UN: ‘It’s Through Local Government That You Can Get Big Shifts’

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Warning: By their own pointed admission, the UN is targeting local governments in order to implement 2030 Agenda, New Urban Agenda  and Sustainable Development. Thus, national and regional  governments can be safely bypassed, avoiding any risk of oversight or accountability.  TN Editor

Where does the United Nations see mayors fitting into the new implementation discussion on climate and sustainable cities? An interview with David Nabarro, the secretary-general’s special adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Cities are receiving major focus at international climate talks currently taking place in Morocco, the first formal follow-up to last year’s successful adoption of a new global accord to seek to contain global warming.

Yet climate action is just one part of a broader new push by countries around the world to bring new attention to issues of sustainability. A little over a year ago, countries met at the United Nations and adopted the landmark Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aimed at eliminating extreme poverty and improving equality worldwide. And last month, those countries came back together to agree on a roadmap for implementing the SDGs in cities, a 20-year strategy document called the New Urban Agenda.

As can be seen from this flurry of action at the multilateral level, anti-poverty and climate action are increasingly being seen as interlinked, and cities as a strategic place of overlap.

If that effort has a cheerleader within the United Nations, it’s David Nabarro, the secretary-general’s special adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (of which the SDGs are a core part). The British physician, a former executive director of the World Health Organization, has tackled diseases from malaria to Ebola to Avian flu. Now he is tasked with galvanizing support for the SDGs, one of the major legacies of U. N.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who leaves office at the end of this year.

Citiscope spoke with Nabarro via telephone earlier this month as the latest round of climate talks, known as COP 22, got underway in Marrakech, Morocco. This interview, which took place before the U. S. presidential election of Donald Trump, has been edited for length and clarity.

Greg Scruggs: How does the New Urban Agenda fit into the efforts to implement the SDGs?

David Nabarro: I see the New Urban Agenda absolutely as a major component of subnational implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now, of course, these constructs that seek to bring together ideas about the future of people and the future of our planet are given various titles. They are ways of formulating a mix of ideas to represent what increasingly local governments, national governments, activists, businesses — basically a large forum of concerned citizens — would like to see done in our world to make it a satisfactory place to live for people in years to come. The language that we use to describe it is great, but what really matters is what that language actually represents in practice.

The Sustainable Development Goals generally, [and] the New Urban Agenda specifically, are about changing the way that we all think and work in order to get the world to where we want it to be by 2030 — new ways of thinking and working that are obviously low-carbon, focus on resilience and improve equity, so that we get less massive variations in degrees of wealth.

We need to work within the context of local governments, especially. That’s why we were so keen to strengthen the Subnational Climate Action Hub [created at last year’s Paris climate talks] and also to work with cities and local governments. Because people are very much engaged in local government, and we’re seeing more and more that it’s through local government that you can get big shifts via a combination of awareness, actions and activism.

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