When Helsinki’s first report was released in June 2019, a few cities from around the world were involved. Now, two years down the road, almost a hundred cities have joined the efforts. The step taken by a few pioneering cities has turned into a global movement, and both New York and Helsinki played a critical role in its formation. Voluntary Local Review, VLR, has also become a joint tool and language that the cities involved can use to achieve the SDGs. In Finland, a report has so far been prepared by Helsinki, Espoo and Turku.
“The Agenda 2030 goals can never be achieved without the local level”
Agenda 2030 was originally a global commitment between countries, which was created to ensure the fulfilment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Country-specific progress reporting is an established way of aggregating successes and monitoring worldwide developments. The SDGs have also become a global language of responsibility that brings together countries from Finland to Sierra Leone.
However, it was clear relatively quickly that a simple commitment between countries would not be enough. National measures regarding aspects such as taxation and regulation are of course critical, but the majority of the Agenda 2030 goals require local implementation.
Originally, the aim of the actions taken by the cities was to make the world and the UN understand that the Agenda 2030 goals can never be achieved without the local level. It is essential for cities across the world to commit to the goals, but it is especially important in areas where the countries do not support the SDGs. Local governments can compensate for any shortcomings of the central government.
“A sustainable city strengthens equality, well-being and participation opportunities among its residents through concrete actions”
At the same time, it is clear that we can achieve something even greater by joining forces. From the perspective of the UN, Finland and Helsinki have served as prime examples to demonstrate the ways in which national and city-level reporting and goal-oriented efforts form the most efficient path towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time this year, the cities involved will gain an official position in the UN scheme for monitoring the achievement of the SDGs. This is an important step in acknowledging the role of local administration. Increasing the role of cities within the UN has been among the most important goals for both Helsinki and New York.
However, reporting is not what the cities want to focus on in the long term. Even more important is to ensure a sufficient operational level and the successful city-level implementation of the sustainable development solutions. A sustainable city strengthens equality, well-being and participation opportunities among its residents through concrete actions.
Helsinki’s first report was a test aimed at understanding not only the efficacy of the reporting but also the city’s actual performance in terms of realising the Sustainable Development Goals. First and foremost, the report served as a strategic tool. The second report covers all the SDGs and expands the examination to encompass the entire organisation instead of the strategy alone. Efforts have been made to describe and analyse the goals from Helsinki’s perspective.
“Helsinki has a long tradition in promoting sustainable development”
In Helsinki, sustainable urban development is not an empty promise. Helsinki’s second sustainable development report focuses on actions as well as highlighting successes and development needs. Thanks to the contribution of the City’s divisions and enterprises, the report is a collection of dozens of stories and examples of sustainable development efforts. Helsinki has a long tradition in promoting sustainable development, and many of the perspectives have already been integrated into the City’s basic services to create a solid foundation for sustainable development efforts.
Helsinki is doing well with regard to many of the SDGs, and we have ambitious goals. That said, there is still much to do to achieve the goals, and one of the key challenges is ecological sustainability – we must be able to examine global impacts and our planet’s capacity.
In addition to this, the extraordinary circumstances and financial difficulties brought about by the coronavirus crisis have strained Helsinki residents across all population groups. In Helsinki, the polarisation between population groups was greater than elsewhere in the country even before crisis, and the pandemic has brough the inequality into starker relief. There is widespread concern over well-being and learning among children and young people. Constant monitoring and learning are required to determine what the change in sustainability thinking means for Helsinki and how the various measures come together in the short and long term.
“There is much to do and little time”
Helsinki wants to inspire other cities to get involved in the SDG efforts and to share its solutions openly so that others can benefit from them. Helsinki also wants to learn from others. The UN Youth of Helsinki association provided comments on this VLR report.
Most of all, we want to inspire and support all local residents, businesses and other parties to work together to make Helsinki a sustainable city and the world a place where the Agenda 2030 goals can become a reality. There is much to do and little time, so every step counts.