On March 3 and 4, 2022, Brookings hosted the sixth meeting of the SDG Leadership Cities Network in Washington, D.C., building on previous meetings held in person in April 2019 in Bellagio and in November 2019 in Mexico City and virtually in June 2020, March 2021, and December 2021.
The gathering was conducted in a roundtable format, with topics explored in highly interactive sessions mixing plenary and breakout sessions. Sessions were held under Chatham House Rule to encourage candid discussion and problem-solving on limits, challenges, and obstacles.
The following summary is taken from key themes raised during the conversations as well as in pre- and post-convening surveys organized by Brookings. These issues illustrate what cities leading in the SDGs are addressing as they continue post-pandemic recovery and accelerate progress to 2030—and beyond.
- Unlocking new sources of sustainable financing. The ambitions of the policy commitments being advanced by the SDG Leadership Cities are constrained by their finances. At the halfway point of the 2030 agenda, these vanguard cities are looking to develop new financing tools. In particular, they are seeking to increase private sector investment and partnerships. To be successful, the group discussed how planning processes must include the corporate sector to co-create goals and targets. Groups of cities, through regional and other networks, are also exploring the possibility of aggregating their projects to attract external investors.
- Increasing citizen participation and bolstering global changes through better SDG communication. Beyond labels and brands, these vanguard cities are seeking to initiate behavioral change at scale and empower citizens to take part in their city’s transition. The use of digital media and partnerships with leaders who have influence in different segments of communities create opportunities for bolstering trust and wider buy-in. Cities must emphasize the impact and progress created by SDG-oriented action and localize issues by tying goals to specific projects that affect citizens’ lives. With a multitude of causes competing for citizens’ attention, global campaigns on the SDGs must elevate local stories and reframe the SDGs as a list of solutions and actions rather than problems.
- Partnerships and trust. Beyond their own trust capital and legitimacy, cities need to leverage partnerships with actors connected to wider audiences and communities, especially the ones that might be unaware, unfamiliar, or resistant to the SDG branding or to some issues within the framework. Over political divisions, city governments must cultivate trust and partnerships with regional actors and build initiatives over common values. Faith-based leadership and interfaith alliances can be a powerful force for social cohesion, trust, and social contracts based on common values. City governments must engage faith communities in consulting, co-creating, and amplifying the effectiveness of SDG-oriented projects.
- Cities will play a key role in driving to 2030—and beyond. The urgent imperative for the 21st century is to decouple growth from environmental degradation. Frameworks like Doughnut Economics provide guidance to shift from sustainable growth to regenerative and thriving communities focusing on measures of circularity and distribution that respect the bounds of an ecological ceiling. The SDG framework gives cities a platform on which to showcase local progress and innovations in achieving the 2030 goals. Through participation in forums, conferences, and regional or global conversations as well as Voluntary Local Reviews, cities will continue to elevate their leadership role. And as institutions and countries begin to discuss what is next, these vanguard cities suggest a greater emphasis on culture and traditions that enable greater buy-in.
- City diplomacy and collective action. The SDG Leadership Cities noted a need for spaces in global and regional platforms where they can contribute as major actors in progressing the 2030 agenda and voice their perspectives and agendas in a multilateral context. Cities must develop greater city-to-city and regional diplomacy and collaboration to foster systemic change through shared best practices and collective action. The group discussed the importance of networks and convening spaces where local actors are empowered. Increasing participation in intergovernmental systems and multilateral platforms through local-to-national partnerships must be core to the process of developing the next generation of benchmarks and establishing a collective SDG agenda that reflects cities’ needs.
- Diana Alarcón González, Chief Advisor to the Mayor and Foreign Affairs Coordinator, Mexico City
- Luz Amparo Medina Gerena, District Director of International Relations, City of Bogotá
- Erin Bromaghim, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Fellow on the Sustainable Development Goals, Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, City of Los Angeles
- Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability & Resilience and Senior Advisor to the Mayor, Orlando
- Celeste Connors, President & CEO, Hawaii Green Growth
- Carolina Cuenca, Director of International Relations, Buenos Aires
- Nicolas Gharbi, Principal Advisor for International Affairs, City of Madrid
- Rainer Kern, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Mayor, City of Mannheim
- Frida Leander, Agenda 2030 Sustainability Strategist, City of Malmö
- Allan Macleod, Operations and Stakeholder Manager, Bristol City Office
- Beryl Mphakathi, Deputy City Manager for Human Settlements, Engineering and Transport, Durban (eThekwini Municipality)
- Toshikazu Yazawa, Director, Office of the City of Yokohama, Representation to the Americas, City of Yokohama
- Ken Akaoka, Director General of the Global Network, Office of the City of Yokohama, Representation to the Americas, City of Yokohama
- Maria Vittoria Beria, Director of International Affairs, City of Milan
- Kaimana Bingham, Aloha+ Dashboard & Partnership Manager, Hawaii Green Growth
- Tim Borrett, Director of Policy, Strategy, and Partnerships, Bristol City Council
- Aissata Camara, Deputy Commissioner for Operations and Strategic Partnerships, Office for International Affairs, New York City
- Mariana Cammisa, SDGs Analyst, General and International Affairs Secretariat, Buenos Aires
- Mariana Flores Mayén, Executive Director for Institutional Representation, Mexico City
- Christian Hübel, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Mayor, City of Mannheim
- Angela Kim, SDG Program and Data Manager, City of Los Angeles
- Andrea Laverde Quintero, Deputy Director of International Relations, City of Bogotá
- Sandile Mbatha, SDG Principal, Durban (eThekwini Municipality)
- Mia Malin, SDGs Project Manager, Helsinki
Center for Sustainable Development, Brookings Institution
- Max Bouchet, Senior Policy Analyst & Project Manager
- Olivia du Bois, Project Assistant (Intern)
- Tony Pipa, Senior Fellow
- Zoe Swarzenski, Project Coordinator (Extern)
To subscribe or manage your subscriptions to our top event topic lists, please visit our event topics page.