMR set up the Platforma project to localize SDGs for their members.

Klicke, um auf CEMR_PLATFORMA_study_SDGs_2019_EN.pdf zuzugreifen

The European Commission has not only set up the URBAN2030 project to support such initiatives, it also has provided a handbook by its Joint Research Centre to help cities implementing Voluntary Local Reviews and setting up SDG local monitoring systems. In its “Pact of Amsterdam” establishing the Urban Agenda of the EU, the EU clearly refers to the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs. The outputs of the thematic partnerships are clearly in line with the global commitments.

Klicke, um auf european_handbook_for_sdg_voluntary_local_reviews_online.pdf zuzugreifen

This graph shows how the SDG´s link to the Urban Agenda process on EU level; here with the case of the thematic partnership on affordable housing. For more information, check the „Action Plan“ of the Housing Partnership, page 84.

Klicke, um auf final_action_plan_euua_housing_partnership_december_2018_1.pdf zuzugreifen

And cities all over Europe made use of these tools and have adopted their own strategic plans to implement SDG´s in a rich and diverse variety of formats. It is worth noting that this encompasses Voluntary Local Reviews being tested in many cities, and cities as Bristol, Helsinki Madrid and Mannheim have already implemented them. Measurement of achievements is done according to the chosen format; this can include the Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities, but also other valid methods.

Klicke, um auf SDG-VLR-Helsinki-2019-en.pdf zuzugreifen

Klicke, um auf VLR%20City%20of%20Mannheim_final.pdf zuzugreifen

Housing has been at the heart of the corona crisis, and cities have undertaken enormous efforts to account for that, both for the most vulnerable groups as homeless citizens as well as for all those who are at risk of eviction due to economic difficulties. Cities have also been aware of the raising danger of male domestic violence against women, and many of them have taken measures to help and protect them.

In Austria, the 2030 Agenda is implemented at the level of the Federal States, cities, towns and municipalities in a cooperative process involving different departments in the Federal State Governments, social partners and stakeholders from business, the scientific community and civil society. The nine Federal States have put SDG Focal Points in place to coordinate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and took varied strategic approaches in this. A network between the Federal Government and Federal States for implementing regional and local sustainability strategies is currently responsible for more than 500 Local Agenda 21 processes in Austria´s municipalities and regions. It has helped to transform Local Agenda 21 into a practical instrument for the participatory implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Austrian Association of Cities and Towns and the Austrian Association of Municipalities have drawn up the model resolution ‘2030 Agenda for Cities, Towns and Municipalities’. This supports cities, towns and municipalities to commit pursuing sustainable development, supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and acting in accordance with SDG 11 to evolve into sustainable cities and communities. Attention is focused on awareness-raising measures and activities.

Klicke, um auf index.php zuzugreifen

Vienna‘s sustainability vision supports the Paris Agreement and the EU legislative package „Clean Energy for All Europeans“ by clearly linking its “Smart City Wien Framework Strategy 2019-2050” to the Sustainable Development Goals. The City has taken the approach of integrating the SDG´s into its smart city strategy with its three headlines goals:

  1. Vienna is the city with the highest quality of life and life satisfaction in the world
  2. Vienna reduces its local per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, and by 85 per cent by 2050
  3. By 2030, Vienna is an innovation leader

On management level, Vienna has established a responsibility triangle, based on the Smart City Wien Framework Strategy, putting the SDG´s coordination agenda in the Chief Executive Office and setting up a sustainability coordinator of the City of Vienna who also serves as contact person for the federal level. This allowed to feed into the Voluntary National Review process from the beginning, ·       and, with regard to the Voluntary Local Review, Vienna has taken the approach to monitor its Framework Strategy in line with SDG´s. The next monitoring will definitely be understood as a VLR.

In 2019, Vienna asserted itself in the global comparison of smart city strategies against 152 major cities – for the second time in a row. Already the first ranking in 2017 was headed by Vienna. Behind Vienna, London lands in second place this time, the city of St. Albert in Canada in third place.

Final thought: Would it be worth to assess as how far a solid implementation of the 2030 Agenda on local level has enabled cities to better react to the COVID-19 challenge?


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