Monitoring the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were established in 2015 as a way to unify the international community and guide UN member states objectives. As such, it’s a multi-stakeholder objective including states (with countries from both the global north and global south) and non-states (including the private sector, IGOs, and civil society). The UN charter’s preamble states that the UN pledges “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person… to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. This was reaffirmed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Through the creation of 17 Global Goals with 169 targets, the UN persists in following these ideals. These include everything from quality education to gender equity to economic growth.

One prominent SDG is Goal 4, or “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, with ten targets and eleven indicators. Some targets are easier to measure than others, such as “4.2.2: Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex”. Others are more vague and harder to measure like “4.7.1: the extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels…”. These indicators are supposed to increase monitoring and accountability capacities from the preceding MDGs, but this ability depends more on the clarity of the targets and indicators themselves rather than the mere presence of them. The 2017 SDG 4 progress report addresses areas where the world is still lacking, specifically attacking efforts “in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and for vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugee children and poor children in rural areas”.

The HLPF, or the high level performance forums, is yet another way to monitor progress. This body of heads of states implementing the SDGs meets annually under ECOSOC and every four years under the UNGA- it is known as the most inclusive and participatory forum at the UN as the MGOS (major groups and other stakeholders) are able to hold side events, attend and intervene in all official meetings of the forum; have access to all official information and documents, make recommendations, and more. These major groups are women, children, farmers, indigenous people, local authorities, businesses, civil society, and workers and trade unions- this framework is broadened by the more recent addition of other stakeholders, like persons with disabilities. However, this inclusivity is still limited to those with ECOSOC accreditation. Rimmerman, the author of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, argues especially that persons with disabilities still are limited in participation both in UN function and in society worldwide. The HLPF and other monitoring measures must remember to take into account the lived experiences of individuals rather than keep working on such a macro scale.

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World Urban Forum

According to the United Nations World Urban Forum (WUF) website, the World Urban Forum is “the world’s premier conference on urban issues.” Established in 2001 by the United Nations, The World Urban Forum analyzes rapid urbanization and its effects on communities, cities, economies, climate change, and policies. The World Urban Forum was organized and convened by UN-Habitat and allows for high-level participation that creates a premier international gathering about one of the most pressing global issues. The World Urban Forum has three objectives:

  1. raise awareness of sustainable urbanization among stakeholders and constituencies, including the generic public;
  2. improve the collective knowledge of sustainable urban development through inclusive open debates, sharing of lessons learned and the exchange of best practices and good policies; and
  3. increase coordination and cooperation between different stakeholders and constituencies for the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanization.

The World Urban Forum meets every two years to work toward these objectives. Coming in February 2018, The WUF will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Many people are excited about the WUF being held in Asia again as it accounts for about 65% of expansion in urban areas across the world. Hosting the forum shows a dedication to sustainable development that would benefit many locations in Asia as rapid urbanization is a heavy burden in many Asian countries. Those involved hope to see many practices and new knowledge being shared by all stakeholders involved in the World Urban Forum.

The relevant stakeholders span a wide range of actors. National and local governments, non-governmental organizations, business, and communities alI hold a large interest in the WUF and its policies to attain the goals of Habitat III. National and local governments will be required to offer much of the funding for sustainable urban development as they must provide infrastructure to accommodate any development. Non-governmental organizations will hold stakes concerning environmental and social concerns while development is under way. NGOs will likely be the ones to hold businesses and governments accountable for these concerns. Businesses will play a role when they invest in an area, creating much of the development through economic opportunity and therefore hope to see beneficial policies from the WUF. Communities will be affected by all of the above as they live in these areas. If the governments do not comply with the policies set by the WUF, businesses will be less likely to invest as there isn’t proper infrastructure, NGOs will continue to see social concerns and attempt to mend these, and these communities will lose economic opportunity and in turn a chance for development.

Grand Challenges

The grand challenges of today are vast and many, as can be seen by looking at the Millennium Development Goals, the Millennium Development Goals Outcomes, and the Sustainable Development Goals. By following the changes between the Millennium Development Goals and its successor, the Sustainable Development Goals, we can see that there is an expanding understanding of what Grand Challenges we face as a society today. With the continuance of expanding technology and innovation, we are able to find more challenges surmountable even if we are unsure of just how to solve them.

One example is Millennium Development Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability. This was broken down into six different goals in the Sustainable Development Goals. These include Affordable and Clean Energy (7), Sustainable Cities and Communities (11), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), Climate Action (13), Life Below Water (14), and Life on Land (15). The expansion of this single goal under the MDGs into six separate goals with their own measurements and specified indicators under the SDGs at least shows our greater understanding of the issues our world faces today. At worst, we learned what needs to be fixed further and things that did not work under the MDGs. At best, we have a more clearly defined notion for the future of these works and are able to build off of and add to what was accomplished under the MDGs.

