The representative of the United Nations visited Euskadi these days as the head of the Local Secretariat 2030, whose headquarters was chosen in Bilbao a year ago.
What role did Euskadi play in the 2030 Agenda in the selection of Bilbao as the headquarters of the Local Secretariat?
The Local Secretariat 2030 is a system established to facilitate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Spain is a world champion in this development, and Euskadi is a leader. They accept the program of national agendas and adjust their budgets to include it. When the United Nations received the proposal from the Basque Government to host Local 2030, we liked the idea. Not only for financial reasons but because it is a place where these values are. Everything we need to do has been implemented in Euskadi, in general, and in Bilbao, in particular. We also confirmed that there will be a lot of participation from the civil population, industry, and universities.
How do you adapt to the challenges of each area?
Each city is different and has its own challenges and development priorities. There are also limits to this, political, financial, or budget, but the 2030 Agenda considers a global context that includes all of them in a common language. The 17 objectives bring together most of the challenges we face, whether in a city like Dehli, fighting against air pollution, or urban renewal like Bilbao. We need to find common ground, challenges, and opportunities.
For these purposes, what are the roles of local administrations?
They are in front. They are the first to respond to challenges such as the climate crisis, housing, homelessness, economic crisis, migration… and they must be accountable to the citizens for this. These are challenges that are more prevalent in cities, so local governments have a key role to play in this. National governments are the ones who sign the agendas but realize that they cannot fulfill them without the great commitment of local entities.
“The community is our final recipient, but they don’t speak the SDG language, they speak about their problems. We have to interpret them in context”
We talk about administrations, but I think it’s important to connect with the citizens themselves.
They are the ones who face challenges every day. If you ask the average citizen what their daily life is like, they can tell you if they have a job, education for their children, health coverage, if the transportation works or not… The community is our final recipient, but they don’t speak the SDG language, they talk about their problems. We have to interpret them in context. It should be a bilateral conversation. We need to listen to what their challenges are and then explain to them that the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda are the roadmap. Their demands must be met because otherwise, they will think we are talking about abstract things in academic terms and they will think we are doing nothing. They play a very important role in defense and public participation.
Are they trying to prioritize the cities of the future?
Absolutely. As an urban planner, my professional goal is to improve the quality of life of citizens. We have a smart city project focused on people. It’s not just about having pure technology, but about technology that puts people’s needs at the center. It should be noted that what is cutting-edge technology for Kenya is not cutting-edge for Donostia. We must meet every need where it is. A smart city means bringing technology closer to everyday problems, bringing management closer, and making services easier.
One of the main concerns is climate change and how it affects coastal cities such as, for example, Donostia.
Climate change is one of the main crises of our time and concerns us all. 60% of human settlements are on the coast and are affected by sea level. Floods are becoming more frequent, the weather is more unpredictable and there are more extreme events. We need to reduce climate change and, to do this, we need to reduce greenhouse gases, but we also need to take action steps. We have proven that the best are those that use natural solutions, such as mangroves on the beach. If we focus on cities, perhaps the best way is to have free spaces in front of rivers. Plug the spaces that absorb water. We can provide many nature-based solutions to adapt to these events. On the other hand, the worst impacts of climate change often affect the most vulnerable communities. We need to target, the elderly, the children, and the poor people, if we act on climate change.
“Peace and prosperity must go together. “We cannot make Agenda 2030 your priority with conflict ahead”
How can we act to avoid this division?
There are different ways to do this. As an urban planner, I see the city as a system where everything depends on how you place the citizens. You check where they live and where they work, how far it is from their house to school, shops, or the health center, and how they get there. We found that in those cities where homes and businesses are close together, they work better. Proximity is very important. Also, the elements that make them up. For example, the last time I went to Donostia, they planted new trees in Alderdi Eder. Now we see the difference: before it was impossible to be there in the hot sun and now the trees provide shade. These are the principles we must have in designing cities.
There are seven years until 2030. Where do you say the goals?
The major challenge continues to be funding, as there is not enough money to meet the SDGs. To do this, it is necessary to explain to everyone, governments, companies, citizens … what they are. Last November we met in New York to find out where we are and we concluded that only 12% of the goals are on track. Some have been stopped or even withdrawn due to the pandemic, the economic crisis, and the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. We need strong commitment and for local governments to fulfill their role in the SDGs. All United Nations agencies should act as one of the objectives.
Do the wars in Ukraine and Gaza make unity more complicated than before?
Yes. Working together is more complicated. Peace and prosperity must go hand in hand. This is always the main message. We cannot make the 2030 Agenda your priority if there is a conflict ahead. The great powers must assess how we can withdraw from the conflict and focus on solving the big challenges: climate, inequality, biodiversity, poverty… These are the challenges we face, but without peace, we can’t reach them.