Online Voluntary Local Review (VLR) Lab | background

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Partnerships for the Goals

2030 Agenda (SDGs)

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the “Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (2030 Agenda) and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to guide the global community towards a sustainable society, leaving no one behind. A complete list of the SDGs with the targets framed under each goal is available at A list of indicators is available at

Globally speaking, over half the global population lives in cities and this figure is projected to grow further to two-thirds of the global population by the middle of this century. In the meantime, especially in developed countries, many cities are facing crumbling, aged infrastructure and population vacuums due to mega cities, resulting in declining populations and an increased burden of maintenance on individuals.

Due to both rapid growth in urban populations and population decline, current dynamic circumstantial changes result in local and regional governments (LRGs) facing enormous challenges. As all SDGs have targets that are directly or indirectly linked to the daily work of local administrations, LRGs play a significant role in achieving SDGs. This is manifested in the SDGs as it dedicates one goal to urban issues: SDG 11. Of course, many other goals and targets have to be implemented at the local level too.

Global Efforts Towards Localisation of SDGs

To this end, many actors have stepped up and provided support to cities and regions to localise SDGs. Localisation of SDGs means “taking into account subnational contexts in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, from the setting of goals and targets, to determining the means of implementation and using indicators to measure and monitor progress. It is also putting the territories and their peoples’ priorities, needs and resources at the centre of sustainable development” (UN-Habitat, 2018). It also says there should be a constant communication across different levels from local, national, to global. In this sense, localisation should also inform the global agenda to formulate a better global policy framework.

This implies that the VLR is basically a process in which the LRGs review their integration of SDGs and their core principles, and by doing so, enable themselves to deepen the localisation process further. The VLR report is a document of such activities. IGES’s publications of VLRs, following the “Handbook for the Preparation of Voluntary National Reviews: 2018 Edition” (the updated 2019 version is here), are one of such global efforts to assist local governments in accelerating their localisation process.

World-First VLR reports presented at the HLPF 2018 & More Tools became available for LRGs officials

It was Kitakyushu City, Toyama City, Shimokawa Town and New York City that set a global precedent by releasing VLR reports that set out how these municipalities implement the SDGs at the local level. In so doing, these four municipalities demonstrated that local governments are structuring their sustainability plans to advance the global sustainable development agenda. The reports were released in time for the Local and Regional Governments’ Forum at the annual United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2018. The forum was a platform for LRGs to engage with national-level representatives and to demonstrate the growing trend of localising global policy worldwide. The reason behind this new IGES initiative is that we identified that there was no centralised information hub where all VLRs are accessible and cities with plans to carry out VLRs this year are listed. Hence, this VLR Lab is to support municipalities by facilitating better access to information and lessons learnt.

Of course, there are many more useful materials to support the localisation process. For example, OECD has carried out thematic work on cities, and has produced two reports that analyse urbanisation and provide suggestions on how to improve the governance of large urban areas. The two reports can be found here. The Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments (GTF), a coalition of networks of local governments around the globe, has published “The second “Towards the Localization of the SDGs” report to the 2018 HLPF, presented at the Local and Regional Government’s Forum” facilitated by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), available at the GTF website here. UN-Habitat has launched an online platform called “Localizing the SDGs” which provides tools and resources for LRGs to localise the SDGs, available here. UN-Habitat has also published a report “Roadmap for Localizing the SDGs: Implementation and Monitoring at Subnational Level” with UNDP and GTF.

The message is clear: without active LRGs involvement in efforts towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, this task will most likely fail. Therefore, IGES believes that it is possible to contribute to global sustainability by supporting local and regional initiatives to turn circulating and ecological economy and society into a reality.