Localize the SDGs: Another Lesson from the Pandemic

When we set out to identify the global indicators from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework that are relevant to our city, one of our first findings was:

The global indicators need to be localized. They are not applicable in their original form.

That conclusion was based on a deep dive into the indicators and recognizing that many of them are not relevant or even applicable at the city level. Along with that analysis, a literature review showed that:

only 36% of targets and 30% of the indicators are assessable.

London Poverty Research Centre – Localizing the SDG indicators

That was back in March 2019 when some initiatives around the world were still struggling to adopt the original indicators.

To be very clear, the SDGs – overall goals – are more relevant than ever: poverty, hunger, inequality, precarious employment, climate change, a global pandemic and many other challenges the SDGs propose to address are crucial to our future. However, when we shift from the big picture to a more specific level (indicators) and think about how we will implement change, the original indicators failed to deliver the same degree of relevance.

COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of a few indicators and some of the underlying assumptions. The most dangerous one being Sustained per-capita economic growth. Our current scenario shows how goals and targets that rely on a growing global economy are unsustainable and becoming impossible to achieve.

… the most common measure used, GDP, is distorting — it assigns value to undesirable factors, such as dangerous jobs, traffic jams and pollution. And growth cannot continue forever on a finite planet that’s already over-exploited.

Nature – July 9, 2020

Even though the promise of economic growth has been debunked over and over again:

One of the main lessons is that we need an economy that thrives even when it is not growing. Not an economy that grows even when we are not thriving. Well-being for all in a healthy planet, that’s what our indicators need to measure.

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