How COVID-19 Is Affecting the Work of Local Government Sustainability Officers

In her blog piece for CityTalk, Ariel Decovic analyses how the work of local government sustainability officers has changed under the influence of the corona pandemic and how their work and projects may be impacted in the long-term.

© ICLEI 2020

Ordinarily characterized by close in-person contact, local governments are currently forced to restructure their services to allow for digital access and collaboration. According to Susanne Nolden, an employee at the department of International Affairs and Global Sustainability in Bonn, Germany, one of the biggest challenges she faces is switching from physical events to digital formats for outreach in the SDG-context. She is deeply concerned about how to continue her work in a time where most conferences, meetings and workshops have been cancelled and collaboration with key stakeholders needs to take place online. Nontsundu Ndonga, a Deputy Municipal Manager for City Development and Sustainability in the city of uMhlathuze, South Africa, in turn is forced to find ways to eliminate the need for in-person consultations for issues concerning city administration, while ensuring that day-to-day operations can continue. 

For many others involved in the field of sustainable development, it is not necesarily the diseases' immediate repercussions for their work, but the long-term impacts that give rise to concern. Gradually it is becoming clear that sustainability projects will either be delayed, reduced in scope or even cancelled completely to make resources available for fighting the corona pandemic. 

As Linda Arbogast, Sustainability Coordinator, City of Oberlin, OH, points out: “My fire chief was working with me on the adaptation work. He is now consumed with the city’s response to the COVID-19 crisis”. She is asking herself how she will be able to continue with her work toward advancing the city’s resilience in future. 

She is not alone. Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability and Resilience, City of Orlando, FL, Risto Veivo, who leads the climate team for the city of Turku, Finland and Tiffany Wise-West, Sustainability and Climate Action Coordinator, for the City of Santa Cruz, California, are all wondering the same: When will it finally be time again to bring the attention back to the other issues relevant for sustainable development and SDG attainment? And how will they do it? 

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