In 2015, the United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or in short: the SDGs with169 targets adopted by all UN Member States. Over the past years, the SDGs have proven to be an important element also for resilient development. In both 2017 and 2021, the Austrian Association for Cities and Towns (AACT) and KDZ-Centre for Public Administration Research conducted a survey among Austria’s cities. The outcome in short suggested both higher awareness of the SDGs in 2021 and a greater intention towards implementing the SDGs in local governments compared to 2017. In the following, general results from 2017 and 2021 are compared regarding
- change in awareness, communication and information
- city activities to implement the SDGs
- contribution to achieving the SDGs by Austrian cities as well as
- benefits for them by implementing the SDGs.
Change in awareness, communication and information
The number of municipalities participating in the survey increased from 13 in the year 2017 to 43 in 2021. Hence, the survey conducted in 2021 allows a more detailed analysis of the process of implementing the SDGs. Comparing the results within the timeline, the degree of awareness increased and took big steps towards the implementation of SDGs. Such steps are for example SDG-information campaigns, SDG-projects or dialogue formats, mostly performed by the cities’ administrations as well as schools and kindergartens. More than half of the responses in 2021 have stated that the SDGs play an active role in their work (in 2017: 15 percent). About 40 percent of the responding cities are aware of the SDGs in 2021, but do not yet consider the SDGs as a priority. About 5 percent have stated them as an important framework for the city’s strategic activities.
Clear communication and access to information such as a collection of good practice examples for implementing the SDGs are important. Especially possibilities for knowledge sharing and interaction were stated in both 2017 and 2021. In both surveys, most of the information regarding the SDGs has been obtained from the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns and KDZ-Centre for Public Administration Research. In particular published articles in journals (such as the ÖGZ, the monthly journal of AACT) were a valuable source of information. In 2017, 69 percent of the responding cities expressed the need for a guideline for the local implementation of the SDGs and 23 percent have stated to possess sufficient information. In comparison to 2021, 42 percent have answered to know where to access specific guidelines on the website of the Association of Cities and Towns and 26 percent are intending to use those guidelines. In comparison to 2017 this is a significant development that yet leaves room for improvement.
For the first time the survey in 2021 asked for detailed information regarding the responsibilities within the city administrations. About 16 percent have stated the clear division of SDG-tasks in their city that were mostly assigned to a designated person on the administrative level or a specific organization unit (e.g. spatial planning, city development). The clear allocation of workforce and competence is one of the main conditions for a successful implementation of the SDGs and should hence be pursued in upcoming strategic analyses.
For about two-thirds of the municipalities in 2021, main challenges in implementing the SDGs have been the missing financial and human resources. Hence 93 percent of the responding municipalities have stated the need for financial support from the federal government and 88 percent for tools and guidelines. The results also indicated a higher need for certain measures, e.g. 77 percent of the municipalities have expressed the need for specific trainings in both 2017 and 2021.
City activities to implement the SDGs
The majority of SDG activities in 2021 are related to awareness-raising. Around 60 percent of the cities have planned or realized activities in the fields of “public relations”, “training and further education” and “dialogue with citizens” (compare figure 1).
In 2021, the highest results were achieved at SDG integration in public relations, where 63 percent of the responding municipalities have already incorporated or are planning to integrate the SDGs in their public relations such as publishing a city journal (in 2017: 8 percent). In 2017, about 8 percent of the responses have stated that they have contacted the Federal Chancellery of Austria for information and implementation, while in 2021 almost 60 percent of the questioned cities have realized further training and education in municipalities.
In comparison to 2017, partnership with local actors increased from 17 percent to 59 percent in 2021. Another significant change in awareness-raising can be noticed regarding dialogue with citizens. In 2017, 8 percent of the questioned cities stated to have performed information events, while in 2021 56 percent have initiated dialogue events with citizens. In 2017, about 17 percent of the cities had started with the inclusion of the SDGs in local strategies and the political agenda, while in 2021 this number increased to 51 percent.
Cities contribution to the SDGs
In both 2017 and 2021 it was surveyed, how cities rate their own contribution to achieve the SDGs. The results suggest high contributions especially regarding services of general public interests (compare figure 2). The listed SDGs in figure 2 show the highest contributions based on the results of the surveys in 2017 and 2021.
In general, it can be stated that from 2017 to 2021 the recognised city contribution to the SDGs has been increased by 10 percentage points on average (e.g. SDG-7 affordable and clean energy increased from 46 to 57 percent).
In 2021, 83 percent of the cities recognise a possible contribution to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities). Between 51 percent and 66 percent see a communal contribution to SDG-3 (good health and well-being), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and SDG 13 (climate action).
Interestingly, the cities’ contribution to SDG-3 (quality education) and SDG-4 (gender equality) have been stated higher in the survey in 2017 than in 2021. This could be explained with the lower number of participants and the resulting lower representativeness of the survey in 2017.
Benefits of implementing the SDGs in cities
In both 2017 and 2021 the survey asked how cities as well as citizens benefit by implementing the SDGs in the city (compare figure 3). In 2021, more than 80 percent of responding cities see the benefit of the SDGs in:
- aligning the cities’ focus on the long-term effects of measures,
- giving voice to the environment in local political decisions,
- increasing the urban actors’ sense of responsibility,
- raising public awareness for sustainability, and
- ensuring the quality of life.
In 2017, these figures were significantly lower (on average 10 percentage points). The highest result in 2021 was achieved in the first point: 88 percent of the questioned stated that the SDGs align the cities’ focus on the long-term effects of measures (in 2017: 75 percent).
In 2021, 81 percent of the responding cities recognise that through the SDGs the quality of life is ensured (point 5). Compared to 2017 this is an increase of 15 percentage points.
The greatest difference in comparison to the survey in 2017 is the increase of public awareness for sustainability from 42 percent to 81 percent in 2021 (point 4). An interesting result are the responses to point 6: in 2017, 92 percent stated that the SDGs strengthen a holistic approach in politics and administration. In 2021, this figure decreased to 78 percent. This could be explained with the lower number of participants and hence the resulting lower representativeness of the survey in 2017.
In 2021, an additional question concerning the resilience has been included in the survey that is not included in figure 3. About 67 percent of the cities have stated a positive influence by the SDGs for the resilience of cities and municipalities.
Past experiences have shown that cities and municipalities play a key role in implementing the SDGs. Although the results of the survey in 2021 indicate a positive development in localizing the SDGs in comparison to 2017, the outcome shows the need for action in local, federal and regional governments. Cities particularly need financial and human resources as well as clear roles and responsibilities on regional policy issues. Transparency, sufficient access to information and coordination between all governmental and non-governmental stakeholders is needed so that cities can continue to act as key actors in implementing the SDGs.