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US Cities Plagued by Poor Performance on SDGs

US cities still have a long way to go towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the first-ever US Cities SDG Index, which ranks the 100 most populous metropolitan areas in the US based on their performance on the SDGs.

Using 49 indicators from 16 of the 17 SDGs (SDG 14, life below water, was not assessed), the Index provides a holistic and comprehensive assessment of the sustainable development challenges faced by US cities. It aims to stimulate action at the local level and act as a tool for benchmarking progress on sustainable development. Results are presented in regional dashboards to facilitate comparison among cities. The Index further aims to help city administrators and planners analyze progress and prioritize policy and investment areas, as well as serve as an advocacy tool to motivate the federal government to track sustainable development in cities.

US cities, which are home to 62.7 percent of the domestic population, are undergoing significant changes and encountering unprecedented challenges, such as flooding due to sea-level rise, food insecurity, water scarcity and widening income and job inequalities. The SDGs offer an opportunity to address these issues, by tapping into the country’s dynamism and talent.

“We hope that the SDGs, suitably adapted to America’s context, will become America’s Goals for 2030,” said Jeff Sachs, Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and co-author of the US Cities SDG Index. “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. We count on the new US Cities SDG Index to be a help in this national endeavor.”

“By measuring the current state of the SDGs across America’s metropolitan areas, we create an accurate starting line for our race to 2030 and a smart, fair and sustainable future. No doubt there will be many areas of improvement to the US Cities SDG Index in the years ahead. Yet time is short and 2030 is near.”

The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro region in California scored the top spot on the list, with an overall score of 61.04 out of 100. The region is also in the top ten for 10 of the 16 goals. Provo-Orem in Utah placed second, with an Index score of 58.05, followed by Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue in Washington and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward in California.

The poorest performances were given by Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan. The 100 cities assessed had a poverty rate of 15.6 percent, while the percentage of children living in poverty in large urban areas was at times as high as 70 percent. The Index identified a “clear North-South gradient” on poverty, with higher rates of poverty concentrated in Southern metropolitan areas.

The Index also demonstrated high levels of malnutrition and obesity in the US, a fate that even the best performing urban areas could not escape, with rates of adult obesity averaging at around 30 percent.

The US Cities SDG Index was developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and builds on the findings of the 2017 Global SDG Index. In 2016, the Index ranked the US 25th among all countries pursuing the SDGs. A year later, it dropped to 42nd as a result of additional indicators that assess international spillover effects such as CO2 emissions and tax evasion. It was this shift that spurred the development of the US Cities SDG Index, to better understand the country’s specific challenges and cross-country variation.

According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which produced the report, sustainable development indicators are not consistently collected across cities. To remedy these information gaps, the Index recommends investments in local statistical systems and a strong federal commitment to collate and share data.

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