While this is an international idea about Grand Challenges that should be addressed, it was interesting to find the domestic take by looking at the White House website for Grand Challenges. It was down for maintenance and has been for at least a month and a half. While things like this are common under a new administration and the government tends to run slowly, Trump’s campaign was built off a series of his perceived Grand Challenges that have yet to appear on this site. Compared with the USAID take on Grand Challenges, which is very in depth and has specific examples they are working to fix, there is a disconnect. While Grand Challenges are inherently difficult, they are focused on because they are able to be solved in some way, even if that way is difficult and tiresome. But this distinction shows that one reason we have not worked as far towards accomplishing these things is because of a division of resources and focus. Before we are able to fix these things, agreements must be made about how to do so.

 

Inclusive Development and the WUF

Under the United Nation’s Habitat, the World Urban Forum is an international conference dedicated to urban issues across the glove. The Forum has 3 objectives:

 

  1. Raise awareness of sustainable urbanization among stakeholders and constituencies, including the general public.
  2. Improve the collective knowledge of sustainable urban development through inclusive open debates, sharing of lessons learned and the exchange of best practices and good policies.
  3. Increase coordination and cooperation between different stakeholders and constituencies for the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanization.

 

The WUF has gained international attention and has become one of the most inclusive forums within the United Nations. It’s next session, WUF9 taking place in February 2018 in Malaysia will focus on inclusive sustainable urban development. This forum follows the notion that it is a right for all citizens to have equal access to the services and benefits a city provides. Within many urban settings, access to resources is stratified not only across class but also across abilities. For instance, this forum will discuss inclusive transportation. There is a call for the expansion of public transportation to span across the entirety of the city, instead of centralizing busses and rails to certain parts. However, there is a large push for an increase in accessibility across other spectrums. There is a need for not only handicapped-friendly public transportation, but also transportation with audio for those who are blind and visually impaired, and accommodations for the elderly. The creation of inclusive mechanisms fully allows a city to reach a new level of development.

 

Another aspect of the WUF9 is their dedication to collaboration and coordination amongst various stakeholders and constituencies. In 2014 the Urban Thinkers Campus endorsed the idea of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) in which acts as representative groups of the general assembly, all members of the United Nations, within the major international forums such as WUF. GAP will play a large role in the collaboration and coordination efforts within WUF9. They will actively advocate for marginalized groups, whether it be the disabled, elderly, indigenous groups, women and children etc. Having these representative groups present at WUF9 allows for conversation to be directed back to the needs of those marginalized and holds them accountable for implementing effective strategies for making sure all citizens have access to the benefits and services of a city.

 

Overall, the efforts set forth by GAP and WUF9 have actively worked to involve all types of people into the conversation of development and allow cities as well as its citizens to flourish.

Cities for All by All

 

The 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9) will be held in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. The World Urban Forum is an important conference for governments to discuss and address urban issues. WUF9 will focus on implementation of the New Urban Agenda and using the New Urban Agenda as a tool for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030. This is an opportunity to examine the overlaps between the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs. No.11 of the SDGs “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” is especially relevant to the New Urban Agenda. Holding WUF9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will also help push the progress in building “cities for all” forward since with the efforts of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific , Southeast Asia sets an example for other regions of the world in implementing inclusive policies for persons with disabilities. Besides member states, the General Assembly of Partners will participate in WUF9 to influence the policy making and implementation process as well. Other stakeholders from various sectors that have their own vision on inclusive cities such as the Special Olympics should also be included in the process.

The conception of an inclusive city by the Special Olympics focuses on four aspects for persons with intellectual disabilities: attitudes, access, opportunities and social inclusion. While the definition of persons with disabilities in the SDGs and in the New Urban Agenda is broader, persons with intellectual disabilities are included in this definition. The Special Olympics recognizes the challenges posed by growing urban population and aims at improving inclusivity and accessibility of cities through their games and programs. For example, since the Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Abu Dhabi in 2019, Abu Dhabi is one of the four pilot cities for the inclusive city initiative of Special Olympics. While the Special Olympics is seeking ways to make a positive impact on the Middle East and North Africa region, UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia has a lot of space for improving accessibility and inclusivity of cities in the region. Knowledge transfer and experience sharing with other regional agencies of the UN can move things forward. But multistakeholders such as businesses and NGOs can also provide valuable insights on building “cities for all” in MENA region. Therefore, on international governance platforms like the WUF9, participation of stakeholders from different sectors is indispensible and should be encouraged.