Helsinki wants to be a pioneer for local implementation of global responsibilities. In September 2018, the city, being after New York the second city in the world and the first one in Europe to do so, thus made a commitment to report voluntarily to the UN on its implementation of the sustainable development goals. Helsinki has completed its report, called From Agenda to Action – The Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Helsinki 2019, and it will be handed over to the UN in July.
In 2015, the UN member states came to an agreement on the sustainable development goals and the action plan. The Agenda 2030 action plan is universal and aims at eradicating extreme poverty and advancing sustainable development that equally takes the environment, the economy and people into account. There are in sum 17 sustainable development goals (SDG), and annually a UN high-level political forum specifies the areas of focus whose advancement is the topic of reporting. In 2019, the areas of focus are quality education (SDG4), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), reduction of inequality (SDG10), climate action (SDG13), peace, justice and accountable administration (SDG16), and cooperation and partnership (SDG17).
“Cities are gaining in importance globally and the objective is to view cities as strategic partners – not only as implementers of the agenda – at all fora where global problems are being solved. The sustainable development goals constitute the universal terms of reference on the basis of which various parties can contribute to this discourse on an equal basis”, says Mayor Jan Vapaavuori.
Goals are transformed from agenda to action at the city level
A significant part of the actual implementation of the sustainable development goals take place locally. The cities have a substantial role in achieving the goals. The New York model for local reporting highlights the role of cities both vis-à-vis the city residents and the global community.
The objective of the report has been to generate knowledge about the implementation of sustainable development in Helsinki. The commitment to the process of reporting has enabled Helsinki at the midpoint of the term of its city strategy 2017–2021 to assess how well the strategic goals serve the UN’s sustainable development goals.
The process of reporting has also been a means to promote cooperation with the international community, to make other cities commit to assessing and reporting their sustainable development and to influence matters in order to boost the input of cities in the implementation of the sustainable development goals globally. Helsinki cooperated closely with New York City in the course of the entire process.
Moreover, a close relationship between the government and the city is a key part of being able to fulfil the sustainable development goals successfully.
Helsinki is successfully realising sustainable development
The Helsinki report, From Agenda to Action – The Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Helsinki 2019, comes to the conclusion that Helsinki's city strategy is ambitious and wide-ranging and that its goals fit well in with the UN goals for sustainable development. The report manages to illustrate that Helsinki already has carried out or is in the process of carrying out many measures that advance the UN goals at the city level. No substantial deficiencies or gaps in the implementation of the sustainable development areas of focus were found.
Even though the report’s approach is strategically comprehensive, it nevertheless does not cover the entire range of municipal services or operations. The city promotes the realisation of the UN goals also in many other ways in addition to those that have been given attention in this report. The report states too that it is necessary to develop and improve indicators for the follow-up of the UN goals in connection with possible further reports. As for the follow-up indicators, the challenge is to produce indicators that are comparable. It would also be advantageous to analyse in more detail the points of convergence between on the one hand the targets in connection with the sustainable development goals, and on the other hand the local level activities.
The results to guide the activities of the city
In accordance with the results of the report and the questions that have been raised in the wake of the reporting process, the city will develop the deployment of the city strategy in order to realise the sustainable development goals in the municipal organisation as well as possible. The more conscious people are about advancing sustainable development in the tasks they are fulfilling, the more likely it is that they will succeed.
Moreover, the city actively communicates the results to its residents and stakeholders to raise consciousness of the importance of the sustainable development goals in the city’s day-to-day operations.
Helsinki will also carry on being an active international influencer with the aim to persuade other cities to commit themselves to issuing voluntary implementation reports. Jointly with other cities, Helsinki endeavours to influence matters to achieve recognition for the importance of cities in key international fora and networks – and in the UN in particular – and to enable cities to participate in drawing up the agenda and the goals too in the future – and not just in their implementation. Helsinki also actively advances global awareness of the sustainable development goals.