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SDGs: five challenges for city leaders By PAULA LUCCI, Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute While global leaders were signing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), less noticed was that more than 20 city and local leaders endorsed the SDGs and committed to implementing them in their own cities. This is interesting and encouraging as many of the goals fall within city leaders’ responsibilities. So, let’s reflect on some of the challenges that cities in the developing world (those that endorsed the SDGs and others that may decide to adopt them) will face: 1. Lack of good data leaves us in the dark It may not be the flashiest line of work, but gathering detailed data is the most useful tool for city policymakers to assess their residents’ needs – and target their policies accordingly. However, many cities in developing countries lack essential up-to-date information on subjects like the location and characteristics of their slums, the state of their housing stock or transport network. It was only recently that a project like Digital Matatus made Nairobi’s semiformal transit system visible. Without this data, how can officials say whether they are making progress on Goal 11, that is, to make cities ‘inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’? How can they know if basic services are reaching their poorest populations, in line with

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the SDGs’ “leave no-one behind’ agenda”? How are citizens supposed to hold their local governments to account? There is growing awareness of the need for good disaggregated data, with a number of initiatives, from a Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data to citizen-generated data and data collected by slum dwellers themselves looking to fill the gaps. 2. Leaders should pick their priorities from the 169 targets With 169 targets, city officials need to prioritize. Trying to do too much may result in achieving too little. While this is common sense from a practical perspective, it also leads to a real risk of

“How countries manage urbanization over the next 15 years will be critical to reducing poverty and environmental sustainability. Ultimately, it will help define governments’ ability to achieve the SDGs.”

short-term political calculations giving priority to targets that are easier to achieve, with leaders treating the SDGs as a sort of ‘à la carte menu’. There is only one way to avoid this: civil society groups must keep a close eye on SDG progress and hold city governments to account. 3. Ambition only works if you can finance it The SDGs have raised the international community’s ambition. Estimates of their cost reach the trillions of dollars. While city governments’ responsibilities vary by nation, they are often the ones feeling the pressure of having to deliver basic services – from water and sanitation to affordable housing – while urban populations rise. But the question of how local governments can access new sources of finance, both from domestic and external sources (particularly climate finance), has not yet received the attention it deserves. 4. Local governments face complex challenges – but often lack the capacity to cope While reforms to devolve power to local governments are under way in many countries, funding and support to improve local government capacity have often trailed behind. Many local governments, particularly in secondary cities, lack the technical capacity to plan and manage service delivery on the scale needed to manage increasing populations while, for example, negotiating complex contracts with private suppliers on an equal footing. Unless urban planning capacities are strengthened, cities will struggle to meet the challenges posed by rapid urbanization.

Shared prosperity. Issue 20  

Steady prosperity has not been achieved throughout the world and there remain remarkable differences between and within regions, countries a...

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