Measuring the SDGs in EU cities and regions

#12, May 2021

Alice Siragusa

Team Leader, Joint Research Centre, European Commission

European cities and regions are mobilising resourcesand knowledge to assess their achievement and contribution to the SustainableDevelopment Goals. But how this monitoring exercise helps them to achieve the2030 Agenda?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is holistic and ambitious. At first sight, it might be seems designed for only developing countries and emerging economies. In reality, with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), targets and indicators, the Agenda represents a framework that can be adapted to different realities and contexts. Moreover, it calls all levels of government to cooperate, establishing and reinforcing partnerships, defining innovative solutions and taking transformative actions.

The role of subnational governments is emerging as one of the key elements of the success of the 2030 Agenda and the achievements of the SDGs, both at global and European level.  President Ursula Vor der Leyen committed, with her Commission’s priorities, to integrate fully the SDGs in the EU policies.

EU priorities and related programs and funds contribute in different ways to the achievement of the SDGs: in this context, the role of EU regions goes well beyond the distribution (or managing) of funds such as the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund.

Experiences like the 2030 Basque Agenda and its related “SDG ecosystem” demonstrated that monitoring the SDGs in EU regions could support the path towards the 2030 Agenda at different levels in Europe. Measuring the achievement of goals and targets using reliable sets of indicators, also support regional development strategies and integrate the visions of member states.

The local and subnational SDG monitoring, with the use of big data and non-traditional sources, can provide a broader picture and highlight priorities areas or topics. Dozens of European cities have already published their Voluntary Local Reviews with this approach.

Examples like the Basque Country, which recently published its forth SDG voluntary regional review, demonstrate that is possible to use the 2030 Agenda to tackle region’s priorities, implement innovative actions and engage different levels of government and stakeholders.  

The Basque Country is one of the several regional and sub-national governments that have been carrying out awareness-raising activities, developing cooperation projects, establishing SDG strategies and publishing Voluntary Local and Subnational Reviews (VLRs and VSR) since 2017.

The Joint Research Centre will shortly publish a study on the experience of SDG multilevel governance in the Basque Country that will provide valuable recommendations to other regions. Moreover, one JRC study in publication will also propose a set of SDG indicators for European regions.

Surprisingly, there are no European harmonised SDG sets specifically designed for regions that can be used to elaborate VSRs, in spite of the numerous experiences of local monitoring in the EU. The cooperation among regions and the exchange of best practices will surely foster the cooperation and the establishment of sound monitoring frameworks in the next years.