An important indicator for cities aiming to be more sustainable and equitable, The Sustainable Development Goals Index (SDG), was released last month.
The Index ranks the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the United States on 49 indicators including income, health care, education, gender, access to safe water, air quality, and safety. These indicators correspond closely to the official set of global SDG monitoring indicators proposed by the United Nations.
The Index includes 17 Goals to Transform the World. They include Take Climate Action, No Poverty, Gender Equality, and Responsible Consumption. Cities that rose to the top—San Jose, Baltimore and New York—are adopting the SDG, using it to guide official plans and community development efforts.
The worst performers are Baton Rouge, Cleveland-Elyria, and Detroit. The reason for Cleveland’s second-to-last ranking include high rates of unemployment, too many children living in poverty and excess car use (and indicator of the inequity of sprawl).
With 63% of Americans living in cities, sustainable development and the creation of green jobs, especially in economically depressed Rust Belt cities, is at a critical juncture, Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Sustainable Development Solutions Network writes in the introduction.
“America is rich in know-how, creativity, and entrepreneurship. We have vast renewable energy resources as well, to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. In other words, the SDGs present not only a set of challenges, but a tremendous opportunity to dedicate the skills of this generation to a great economic and social renewal and to build the new American economy of the 21st century.”
The Index confirms that sprawl is leading Northeast Ohio down an inequitable and unsustainable path. Our region has some of the highest per-capita carbon emissions linked back to sprawl and its attendant, heavy, car dependence. The diminution of educational resources, lack of gender equality in business, and the wide wage gap in the workforce are also areas the Northeast Ohio region needs to address.
“If local, state and federal governments want to reverse these trends, long-term goals must be set now to get America on a more sustainable track. What America will look like in 2030 should be on all policy agendas.”
Committing to the SDG is not a panacea; it is a starting point, Sachs writes. With Cleveland joining 200 other cities in bravely forging ahead on the Paris Climate Commitment and with the city launching an update of its Climate Action Plan, the SDG is a widely respected resource it could use to set goals and measure progress on the environment and equity.
“Across America, mayors and other local government leaders are…recognizing that lasting change requires a physical growth strategy that is developed with attention to the environment, that economic growth will be broader and more rapid if you provide opportunities to the poorest and most vulnerable, and that conservation efforts will be undercut unless you change economic incentives. The challenge for every city around the world is to do these things together, simultaneously.”