Well planned, governed and financed cities can drive national economic growth and play a vital role in the global effort to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, that provides the world with a powerful plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their associated 169 targets have demonstrated the fundamental integrity, indivisibility and balance of “people”, “planet” and “prosperity”. They also encompass the role of cities in the delivery of the goals and targets and signify that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda can only be considered successful if progress against all 17 SDGs is inclusively made in urban areas.

SDG 11, dedicated to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, is the primary framework for sustainable development in cities. The Goal is comprised of ten targets. These targets cover a wide range of issues, from adequate and safe housing, social inclusion, disaster risk reduction, basic services and upgrading slums, to resource efficiency, waste management, affordable and sustainable transportation, protecting national and cultural heritage, financing and participatory planning.

While Goal 11 is comprehensive in scope, the development challenges in cities cut across most of the SDGs. For instance, cities have a clear role in “no poverty” (Goal 1); “good health and well-being” (Goal 3); ”gender equality” (SDG 5)“clean water and sanitation” (Goal 6); “affordable and clean energy” (Goal 7); “decent work and economic growth” (Goal 8); “industry innovation and infrastructure” (Goal 9); “reduced inequality” (Goal 10); “responsible consumption and production” (Goal 12); “climate action” (Goal 13); “life on land” (Goal 15); and ‘building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions’ (Goal 16). No specific intervention or sector strategy is therefore likely to succeed in isolation. New solutions must take into account the inherent complexity of these development challenges.

In October 2016, governments and development partners gathered in Quito, Ecuador and unanimously adopted the New Urban Agenda - a new vision for our cities and municipalities for the next 20 years. The agenda is intended to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization to make cities and human settlements equitable, prosperous, sustainable, just and safe. It also builds on current efforts undertaken by governments and municipalities on sustainability planning and localization processes for the implementation of the local and urban dimensions of the SDGs.

Through the launch of its Sustainable Urbanization Strategy at the HABITAT III Conference, UNDP made a formal commitment to support the New Urban Agenda implementation, following the three interlinked principles of the New Urban Agenda to “leave no one behind”, “ensure sustainable and inclusive urban economies”, and “ensure environmental sustainability”.

The UNDP Sustainable Urbanization Strategy takes into consideration the importance of local level implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda by focusing its efforts from being exclusively a “supplier” of programmes to being more of a “partner” in local government led initiatives, while playing a “connector” role as part of strategic coalitions with clear objectives.

It initiated the conversation on the “how” in using “cities” as an accelerator to advance multiple SDGs, such as the goals on climate change, sustainable consumption and production, decent work and economic growth, among others. This will ensure that city leaders and municipal governments translate the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda into concrete development strategies, corresponding sub-national and local priorities and goals.