Gunn Marit Helgesen

CEMR President and Councillor of Vestfold and Telemark, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS)

Gunn Marit Helgesen, CEMR President and Councillor of Vestfold and Telemark, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS)

We are fast approaching the halfway point on the road to the 2030 Agenda and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), meaning there are only six summers left! The year 2023 therefore represents a critical milestone in determining the path to take stock of the remaining time, with many substantial challenges ahead, as well as significant opportunities that must not be overlooked.

The preceding years were marked by concurrent and multiple crises affecting local communities in Europe and around the world. Just as the post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery phase seemed to be underway, the long-term socio-economic effects in European municipalities and regions of this first crisis were worsened by the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The implications of this resonate far beyond the economic and social spheres for local and regional governments, threatening peace in Europe and further afield and casting aspersions on global values of democracy and local self-governance.

All these challenges have once again highlighted how local and regional governments, as the level of governance closest to citizens, are key actors and the ones intrinsically found at the forefront of these crisis. In regard, they are also the most apt to provide solutions that best respond to the needs of their citizens and in widely varying local contexts. This is highly relevant in the fight against climate change and in the implementation of the SDGs, 65% of which can only be effectively achieved through strong local and regional actions, according to the OECD1 . It is important to stress that the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs represent an essential framework for a successful post-crisis recovery.

However, to effectively exercise their role and to ensure the successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda, local and regional governments (LRGs) need to be empowered to act and to be given a greater share of responsibilities while implementing the SDGs. They must also be supported financially as well as strengthened in terms of competencies, capacities, tools and greater leeway in decision-making. It is only through these means that subnational governments will be able to design and implement strategies suitable to their local context and the needs of their citizens, who must ultimately constitute the backbone of any action, taking special care to not overlook the most vulnerable groups and young people. Without their involvement, the implementation of SDGs will fail.

Getting youth involved is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. With nearly two billion people in the world aged 15 to 242 – the largest young generation in human history – 90% of whom live in developing countries, the world's young people represent a community essential to addressing the challenges of building more resilient societies. In 2021, there were 73 million young citizens in Europe (where young people are classed as those aged 15-293 ). It is therefore only right that many European and international instruments are being introduced to improve the living conditions of young people around the world, strengthen their participation in local and national political institutions as well as their knowledge and commitment to achieving the SDGs.

This empowerment will contribute to collaborative multi-level governance. This was also one of the main messages when the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in the Council of Europe this March debated and voted on a recommendation4 calling on national governments to step up the localisation of the SDGs. I had the honour of being co-rapporteur on this report, that put emphasis on the importance of placing the citizen at the very heart of the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda. Local and regional councillors, mayors and presidents of regions, and other representatives of local and regional communities engage directly with citizens in working towards the achievement of the SDGs. The citizens’ involvement is key to building resilient governance systems and implementing the 2030 Agenda which in turn will lead to inclusive and peaceful societies.

Voluntary Local Reviews (VLR), conducted by individual local or regional governments, and Voluntary Subnational Reviews (VSR), conducted by national associations of local and regional governments, of the SDGs can be precious and useful tools in this respect because they allow for collective and multi-stakeholder reflections based on realities on the ground and foster a better understanding of localisation and territorialisation processes, as borne out by their increasing success throughout Europe. This growing realisation has resulted in the fact that between 2020 and 2021, the total number of VLRs available worldwide has more than tripled.

The findings of VLRs and VSRs must also be taken into account by national governments in the drafting of their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). In my own country of Norway, KS- the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities- succeeded in this when they developed a Voluntary Sub-national Review (VSR) which highlighted how Norway’s 356 municipalities and 11 regional authorities have localised the SDGs and what progress they have made on Agenda 2030. The review included six Voluntary Local Reviews providing examples on how municipalities and regional authorities worked together to make a sustainable future a reality. Developing voluntary reports on both local, subnational, and national level is a novelty and a contribution to demonstrate the advantage of inter-connectivity and multi-level governance.

This year, for the first time, the European Union will be presenting an EU Voluntary Review (EUVR) on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2023. We support a review that incorporates and highlights the work done by LRGs in their own assessments keeping track of the progress of SDGs.

Over the years, the presentation of these annual reports at the United Nations HLPF on Sustainable Development has provided LRGs with the opportunity to be heard and to shine a spotlight on their key role and all they have achieved in their responses to the recent crises. 2023 is also noteworthy as an in-depth review of SDG11, with its aim to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, is being conducted. Once again, the many contributions of our partners at different subnational levels of governments serve as the core underpinnings of the present publication, highlighting the strong commitment at work and the importance of such a framework for LRGs in devising strategies to tackle climate change and many other challenges on their territories.

All of us at the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and PLATFORMA are strongly committed to establishing a space for local voices to be heard at the European and international level and to ensure that the necessary changes are made in the most effective and appropriate way possible, as well as in the interest of the citizens.

1  Achieving the SDGs in cities and regions - OECD
2 Youth | United Nations
3 Young people in Europe 2022 edition (