- New York has become the world's first city to report to the United Nations on its progress toward meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a task that previously had only been done by entire nations in their Voluntary National Reviews.
- In its Voluntary Local Review (VLR), New York reported on its efforts to address sustainability, resiliency and equity through goals laid out in the OneNYC plan it released in 2015. The city's accomplishments include job and wage growth, cleaner air and water, and tripling the number of children in free pre-kindergarten.
- The VLR states that cities play an important role in achieving SDGs, especially considering that two-thirds of the world's population is projected to live in cities by 2050.
New York throwing itself into the global sustainability sphere in this way is bold, yet it makes sense considering the city has more residents than some countries. With that in mind, if countries of two or three million people offer their voluntary reviews, why not a city of more than 8.5 million people? As it noted in the VLR, the world's population is shifting more toward cities and urban areas therefore are a major part of meeting global sustainability goals.
More cities are taking the reins when it comes to environmental and sustainability goals, as noted by panelists at a recent global cities forum in Chicago. Speakers there explained cities are speaking out on global issues that affect them, as many countries' leaders have taken a turn toward nationalism and protectionism. Similarly, many believe that the relationship between U.S. cities and states has become more strained and states have become more aggressive with preemption, which frustrates cities that want to pass environmental and sustainability measures but feel hamstrung by higher authorities or don't have the funding.
President Trump's decision to pull the United States from the Paris climate agreement last year prompted many cities' leaders — especially in New York — to pursue climate action, and New York is among the participants in the "We Are Taking Action" campaign. The city has launched its own environmentally-focused initiatives, including studying more environmentally friendly ferry fuels and adding battery-electric public transit vehicles. City leaders made a big statement early this year when they sued five major oil companies over climate change and divested the city's pension funds from fossil fuel companies.
New York has made a concerted effort to tackle inequity, especially through programs aided by its Office of Strategic Partnerships. The department focuses on leveraging P3s to solve the city's problems, and it was instrumental in New York's push to add pre-kindergarten programs for all 4-year-olds, with a new initiative underway to do the same for all 3-year-olds. Plus, New York's former Chief Technology Officer Miguel Gamiño promoted the city's efforts to break down the digital divide and stick to a "people first" approach, with the goal of making technology work for and accessible to all of the city's residents.
New York presenting a VLR to the UN makes its sustainability achievements more visible to a national and global audience. It will be interesting to see if other cities follow suit and submit their own voluntary reviews to the UN, and if the push to achieve the agency's SDGs shifts to become a more city-based, rather than solely a country-based, activity.