Our second article this week was written by Dana Boyer (University of Minnesota), Stefanie Brodie (Georgia Tech), Eleanor Stokes (Yale), Joshua Sperling (NCAR), and Alisa Zomer (Yale).
Negotiations are underway to set objectives and targets and establish a framework for implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. SDGs differ from their precursors, the Millennium Development Goals, in that they are meant to apply universally to all countries. We define universality as the ‘appropriateness’ of goals, targets, and indicators for global adoption. Universality is particularly important for cities, as acknowledged in Urban SDG 11, which calls to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”
To determine universal indicators is no simple task. Tensions often flare in negotiations, as some nations point to their common but differentiated responsibilities while a lack of consensus prevails on definitions and performance metrics for urban sustainability (Hiremath et al., 2013, Lynch et al., 2013, Shen et al., 2011). Efforts to devise a core set of indicators, including the Bangalore Outcome and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), have examined a small set of ‘universal’ indicators but have yet to address how universality applies to specific urban areas. The United Nations Statistical Commission recently released a review and ranking of the feasibility, suitability, and relevance of proposed SDG indicators. The UN-Stats analysis, however, reflects the perspectives of national statistics offices, which are often ill-suited to see the needs and understand the scale of the city.