copy the linklink copied!Executive Summary

In the face of megatrends such as climate and demographic change, digitalisation, urbanisation and globalisation, cities and regions are facing critical challenges to preserve social inclusion, foster economic growth and transition to the low carbon economy. Indeed, the impact of megatrends on people and societies is context-specific and requires place-based responses to fit policies to local contexts.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, set the global agenda for the coming decade to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Although the SDGs were not designed by and for local and regional governments, they provide a universal ambition and valuable framework for all levels of government to align global, national and sub-national priorities within policies striving to leave no-one behind.

The transformative nature of the 2030 Agenda provides a key opportunity for national, regional and local governments to promote a new sustainable development paradigm. The report A Territorial Approach to the SDGs argues that, beyond the compliance agenda, cities and regions should leverage the full potential of SDGs as a policy tool to improve people’s lives in a shared responsibility across levels of government. The SDGs provide a vehicle to implement the OECD New Regional Development Paradigm and promote a holistic, multi-sectoral, bottom-up, participatory and place-based approach to territorial development.

copy the linklink copied!Key Findings

In addition to SDG 11 dedicated to Sustainable Cities and Communities, cities and regions have an instrumental role to play in most SDGs given their policy prerogative, role in public investment, and closer connection to citizens. At least 105 of the 169 SDGs targets will not be reached without proper engagement and coordination with local and regional governments. Indeed, in the OECD countries, most cities and regions have a hand in policies that are central to sustainable development and people’s well-being, from water to housing, transport, infrastructure, land use and climate change, amongst others. They are also responsible for almost 60% of total public investment in the OECD area, in particular those investments related to climate transition, and for almost 40% of public expenditure.

The report argues that many OECD countries are increasingly seizing the potential of the SDGs as a framework to improve multi-level governance, and in particular vertical coordination. For instance, Germany and Japan are promoting the “localisation” of the SDGs from the central government level by supporting cities and regions in their local SDGs strategies, both financially and in terms of capacity building. The report also documents - from the experience and evidence of nine pilot cities and regions - the potential that the SDGs offer to reshape sustainable development policies from the ground up. In particular, they provide a framework to:

  • Identify place-based priorities, re-orient existing strategies and plans or shape new ones towards sustainable development;

  • Drive better decisions related to budgeting by national and sub-national governments through allocating resources based on the prioritised goals/targets;

  • Foster vertical coordination across national, regional and local levels of government to align priorities, incentives, objectives and resources;

  • Promote synergies among sectoral policies to overcome silos and fragmentation towards consistent social, economic and environmental outcomes;

  • Help engage with the private sector while incentivising public-private partnerships that can drive more sustainable business models for people, places and firms;

  • Boost engagement of civil society and citizens, in particular the youth to co-design visions and strategies with local stakeholders;

The report also seeks to document local and regional performance and disparities through a common set of indicators that allow cities and regions to see where they stand vis-à-vis the SDGs, and compared to their national averages and their peers. Data from the 135 indicators of the OECD localised indicator framework for the SDGs (covering at least one aspect of each of the 17 SDGs for both cities and regions) show that regions and cities in OECD countries are far from achieving the SDGs, and their average distance to the suggested end values varies widely across the 17 SDGs. In particular:

  • At least 80% of regions from OECD countries have not achieved the suggested end values for 2030 in any of the 17 goals.

    • Not a single region in the OECD has achieved the suggested end values for SDG 13 on “Climate action” and SDG 5 on “Gender equality”;

    • Only 20% of OECD regions have achieved the end values for SDG 10 on “Reduced inequalities” and SDG 12 on “Responsible consumption”;

    • Goals 14 (Life below water), 9 (Industry and innovation) and 7 (Clean energy) display the largest distances to the end values for the lagging regions, with an average distance of around 50% of the total way.

  • At least 70% of cities from OECD countries have not yet achieved the end values suggested for 2030 in 15 out of the 17 SDGs.

    • The SDGs where most cities lag behind relate to the environment (SDGs 13 about “Climate action” and 15 about “Life on land”) and gender equality (SDG 5), where at least 95% of cities have not met the suggested end values.

    • Goal 7 on “Clean energy” displays high disparities in distances to the objectives across cities. While 30% of the cities have reached the end values for this goal (i.e. more than 81% of their electricity production coming from renewable sources with no use of coal or fossil fuels), the remaining 70% of cities are halfway from achieving the recommended outcomes.

Aware of the remaining distance to travel to reach the SDGs, many cities and regions across OECD countries have used the SDGs as a framework to improve their local and regional development strategies, plans and actions. Key examples range from: i) using the SDGs as a checklist to assess the extent to which their programmes are in line with sustainable development outcomes as in the case of Moscow (Russian Federation); ii) adapting existing plans to the SDGs such as in Flanders (Belgium), Córdoba (Argentina) or Parana (Brazil); iii) formulating new plans and strategies based on the SDGs, such as in Bonn (Germany), Kópavogur (Iceland), Kitakyushu (Japan), Southern Denmark (Denmark) and Viken (Norway). The OECD-CoR joint survey shows that cities and regions in EU countries tend to prioritise actions related to the environment (73%), closely followed by energy (67%) and mobility (63%) when implementing the SDGs.

Cities are also developing Voluntary Local Reviews to assess their progress on the SDGs as is the case of New York City and Los Angeles (United States), Kitakyushu, Toyama, and Shimokawa (Japan), Helsinki (Finland), Bristol (United Kingdom), Cascais (Portugal), and Buenos Aires (Argentina).

copy the linklink copied!Checklist for Public Action

The report concludes with a Checklist for Public Action to facilitate the uptake and implementation of the SDGs as a tool for better policies and better lives by local and regional governments, in a shared responsibility with national governments. Key building blocks are herein summarised.

  • Use the SDGs to define and shape local and regional development visions, strategies, plans, and re-orient existing ones. Cities and regions should use the SDGs to address concrete local challenges that require a holistic approach, such as clean forms of urban mobility, affordable housing, gender equality, access to green spaces, balanced urban development, clean water and sanitation, air quality, solid waste management, territorial inequalities, or service delivery;

  • Use the SDGs as a framework to align policy priorities, incentives, objectives across national, regional and local governments as well as to manage trade-offs and promote synergies across policy areas. In particular, regions and cities should be engaged in the process of Voluntary National Reviews to reflect progress at subnational level and address regional disparities. Voluntary Local Reviews can also drive better multi-level governance of the SDGs and shed light on local initiatives;

  • Mainstream the SDGs in budgeting processes to ensure adequate resources are allocated for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and to foster policy continuity across political cycles. Governments should allocate financial resources based on the identified place-based policy priorities and key local challenges, and use the SDGs framework as a means to foster integrated multi-sectoral programmes and priorities;

  • Leverage SDGs data and localised indicator systems to guide policies and actions for better people’s lives, and to showcase the performance and positive stories of cities and regions. In particular, for more comprehensive assessment and policy responses, cities and regions should combine data and indicators at different scales, from those related to administrative boundaries (the unit for political and administrative action) to those related to functional approaches (the economic geography of where people live and work).

  • Use the SDGs as a vehicle to enhance accountability and transparency through engaging all territorial stakeholders, including civil society, citizens, youth, academia and private companies, in the policy-making process. Cities and regions should use a combination of various tools to engage local stakeholders, such as awareness-raising campaigns, networking opportunities, but also de-risking investments in SDG solutions through grants or loans, as well as fiscal incentive for innovative solutions towards sustainability.


This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

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