Is Asia engaging in a “mission impossible” when it comes to addressing two of the most pressing issues of our time?
A recent report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) projects that “sustainable cities and communities” (Sustainable Development Goal or SDG 11) and “climate action” (goal 13) are among the four SDGs where achievement of the targets in the Asia and Pacific region by 2030 is unlikely.
This is a rather worrisome projection, given that in 2016 more than half of the 37 megacities in the world were located in Asia, and that the share is expected to rise significantly by 2030. The success of climate action will not only depend heavily on how urbanization issues are dealt with, but also on climate action in Asian countries such as the People’s Republic of China, India, and Japan.
So, is the Asian community engaging in a “mission impossible” when it comes to addressing two of the most pressing issues of our time – urbanization and climate change?
After participating in a recent ADB event focused on localizing global agendas with an emphasis on SDGs 11 and 13, I now feel more optimistic. The new global agendas (Agenda 2030, the Paris Agreement, and the soon-to-be-adopted New Urban Agenda) do not only address governments and the public sector – they also call for engagement and contributions from the private sector and civil society, as well as for strong commitment from citizens. Stimulating local action and commitment can make all the difference, and several impressive initiatives are already well underway.
Localizing global agendas does not mean local implementation of programs and strategies decided at a higher level – it requires a two-way approach where national goals and priorities derived from the global agendas are matched with and shaped by local needs and priorities as determined by local stakeholders. If this happens, the agendas do not remain abstract and aloofbut instead become “the DNA of what governments (including local governments) are doing”, as one participant put it. Global associations of local government such as United Cities and Local Governments are working hard to make the voice of local governments heard in the debates about the global agendas, emphasizing the potential energies that can be set in motion by well-designed implementation strategies that involve local governments.
Another major message that emerged from the event is that the global agendas do not call for creating new work streams, but rather need to be woven into the standard processes of government, such as planning, programming and budgeting, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. For instance, the Government of Tajikistan recently approved a National Development Strategy that covers most of the SDGs relevant to the Tajik development context, including SDGs 11 and 13. Once ratified by parliament, this will provide a firm platform for taking necessary actions forward.
In the context of multi-level government systems, making the global agendas a success requires enabling frameworks for sub-national governments – be it in terms of funding (a key issue mentioned in a number of case studies and in a report by the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments), institutional and individual capacity, or clear assignment of responsibilities to different levels of government.
This conclusion came out of several case studies that illustrated initiatives at the sub-national level (often supported by development partners) and indicated the inter-governmental linkages between national and sub-national level.
For instance, Uttam Kumar Saha from Practical Aid (Bangladesh) showed that introducing an innovative sludge management system in the city of Faridpur required local discretion for decision-making and access to resources, plus a regulatory environment established at the national level that allowed the municipal’s partnership with the private sector. Anupa Rimal Lamichhane (UNDP Nepal) demonstrated how a set of planning tools for localizing climate change interventions at the sub-national level, and how a vertically integrated planning system connecting the grassroots level (wards) with the national level helped establish the preconditions for a climate change strategy that integrates different levels of government.
Horizontal coordination between sectors is also necessary. For instance, the ADB-supported Third Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project in Bangladesh combines support on governance issues like citizens’ participation and gender with hardware support in, for instance, urban transport, water and sanitation, and slum improvement.
Local governments play an important role in coordinating stakeholders in ensuring that the contributions from the private sector and civil society are well coordinated and incentivized. If they can be strengthened—and we heard a convincing example how the previous Millennium Development Goals had been localized and mainstreamed in the Philippines, down to the community and individual level—achieving the targets of the agendas is not an unrealistic dream.