The city of Orlando, Florida, has launched its first Voluntary Local Review (VLR), in which it identifies how it will implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On the same day, the city of Los Angeles, California, launched its second VLR, providing an update on its SDG implementation planning.
The VLR launches were announced during a webinar on the topic ‘American leadership in Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.’ The event was organized by the Brookings Institution and the UN Foundation, and took place on 20 September 2021 as part of Global Goals Week.
During the event, speakers highlighted the need to pair grassroots action with international action, and for the US to demonstrate that it is implementing the objectives it promotes at the international level.
John Allen, President, The Brookings Institution, opened the event highlighting the multiple crises that cities need to address simultaneously, including climate change, global health, inequalities, unemployment, and racial issues. He noted that cities are looking to the SDGs as a framework for addressing these multiple pressing challenges at once.
Cynthia Yue, UNA-USA Youth Observer to the United Nations, described conversations she has had with US-based youth during a listening tour across the nation, emphasizing that her generation is living with the impacts of pressing challenges while also taking taking action. She highlighted that the “SDGs paint a dream of a better world,” and stressed the need for youth to have a voice in decision making.
Kate Gallego, Mayor, City of Phoenix, Arizona, discussed efforts in her city to prepare a VLR, and stressed the importance of metric-driven decision making and providing economic opportunities while addressing challenges such as climate change.
Ana Marie Argilagos, President and CEO, Hispanics in Philanthropy, moderated a panel discussion on ‘How the SDGs address inequality and Leave No One Behind.’ Michael McAfee, President and CEO, PolicyLink, said the fact that 100 million plus people in the US are economically insecure is a “design challenge” for the nation. He said “boutique initiatives” and asking philanthropy to support efforts to address the challenge therefore will not be sustainable. Helene Gayle, President and CEO, The Chicago Community Trust, and Trustee, Brookings Institution, stressed the need to recognize that the challenges the US faces are common to those faced in other countries. Carmen Villar, Vice President of Social Business Innovation, Merck, highlighted the need to address health equity, and stressed the need for community leaders to deliver messages about prevention.
Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Member, US House of Representatives, said the SDGs give us a blueprint for how to rebuild after the pandemic, and stressed the role of communities in rebuilding. She said San Diego, California, is beginning the process of localizing the SDGs in the region, including through data driven efforts to become net-zero and to end childhood poverty. She stressed that the US has to be a global example to be a global leader.
Elizabeth Cousens, President and CEO, UN Foundation, highlighted SDG-related efforts around the US, including: New York City’s efforts to spark the development of VLRs; Los Angeles, California’s launch of its second VLR on 20 September; and Carnegie Mellon University’s launch of the first Voluntary University Review. She recalled that the SDGs provide a common language and framework, and said this is one of the most powerful contributions of the SDGs.
Buddy Dyer, Mayor, City of Orlando, announced that Orlando’s first VLR was being launched on 20 September. He said the SDGs helped the city organize the interconnections among its priorities. He provided an example of how sustainability has made good business sense for his city, noting that Orlando is saving USD 2 million per year due to energy efficiency improvements in city buildings, which has allowed the city to pay the debt on the bond used to purchase the improvements as well as to contribute to the costs of a new police building.
Chris Castro, Director, Office of Sustainability and Resilience City of Orlando, moderated a panel on ‘Communities in focus.’ He noted the city’s “Greenworks” sustainability plan, which involves partnerships with local universities, neighboring cities and county government, and other groups to advance the goals. Sandi Vidal, Vice President of Community Strategies and Initiatives, Central Florida Foundation, said her organization focuses on “social determinants of health,” including housing and transportation, education, and social connections and livability. She said the focus on end goals provides clarity to partners.
James Bacchus, Distinguished University Professor of Global Affairs and Director of the Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity, University of Central Florida, said the US is not going to be able to achieve its national and international objectives if it cannot do it at the local level. He stressed the need to address climate change, the pandemic and biodiversity. Merchon Green, Equity Official, City of Orlando, emphasized the focus on leaving no one behind and its connections with the Mayor of Orlando’s goal to provide equal opportunities to everyone in the city.
In her concluding remarks, Leena Abdelmoity, Human Rights Advocate, Girl Up Teen Advisor Alumna, reviewed her journey as a minority growing up in middle America. She reported she had seen what happens when youth speak up for their communities. She said commitment to the SDGs is a first step, and we must now put those commitments into action. [Webinar webpage]