Cities are vital for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). However, different local strategies to advance on the same SDG may cause different ‘spillovers’ elsewhere, writes Bolin Centre scientists David Collste, Sarah E. Cornell, Fernando Jaramillo, Georgia Destouni and colleagues. These spillovers have remote impacts on SDG progress outside national borders. The article presents an example of this:

“The municipality of Oskarshamn, Sweden, aims to become climate neutral by year 2030. This requires decarbonizing local transport, industry, agriculture and energy use in buildings.

A study of the potential impacts on water and land use from various decarbonization pathways shows that increased electrification of the local community would increase water and land use within Sweden, while increased local use of biofuels would increase water and land use abroad. However, both strategies meet local policy makers’ goal of climate neutrality.

Translating these findings to impacts on SDGs, one strategy to decarbonize Oskarshamn and advance SDG 7 (on clean energy) and SDG 13 (on climate action) could impede progress on targets within other goals, such as SDG15.1 (on terrestrial biodiversity) and SDG 6.4 (on sustainable water use) in Germany or Brazil—depending on fuel import choices. Another strategy would cause less such international spillovers, since their impacts would primarily be local or national.

The study reveals that both magnitude and geographical distribution of spillovers are strategy-dependent, with complex consequences for global SDG implementation. For example, humid and arid regions differ greatly in their vulnerability to spillover-enhanced consumptive use of water—and thereby in their challenges to achieve SDG6.4.”

For this reason, the authors argue, research efforts that support governance of such international spillovers are urgently needed to empower ambitious cities to ‘account globally’ when acting locally on SDG implementation strategies.

Read the article on NPJ Urban Sustainability's website

Reference: Rebecka Ericsdotter Engström, David Collste, Sarah E. Cornell, Francis X Johnson, Henrik Carlsen, Fernando Jaramillo, Göran Finnveden, Georgia Destouni, Mark Howells, Nina Weitz, Viveka Palm, Francesco Fuso-Nerini, 2021. Succeeding at home and abroad: Accounting for the international spillovers of cities’ SDG actions, NPJ Urban Sustainability, DOI: 10.1038/s42949-020-00002-w (open access)