- U.S. cities scored an average of 48.9 (out of 100) on performance and execution of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), according to the 2019 US Cities Sustainable Development Report.
- The report card evaluates how 105 of the biggest U.S. cities are approaching the SDGs, including zero hunger and affordable and clean energy. The cities received scores for each SDG (which were then averaged into a goal score), representing the percentage of progress the city has made toward achieving the goal by 2030. Two of the 17 SDGs ("life below water" and "partnerships for the goals") were not included in the report card due to data gaps.
- The San Francisco metropolitan statistical area (MSA) received the highest goal score at 69.7. Eleven cities scored below a 40, with Baton Rouge, LA receiving the worst score on the index (30.3).
None of the most populous U.S. cities are on track to achieve the SDGs, a finding that "should provide flashing red lights" to cities, wrote Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Cities have made steady progress in areas like clean water and sanitation, however, progress around clean energy and zero hunger goals continues to lag.
While the SDGs cover all aspects of urban life, the 2030 deadline is particularly important as it relates to "climate action" — a goal for which every city in the report scored below "good performance." A study published last week found that, without immediate climate action, 77% of the world's cities may experience a "striking change" in climate conditions, some of which will be unprecedented conditions for any city in the world. Cooper Martin, National League of Cities' (NLC) director of sustainability and solutions, told Smart Cities Dive that actions "absolutely need to be accelerated."
The report also highlighted how U.S. cities' progress on sustainability goals relates to the respective state, noting, "it is clear that a city's individual result on SDG progress is not reliably correlated with the state's progress." To accelerate progress on these goals, cities should seek more opportunities to look beyond jurisdictional lines and collaborate with regional and state governments.
Local governments can also look to peers like New York and Helsinki, the first cities to report SDG progress to the UN in their own voluntary local reviews (VLR). By developing a VLR, cities can take continued ownership in staying on track and prioritizing sustainability agendas.