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John Romano’s Blog

A New Architecture for a New World: Linking Global Aspirations with Local Actions

John Romano

Posted January 15, 2014

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NRDC has begun the New Year building upon promising momentum at the United Nations for addressing a wide range of urban sustainability and climate challenges.

Last week, NRDC joined countries, mayors, governors, civil society groups and coalitions to highlight the critical role that cities will play in implementing a new set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Discussions of the Open Working Group on SDGs (OWG) – the intergovernmental body tasked with putting forward a universal set of global goals to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 – clearly highlighted that cities and local governments are taking a leadership role in implementation of sustainable development and climate action.

Building on the  stimulating discussions led by NRDC in the past few months on creating a new architecture for a new global partnership, last week’s meetings highlighted the critical part that cities must play in this new global partnership for the SDGs. This new architecture for the SDGs must facilitate the engagement of thousands of leaders from cities and local governments all around the world, and must mobilize and harness the full potential of partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society.

Simply put, if we are truly serious about forging a transformational sustainable development agenda beyond 2015, the architecture for the SDGs must link our global aspirations to local actions within cities.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it, “our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.”

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)Discussions from the Open Working Group last week sent a very strong signal that these SDGs must include local governments in not just their vision, but also in their implementation. The engagement of local and regional governments will be critical to forging a “New Global Partnership” called for by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda.

“Without cities and local authorities on board, no (climate) agreement will be possible in Paris 2015.”  

 - Pascal Canfin, France’s Deputy-Minister for Development

Spearheading the campaign to include sustainable cities as a part of the post-2015 agenda is the multi-stakeholder Communitas Coalition for Sustainable Cities and Regions. This coalition has proposed 25 targets for a stand-alone goal on urban sustainability, in addition to the other goals on cross-cutting issues such as energy, access to basic goods and services, and resilience. The group is working collaboratively with a wide range of actors – including NRDC as a member of its advisory committee – to refine these targets for the proposal of its urban goal at the World Urban Forum this April, with an eye toward the practical application of these targets in city-regions around the world.

Later in the week, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability presented a recently released report on its Carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR), which stands as the world’s largest global database for local commitments to climate action. The report highlights that – as of November 2013 – the Carbonn platform now has over 400 reporting cities and local governments that have made over 800 climate and energy commitments. These commitments are expected to reduce emissions by at least 123 million tons of CO2e/year by 2020 if implemented as promised.

The Partnership for Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT) also released a draft of its results framework at the Open Working Group, calling for a standalone goal on sustainable transport. Their campaign proposed five targets on Urban Access, Rural Access, Road Safety, Air Pollution and Human Health, and on Climate Change. The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments for the post-2015 Development Agenda has also gathered over 170 signatories of mayors, governors and civil society partners to endorse a stand-alone goal on sustainable urban development as part of the SDGs.

OWGLast Monday, I also had the opportunity to address the Open Working Group on the topic of sustainable cities, speaking on behalf of the Major Group for Children and Youth, a global constituency of young people working on sustainable development at the United Nations.

The message I delivered was very clear: Truly sustainable development is only possible within cities if it is inclusive and representative of the needs and priorities of its people – particularly young people. Without this, our collective effort to achieve sustainable development within cities will undoubtedly fall short. I also highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships in achieving these goals, particularly at the local level, where the implementation of these new goals will ultimately occur. 

Children and youth have the most at stake in the post-2015 agenda, given that they are inheriting the planet and will live with consequences of our actions today, or our failure to deliver on our promises. Perhaps most importantly, we must now ensure that the architecture for the SDGs explicitly includes cities – and young people within these cities – as critical parts of the implementation of our global sustainable development ambitions.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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