GCI Director Patricia McCarney speaks with city mayors at TVO’s The Agenda on cities & UN SDGs

Updated: May 11, 2018

From left to right: Brock Carlton - CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Berry Vrbanovic - Mayor of Kitchener, The Agenda host Steve Paikin, Patricia McCarney - Director of the Global Cities Institute, and Rob Burton - Mayor of Oakville

On April 23, Global Cities Institute Director Patricia McCarney participated in a televised panel discussion on TVO’s The Agenda, with the host Steve Paikin, alongside Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, and Brock Carlton, CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The panel discussion was centered on the vital role both cities and data play in driving global progress towards sustainability goals.

“Cities on the global stage are starting to have more of a voice,” Dr. McCarney said. “The Millennium Development Goals established for the period 2000-2015 had two major shortcomings - one, cities weren’t mentioned, and two, there really was very little measurement. Data was pretty much absent from the MDGs. We were supposed to achieve these goals by 2015, but without being able to measure progress towards them.”

While cities were absent from the Millennium Development Goals, their role in driving transformational change has been recognized in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) covering the period 2015 to 2030. The SDGs include a goal focused entirely on cities: UN SDG #11, which aims to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Broken down further, SDG #11 includes targets to:

  • Ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing

  • Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems

  • Reduce the environmental impact of cities

  • Ensure universal access to green and public spaces

Knowing how cities are making progress on these goals requires reliable, comparable data at the city level - something that did not exist before the creation of ISO 37120: Sustainable Development in Communities. Spearheaded by the Global Cities Institute, ISO 37120 is the world’s first standard on city data.

The data being reported to the World Council on City Data for ISO 37120 certification helps cities to assess progress to the 2030 UN Goals. ISO 37120 consists of 100 indicators across 17 themes that can directly measure the components of SDG #11.

How well are cities across the world ensuring access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing? ISO 37120 provides data on cities’ number of homeless/100,000 population and percentage of population living in slums.

How are cities progressing in providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems? ISO 37120 measures how many kilometres of high capacity public transit, light passenger public transit, and bike paths cities have, alongside annual number of public transit trips per capita and percentage of commuters using a travel mode to work other than a personal vehicle.

Which cities are making the most progress in reducing their environmental impact? ISO 37120 measures cities’ GHG emissions, how much of their energy comes from renewable resources, and how they deal with waste.

How well can citizens access green and public spaces in their city? ISO 37120 measures how much green area and outdoor and indoor recreation space cities have.

On The Agenda, the panelists discussed the influential role cities played in advocating for their countries to sign on to the Paris Agreement at COP 21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference, in contrast to cities’ absence from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The vital role cities have to play in driving sustainable development not only in their own communities but in a global context was echoed at UN headquarters in July 2017, where the Global Cities Institute presented an exhaustive 500-page report showing how cities are key agents of change for all the SDGs, not only SDG #11.

In this volume, the 100 indicators in ISO 37120 have been mapped to all of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.The report presents city data now being reported in conformity with ISO 37120, showing how cities across the world are performing in areas that have both a local and global impact.

The panel discussion on The Agenda demonstrated that while national governments, as official members of the United Nations, are driving an important set of goals forward, it is cities that are pivotal to the success of the UN SDGs.