© Kjøland Illustration

Building a more sustainable municipality in Norway

18 June 2018

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Sustainable Development Goals. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Three towns are in the process of amalgamating to form a new municipality, known for now as new Asker. Part of the merging process involves searching for ways to ensure the community remains sustainable in the future. To do this, the towns are looking to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

THE TOWNS—and their 90,000+ residents— are scheduled to complete the amalgamation by the beginning of 2020. As part of the process, they are pioneering a “municipal approach” to the SDGs, using the goals as the overarching framework for municipal planning. In fact, new Asker is the first municipality in Norway to be included in UN Habitat’s program for local implementation of the SDGs.

LENE CONRADI, the mayor of the current town of Asker, is helping to lead the work on integrating the SDGs. She explains how the process will work and why she believes the SDGs are fundamental to the future of her community.

How did the idea come about to integrate the UN SDGs into the framework of new Asker?

I had the pleasure of being a member of two United Nations advisory groups in 2014 and 2015: the UN Advisory Committee of Local Authorities and the UN Advisory Group for Gender Issues. The process of establishing a framework for the SDGs was on the agenda at those meetings. After bringing up the idea with my mayoral colleagues in Røyken and Hurum, we quickly realized the SDGs provided a very constructive framework for municipal planning.

How exactly will you go about using the SDGs to shape planning in the new municipality?

The global SDGs will provide direction to our municipal master plan and other strategic and thematic plans, as well as specific initiatives. So far, our work has revolved around how to meaningfully translate the SDGs into a municipal context—that is, to localize the goals. This includes prioritizing the goals as well as developing a method for deciding how the SDGs can best frame the municipal planning process in new Asker.

Which of the SDGs do you see as being especially important in your community?

My personal view is that all the SDGs are interdependent and equally important. It is a holistic framework, where all parts work together. Nevertheless, as a municipality it is constructive to look at the areas where we can make the biggest difference. SDG #17 (strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development) will be a priority for us and will frame our approach to the other goals. We want new Asker to be characterized by a development approach that focuses on partnerships, co-creation and active citizenship. We believe this will not only increase the quality of our services and local democracy, but also contribute to solving some of the serious problems facing our world today.

How will you measure the progress your community makes in achieving these goals?

Documenting our progress is very important for us. As a result, we are developing an overarching “benefits realization plan” for merging the municipalities; measuring our progress in achieving the SDGs will be part of this plan. We are currently working with Statistics Norway to develop a set of key performance indicators that can form a framework for measuring our progress in meeting the goals in all Norwegian municipalities.

I believe it is also important to keep in mind that some potential effects will be less tangible—because big societal changes are not always easy to measure. Through our approach to the SDGs, we are demonstrating our global values and awareness of our responsibility to think about these goals.

What support have you received from other levels of government?

We have been working with several national ministries, including the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both ministries participated in an SDG workshop in Asker in October 2017, along with representatives from UN Habitat, the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities and other civil society organizations. The national government has expressed both interest in and support for what we are doing, and will monitor and assist our process so that other municipalities in Norway and around the world can use the methodology and approach.

What effect do you think including these goals in your municipal planning will have on the future of your community?

The SDGs are global, but every single one of them has to be achieved and safeguarded locally. Recognizing this link between local and global development is very important. But we believe that implementing and integrating the SDGs into our municipal planning processes will help us make new Asker a safe, sustainable and supportive municipality.

If we promote the SDGs as an ethical framework for our municipality, we can also influence the choices that individuals and groups in our community make. To me, it is crucial that we make the most of this opportunity to create awareness and knowledge around the importance of these goals among our citizens, politicians, local organizations and businesses.

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