Dr Sylvia Croese, research officer at ACC, kicked off the 2019 special year-long seminar series on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Wednesday, 13 February 2019. Over 20 people attended representing different departments and research centers at UCT, as well as private sector, civil society and local government.

Croese’s presentation built on on-going research in and with the City of Cape Town, supported by Mistra Urban Futures and the PEAK Urban programme on the localisation of the SDGs, or the process of adapting, implementing and monitoring the SDGs at the local level.

The SDGs were adopted in 2015 to replace the Millennium Development Goals and represent an ambitious action plan for achieving sustainable development in a universal and inclusive way by 2030. An extensive UN-led monitoring framework and annual reviews form part of the follow up and review system to ensure timely and measurable progress on the SDGs. A standalone urban goal was included to acknowledge the importance of cities as both drivers and actors in achieving sustainable development. However, nearly four years down the line very little is known about the ways in which local governments are going about SDG localisation.

Local government associations such as UCLG, which were central to the inclusion of urban SDG 11, promote collaborative multi-level governance mechanisms and the creation of a local enabling environment to allow cities to implement the SDGs effectively. Yet, Croese’s work shows that while South Africa performs well when it comes to the legal and institutional requirements for SDG localisation, in practice there has been little coordinated and consistent guidance on the SDGs from national government. In the absence of this guidance, few South African cities have pro-actively engaged with this global policy as daily operations, priorities and processes tend to take precedence. Opportunities for engagement are represented by the Mistra comparative research project on the implementation of the SDGs through which Croese has become an embedded researcher with the City of Cape Town. As part of this project, Cape Town has hosted and participated in various internal and cross-city learning activities, leading to increased awareness on the SDGs and initial steps to localise the SDGs through its Resilience Strategy.

Croese’s presentation was followed by a vibrant discussion on the effectiveness of urban and development policies in South Africa, the role of governance, academic researchers-and civil society in driving the SDG agenda and data production and some of the potential blindspots of the SDGs.

Throughout the course of 2019, seminars will follow that will explore the link between the SDGs and data as well as topics such as food, health, culture and planning in order to further identify the challenges and opportunities for SDG implementation in (South) Africa. An announcement for the next SDG seminar will be sent out soon.

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