Sustainable Development in City and Country

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities – and the numbers are rising. In Germany, too, many cities are expanding. Climate protection, a liveable environment, the integration of environmental protection – these are all determining factors here, but they affect rural areas too. The German Sustainable Development Strategy calls for urban development that promotes “cross-cutting thinking”, and the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) is playing its part with initiatives including the “Sustainable City” dialogue, the Local Sustainability Reporting Framework (BNK) and the 30-hectare land use target.

Sustainability in city and country

Local authorities are crucial to sustainable development. The OECD has even declared that two thirds of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be met without them; which is why they have their own dedicated SDG: number 11, Sustainable cities and communities. But all the other goals, too, require global agreements to be implemented at the local level.

The challenges this poses are many and varied. From sustainable mobility and renewable energy and heat supplies to climate protection, resource conservation and biodiversity preservation all the way through to strengthening social cohesion, there are many questions to be answered: How do we limit land use to below 30 hectares per day? How can we build and renovate buildings in a resource-efficient and climate-friendly way? How can we prepare ourselves locally for the impact of the climate crisis? And how do we finance the transition in the regions when funds are so tight? In Germany the specific political challenges in urban and rural areas are often quite different. As such, the RNE promotes customised solution approaches that cater to the different realities of life around the country.

In recent years, many cities, communities and districts have already embarked on a path towards sustainable development. Promising approaches include those of integrated sustainability management, whereby sustainability strategies set local targets so that policymakers and administrators can consistently tailor their actions to them. On the administration side, guided by sustainability managers from local government, a number of pioneering municipalities are looking to impact-oriented financial policies with sustainability budgets. With sustainability reporting, such as via the Local Sustainability Reporting Framework (BNK) or, to the United Nations, in the form of a Voluntary Local Review (VLR), authorities can account for their local sustainability efforts. All these tools allow local decision-makers to systematically integrate sustainability into their spheres of competence, thus helping to shape transformation on their doorsteps.

How the RNE helps: Impetus for sustainable urban development

The Council for Sustainable Development supports municipalities in their sustainability work with a variety of formats. One of these is the Sustainable City dialogue, which sees some 40 mayors who are leading the way in local sustainability meet regularly to discuss and articulate their recommendations for the federal government. The Council’s piloting and development of the Local Sustainability Reporting Framework (BNK) also helps local governments to report their sustainability efforts. And with projects like the Joint Action for Sustainable Development and the RENN network (Regional Hubs for Sustainability Strategies), the RNE connects sustainability ideas and actors by German region and brings together good-practice examples on one platform, thus highlighting the diverse engagement towards achieving the SDGs in city and country.