INSIGHT: German municipalities begin to localize the SDGs

German municipalities begin to localize the SDGs

On  the 8th of February 2017, the UCLG World Secretariat was invited to share its global strategy for SDG localization and get feedback on local experiences at an exchange in Dortmund, Germany.

The event was part of a project that is supporting fifteen municipalities and the provincial (Land) government of North Rhine Westphalia in Germany to develop SDG implementation strategies. The initiative is supported by the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and facilitated by SKEW (Municipalities for one world, a Service for Development Initiatives) and the LAG NRW (Sustainability Network North Rhine-Westphalia).

The SDG project supports municipalities develop their SDG roadmaps, facilitated by LAG 21 with participatory planning tools and scientific consultation. In all 15 local governments, the strategies use the same planning process designed with invited representatives of all stakeholders, from civil society, administration and political representatives.

“The SDGs are recognized as an important tool for policy orientation to all government levels, and allow us in the municipalities to articulate what we can do , what we do and where are our chances and limits”, said Thomas Pieperhoff, advisor to the Mayor of Dinslaken.

During SDG strategy development, many cities report a well-informed and committed civil society, while they see a more cautious attitude from officers in local departments, who remain uncertain of the implications of the 2030 Agenda. SDG strategies are perceived as a chance to foster more integrated planning and more crosscutting knowledge exchange between departments.

Collaboration between departments was highlighted as a key result of the sustainability strategy of North Rhine Westphalia, the first provincial SDG strategy in Germany.

“The Strategy of North Rhine-Westphalia defines clear objectives. Meanwhile, the idea of sustainable development is deeply rooted in all political parties and departments. That is why the strategy will last over different political trends and elections. It’s less about the “should we” of a sustainable development – discussions are more about the “how should we do it?” Judith Schwethelm, representative of the ministry for environment, climate change and agriculture, North Rhine Westphalia.

Many municipalities addressed consumption and production patterns in their strategies. For example, Muenster has a “Sufficiency” Vision of for urban growth. Decent work and infrastructure are very important for several intermediary cities and towns, which have mobile labor forces, and fair trade policies have been implemented by the city of Dortmund under Mayor Sierau. 

However, there is a long way to go to avoid the SDG strategies being shelved, as has been seen in some previous processes. The complexity of the issues and responses makes things more difficult in larger cities, where specialized managers who are essential for implementation may find it had to engage. It is therefore crucial to bring the strategic brainstorming process to an operational level, which is not only more informative to political leaders, but also tangible to the technical level that needs to commit to implementation.

Vertical cooperation is also very important, in particular as municipalities are widely acknowledged as barometers for development trends at national level. This was seen in the refugee crises, as well as in the lack of social services, in particular care, fire and disaster prevention.

Some municipalities are considering proposing legal and political instruments to other spheres of government. For example, the city of Dinslaken is exploring proposing a national law to restart obligatory social service for all citizens. Municipalities and social institutions like the Red Cross, hospitals or elderly residences would be supported in meeting the demand for services, and young people would be trained in civic values.

In the near future, the SDG initiative will be extended into more German regions and will continue to provide good lessons internationally.