The United Nations (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, signed in 2015 and backed-up with its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), mentions cities as key players for evolving actively towards more sustainability. This underpins that living in the cities of the urban age is increasingly becoming the focus of sustainability discussions, which is particularly reflected in SDG 11 “Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. As urban sustainability strategies are playing a key role for the development of cities, this article sheds light on four cities’ sustainability strategies. The case studies highlight shortcomings, in terms of integrated visions, clear targets, and indicators in existing urban (sustainability) strategies. The article discusses these issues in light of an analytical framework, and stresses challenges and opportunities that SDG implementation involves.
Agenda 2030 pursues a universal approach and identifies countries in the Global South and in the Global North that are in need of transformation toward sustainability. Therefore, countries of the Global North such as Germany have signed the commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, the SDGs need to be “translated” to the specific national context. Existing sustainability indicators and monitoring and reporting systems need to be adjusted as well. Our paper evaluates how three different initiatives translated SDG 11 (“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”) to the German context, given the specific role of cities in contributing to sustainable development. These initiatives included the official ‘National Sustainable Development Strategy’ of the German Government, a scientific initiative led by the ‘German Institute for Urban Affairs’, and a project carried out by the ‘Open Knowledge Foundation’, a non-governmental organization (NGO). This article aims to analyze how global goals addressing urban developments are contextualized on a national level. Our findings demonstrate that only a few of the original targets and indicators for SDG 11 are used in the German context; thus, major adjustments have been made according to the main sustainability challenges identified for Germany. Furthermore, our results show that the current contextualization of SDG 11 and sustainable urban development in Germany are still ongoing, and more changes and commitments need to be made.
As ongoing parallel processes, urbanization and climate change call for overarching context-specific responses that tackle the complex challenges involved and include a comprehensive data base to identify the most pressing action needs. We argue that urban vulnerabilities must take centre stage in this regard. What comes to the fore in the context of urban vulnerability to climate-related hazards is the interaction of human systems with the environment. Understanding the impact of changes in temperature and precipitation on socio-ecological systems is therefore not enough. Insights into the complexity of urban development, social inequalities, economics and politics are needed. To address this complexity, the article focuses on the challenges associated with socio-environmental fragmentation patterns and residential vulnerability, since the interlinkages between them contribute substantially to furthering insights into the specifics of ‘urban’ vulnerabilities to climate-related hazards. An approach that combines socio-environmental fragmentation and residential vulnerability is presented. This approach explores socio-environmental urban developments as well as individual perceptions and capacities.
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