Bristol in New York: cities that never sleep on the SDGs

Working for the interests of Bristol means being committed to getting stuff done within the city’s boundaries. But it also means shaping the national and international context in which we work. Simply, we must think globally and act locally. National and international policy and global events directly affect Bristol’s residents every day, and we are a globally connected city. Bristol has a leadership responsibility not just to work for our own good, but for that of our country and our planet.

Last month, I accepted an invitation to attend Global Goals Week alongside the United Nations General Assembly in New York city to represent Bristol. The wider trip further supported the Council’s international strategy: promoting trade; continuing working with other cities ahead of COP27; and supporting Bristol organisations’ international ambitions.

Global Goals Week is an annual week of action, awareness, and accountability: a shared commitment between hundreds of partners across civil society, business, universities, and the UN to accelerate the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They recognise that social and environmental justice must go hand-in-hand. The SDGs are 17 interdependent goals for sustainable development, with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling the climate emergency and working to preserve our natural environments.

Bristol has been on the forefront of the SDG movement among cities. We were the first city in the UK, and one of the first three cities in the world, to undertake a Voluntary Local Review. We have mapped the SDGs into Bristol’s One City Plan and the Council’s Corporate Strategy, and ensure that all developers know that it is our aim not just to measure ourselves against the SDGs but to deliver them. This international reputation is one of the reasons I was invited to New York.

We have led on the argument that delivery of the SDGs will not succeed if left to national governments alone, but must be driven through cities. I spoke at the 17 Rooms (a partnership between the Centre for Sustainable Development at Brookings and The Rockefeller Foundation) flagship summit and attended the UN General Assembly ‘Business as Usual’ discussion.

At the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers event, I represented Bristol alongside Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Yvonne and I have been key to the growing awareness of the need to get finance and resource into the hands of city leaders, so that we can deliver futures that are both more just and more sustainable.

I also attended the Emmerson Collective’s launch of the Climate Migration Council, as the spokesperson for local government. Participants from every continent discussed how we are going to take on the growing challenge of climate-driven migration, with the prospect of 150 million climate-driven migrants by the middle of this century. This will mean minimising the climate push factors of migration, but also require national governments to work in partnership with cities and civil society to look at the world’s migration framework with a view to providing climate-driven migrants with a proper legal status.

I met with Eric Adams, the new Mayor of New York City. We talked about the standing that he has, as the Mayor of New York, one of the world’s most prominent cities, to advance the voice and influence of the world’s cities at COP27 next month. We also discussed further strengthening Bristol’s ties with New York, one of the world’s biggest city economies, and work that we can both do as Mayors of African heritage to reach out to Mayors on the African continent and around the world to support just and sustainable development.

I met with our government and business representatives, including Visit Britain, in the United States. In my meeting with the consul general and her team, we talked about investment opportunities across Bristol, and the other Core Cities. We talked about our ground-breaking City Leap partnership, securing over £424 million of initial investment from American and Swedish companies for clean energy infrastructure in Bristol. I also shared information about 3Ci, of which we are a founding member, following on from their investment conference in Bristol last month. 3Ci have identified around £330 billion of investment opportunities across our country. We also talked about how to further promote Bristol’s tourism offer in the world’s largest economy, as a base for the woe and beyond, with the opportunities that come with the significance of Bristol 650: the 650th anniversary of our city being granted county status by Edward III, which we look forward to marking next year.

Thanks to our strong international relationships and growing reputation as a global city, partner organisations kindly covered the costs of my outbound and return travel and accommodation. My diary for September is published on Bristol City Council’s website.