It’s much too early to know the full extent of the economic, social, and psychological dislocation this crisis will cause. But it’s clear that mayors and city officials are on the front lines, with implications both broad and deep for local governments.

At the same time, while the top priority is to stop the virus and stabilize economies and communities, even U.N. Secretary General Guterres has pointed to the 2030 Agenda as a natural organizing principle once the world can shift its focus to recovery.

At this early juncture, it’s risky to hazard what that will mean. National leaders, mayors, and city governments will be faced with a new and unpredictable set of challenges. Leaders will encounter immense pressure to develop new policy solutions and surge financial resources at warp speed in a chaotic environment.

The ambitious quantitative benchmarks of the SDGs may now look unreachable or even unreasonable. Targets asking for a 50 percent reduction in those living under the national poverty line or achieving full employment by 2030 take on a new light, given the hit that economies are experiencing. It’s fair to ask: What might the 2030 Agenda offer to cities in such a situation?

The answer likely lies in the essential principles at the core of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda:

  • Leave no one behind. The SDGs ask policymakers and decisionmakers to focus on reaching the most vulnerable and furthest behind first.
  • Point toward a “North Star." The mobilizing power of the SDGs comes in part from their time-bound nature and their focus on community-level outcomes.
  • Embrace interdependence. The SDGs ask policymakers to advance progress on social, economic, and environmental dimensions at once.
  • Develop unusual partnerships. City leaders love the connective properties of the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs are a lingua franca that offer the basis for new partnerships with businesses, universities, civil society, and local philanthropy.

Read the full article about how cities can focus on sustainable development by Anthony F. Pipa at Brookings.