How does the Voluntary Local Review (VLR) Process Contribute to Policy Integration for sustainable transitions? Evidence from Frontrunner Cities

Event: Regional Studies Association Annual Conference
Date: Ljubljana Slovenia, June 14, 2023
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Regions and places face unprecedented challenges that need ambitious policies to drive sustainable transitions. While the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been shaping the policies (or at least the discourse) of national governments and supranational organisations, there is increasing acceptance that the 2030 Agenda needs local implementation to succeed and bring communities towards a more sustainable, just, and resilient future. However, regions and local governments face substantial challenges in operationalising, implementing and monitoring the SDGs. Another key obstacle is represented by achieving more effective policy integration at the local level—which is key to articulating policies that recognise trade-offs and interactions between different SDGs. This study explores how the Voluntary Local Review (VLR) process—a new tool to localise the 2030 Agenda used by local and regional governments—contributes to policy integration by thematically analysing interviews with city officials in 12 frontrunner cities that conducted a VLR between 2019 and 2020. Through an in-depth analysis of the procedures and considerations followed by local governments when conducting local reviews, our results suggest three main ways in which the VLR process affects policy integration: (1) by facilitating cooperation and interdependencies between different policy sectors; (2) by creating new instruments to mainstream SDGs; and (3) by enhancing sustainability competencies. Despite substantial impact on governance structures has been limited until now, our study suggests that conducting a VLR has the transformative potential to achieve greater policy integration and further the 2030 Agenda.