Why Localising SDGs Is Critical in a Post-COVID World

In her article for Development Asia, the Asian Development Bank's knowledge collaboration platform for sharing development experience and expertise, Pytrik Oosterhof illustrates why enabling the localisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and incorporating local data in Voluntary National Reviews has to be part of an effective recovery process in the region.

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Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, progress regarding SDG implementation in Asia and the Pacific has been slow. The current pandemic however is challenging implementation efforts even more as it exacerbates existing global issues like hunger, poverty and inequality. In this context, the need to localise SDGs and actively involve subnational governments has gained more and more recognition. With the provision of basic inter-sectional services at the heart of the mandate of subnational governments, the localisation process is considered key for achieving the specific goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda.

The crucial role of subnational governments for good governance and development in Asia and the Pacific as well as the importance of localising the SDGs becomes even more apparent once their current role for the immediate COVID-19 response, including emergency relief operations, is considered. In her article on this issue Pytrik Oosterhof, a Sustainable Development Consultant with more than 20 years of experience, cites several regional examples such as the Korean local governments’ responsibility for monitoring the transmission of COVID-19 or the Afghan subnational governments responsibility for delivering food and relief to demonstrate why SDG localisation needs to be a top priority right now. Casting a look at the negative long-term effects of the pandemic, she points to subnational governments as key players not just for managing the impacts of the crisis, but for laying a path toward sustainable recovery trough region-specific responses.

In her article Pytrik Oosterhof goes on to explain that a large group of countries in Asia and the Pacific has already started to engage in the localisation of SDGs, specifically by participating in the process of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). The current VNRs in the region demonstrate how subnational governments are progressively more involved in not only the strengthening of SDG localisation through the facilitation of consultation processes, but also through the development and monitoring of local data as part of linked institutional mechanisms. According to Oosterhof, additional Voluntary Local and Subnational Reviews (VLR/ VSR) can further enrich the insights provided by VNRs, a practice that is already followed by some countries. Despite these successes, how to best include the data collected through VLRs and VSRs into VNRs is still being debated however.

Pytrik Oosterhof argues that the challenges encountered during SDG localisation processes are comparable to the challenges faced at global level. She identifies dealing with restricted access to financial resources as well as a lack of capacity at the local level as main issues. Additionally, she remarks that coherence regarding policies and the coordination of local and national efforts is missing, while on the subnational level the key problem seems to be a lack of awareness of the SDG framework. Responding to these findings, she carves out three main aspects that should be taken into consideration when opting for a successful localisation process:

  1. Firstly, the need for “enabling environments” as well as the collection and monitoring of SDG data on the local level. Both are crucial for the necessary bottom-up and top-down approaches.
  2. Secondly, appropriate investments are needed to foster local and subnational capacities and flexibility in responding to community needs while guaranteeing service delivery.
  3. Thirdly, she emphasises that the 2030 Agenda depends on cross-sector cooperation, multi-stakeholder engagement and partnerships that include all levels of governments in the implementation process.

Learn more about corresponding regional approaches implemented by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), as well as Oosterhof’s in-depth illustration of aligning an effective response to the crisis with the 2030 Agenda localisation process here at Development Asia, the Asian Development Bank's knowledge collaboration platform for sharing development experience and expertise.