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Engaging territories towards sustainable development: the international action of local governments

21 février 2019

As part of the Think 2030 platform, experts express their views on Europe’s most pressing sustainability issues in the Think 2030 blog series, Pathways to 2030.  The fourteenth edition of Pathways to 2030 features the Projects’ assistant of PLATFORMA, Lisa Bardot, who discusses the need to engage local and regional governments in global fora for sustainable development.

By collaborating with expert stakeholders such as the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), PLATFORMA seeks to increase the awareness of European’s leaders on local and regional governments’ role for sustainable development. 

Promote decentralisation and support capacity building for local stakeholders

Local and regional governments have a role to play in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. All of the 17 SDGs have local targets, which makes it a relevant framework to implement political strategies at local level. Local and regional governments are at the core of the SDGs localising process of which main feature is to assert that territorial solutions will be found to address global challenges and to allow a sustainable development everywhere and for all.

In this context, it is important to review the specific contribution of decentralised cooperation to development issues. The global agendas are an opportunity to demonstrate the added value of the international dialogue between cities and regions, from Europe and beyond. Indeed, long term collaboration, understanding of common challenges and common opportunities, sharing good practices at the local level is anchored in international partnerships between local and regional governments. This is key for advancing hand in hand towards sustainable development.

The need for an effective multilevel cooperation 

The European Union has already claimed for a reinforcement of the multi-stakeholders dialogue, including local players (notably through the participation to the European Commission Multi-stakeholders Platform on SDGs). This is also central for the New European Consensus on Development which stresses that stronger partnerships should be at the core of the SDGs’ implementation.

Despite this political narrative, it appears that taking into account local governments in the decision making process is still missing. In this period where Member States are reporting to the United Nations through the Voluntary National Reports, it is worth noticing that central governments are currently not obliged to consult and/or include local authorities’ data. Doing so should be considered as a very first step toward the recognition of the role of local and regional governments as key stakeholders to ensure policy coherence. It is necessary to push the European Union to fulfil its role of political leader in order to establish clear, action-oriented guidelines and make objectives legally binding for Member States.

Mainstreaming the voice of subnational governments in cross-cutting areas

Representing the closest policy level to the citizens, municipalities of all sizes and regions are capable to raise awareness on many issues of interest for them. They benefit from an expertise in different thematic issues related to their competencies such as gender equality, migration management, climate action, waste management, economic development. For instance, fostering the cooperation in order to support the creation of an African charter for gender equality in local life, based on the European one, is a tangible example to showcase the effectiveness of local governments engaged in international partnerships for sustainable development.

The EU should therefore recognise their role in transversal areas by favouring consultation’s mechanisms and ensure them financial support. Decentralised cooperation allows local and regional governments’ to effectively advance towards sustainable development of territories, maintaining coherence between EU domestic and international policies. This renewed dialogue is about creating new networks and tight links to engage local and regional governments in order to build peaceful and sustainable forms of cooperation.

Read also the article on the IEEP website