By Mieck Vos, CEO VVSG
For many municipalities in Flanders (Belgium) sustainable development is not an empty term. That’s clear from the firm commitment to climate neutrality in Leuven, smart mobility through cycling in Bonheiden and embracing of diversity in Malines. These are only a few examples of the many local practices in perfect alignment with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. This international agenda previously affected municipalities through the North-South policies, but goes much further and deeper now. The sustainable development goals (SDGs) can be applied for all policy areas in which local authorities are active. They provide a strategic dimension adding depth and improving interdisciplinary cooperation within the organisation, which can be useful for any policy area. The future is together. No more walls, no political divide nor polarization of Us vs. Them, but together, across disciplines and sectors, with the citizens and all local actors involved. It is a challenge, but a rewarding one.
One of the mayors stated: ‘If I place my municipal policy plan alongside this agenda, I can find links for over 80% of it, with projects and initiatives we’re either working on already or have planned.’
Even so, a practical implementation is still required. That is why the VVSG is experimenting with fifty municipalities in a pilot project on the integration of SDGs into all stages of municipal policy planning. We employ three simultaneous angles: political engagement, awareness-raising practices and strategic integration in the policy planning cycle. The VVSG sent the mayor of Edegem to Bali for a week to attend the Parliamentary Forum on Sustainable Development: ‘In Edegem we use renewable energy for our municipal buildings, invest in local food production and biodiversity and encourage our residents to adopt a greener, healthier lifestyle. It was truly an impressive experience to be allowed to talk about that there.’
The sustainable development goals are intended for local implementation. Each municipality is key, because locally is how we’ll make this happen, together.