Sustainable Cities Program (SCP) - Supporting the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in Brazilian municipalities

The SCP is structured in twelve thematic lines that intend to offer knowledge to support policy and decision-making on urban sustainability. The platform offers a set of 260 indicators aligned to the SDG and a database with more than 300 Good Practices, references of successful public policies around the world. This contents are available on a open data portal - Sustainable Cities Platform – in which cities may monitor and compare its development in an integrated way. Monitoring the implementation of SDG at the local level seeks to promote public policies aimed to end inequalities, improve quality of life and well-being.

Objective of the practice

The main goal of the Sustainable Cities Program is to create awareness, mobilize and commit public and local governments to the construction of fair and sustainable cities, considering a development based on the fight against inequalities, promotion of human rights and social control. In practical terms, its purpose is to assist public managers for urban planning through the elaboration of structuring public policies that contemplate a systemic approach that integrates all areas of public administration - health, education, social assistance, housing, mobility.
The Platform was created based on principles of global agendas, including the Aalborg Commitments, signed by approximately 650 cities around the globe. Its thematic axes are based on the mentioned agendas, as well as tailored made ones based on the Brazilian context, adding up to xx indicators 300 general and 100 basic indicators. Its proposed agenda incorporates social, environmental, economic, political and cultural dimensions on the municipal public administrations. In 2015, on the launching of the 2030 Agenda, the SCP engaged on the correlation between the 17 SDG, and its 169 targets, and the 12 themes from the Sustainable Cities Program. This process led to the revision of the initial 260 indicators, in order to ensure the alignment among the program and the Agenda.
Thus, the SCP takes a pioneering role in the implementation and municipalization of SDG in Brazil, reaffirming itself as an important tool to help public managers on the process of setting goals and strategies for urban governance. The set of goals, indicators and tools for integrated planning aims to commit the signatories cities with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. These contents are offered free of charge to city halls and made available on an open data platform.
To participate in the program, mayors must sign a letter of commitment, in which they undertake responsibility for a city diagnosis based on local indicators and also an urban planning agenda based on political campaign promises. They must periodically report on their initiatives progress. The purpose is to strengthen the mechanisms of urban planning and the elaboration of structured public policies, which contemplate a systemic and integrated approach of the municipality and considers the various areas of public administration. One of the Program´s founding principle is to implement synergies between scientific-technological, sociocultural and institutional advances at the local level.
With more than 300 practices cataloged, the Best Practices Database highlights municipal cases in Brazil and around the world with tangible impacts at the local level. that have shown good results in various areas of administration. The development of this database peaks in the Sustainable Cities Award, an event that includes signatory administrations of the SCP that have innovative and successful policies in Brazilian cities. The database objective is to inspire effective solutions in urban sustainability and the importance to integrate technical planning with social participation, where the accumulated knowledge about public management is tested against needs and priorities pointed out by the population.

Key stakeholders and partnerships

The program has the support of several society organizations, foundations and organizations such as UN-Habitat, UNDP, UN Environment, Ford Foundation, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Open Society, Brazilian Mayors Front (FNP) and the Brazilian Association of Cities (ABM). The Program has development partnerships for specific projects with the Bernard Van Leer Foundation and is now part of the Global Environment Facility (GEF-6), a multilateral initiative between UN Environment Program, the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications (MCTIC), the city of Recife, the Federal District government and the Center for Management and Strategic Studies (CGEE).

Implementation of the Project/Activity

The project aims to support cities in seeking solutions to their biggest challenges. The platform acts as a wide observatory to led cities to hold knowledge about their local reality and the viability of actions that meet the needs of its citizens. In this sense, they must count with data and instruments that support action and long run planning. The SCP was created to support this knowledge gap and opportunity for cities to further develop and meet its own needs. The cities are today focus of the most serious global challenges, including, poverty, social inequality, climate change, mobility and sanitation. Nevertheless, they are also hubs of innovation and opportunity. If they manifest all problems themselves, it is also in these spaces that opportunities of human, technological and political resources are resilient.
This observatory fulfils a double function, as a source of technical expertise for planning, management and decision making by the public administration, as well as transparency for society. The adhesion to the Program is made through a letter of commitment from managers of Brazilian municipalities, making the election campaign a crucial moment for the engagement of these future mayors.
The commitment includes the production of a diagnosis of the city, with basic indicators that serve as reference for the establishment of a Goal Plan accordingly to the four years term. There is a minimum number of indicators according to three population categories: 50 for small towns (from 500 to 100 thousand inhabitants), 75 for medium-sized cities (from 101 thousand to 500 thousand inhabitants) and 100 for large cities and metropolises (over 500 thousand inhabitants).
The information of the observatory subsidizes technical and political action for those involved. The indicators point, approximate and translate into measurable terms the various dimensions of public administration. After assessing its importance, discovering how to construct them and diagnose the reality of the municipality, the public manager must construct a goal plan that shows the evolution of the indicators by the year 2030. Goals should be defined according to the local reality and with a vision that seeks overcome challenges and identify paths to a desired future.
To support municipalities, SCP launched the Sustainable Public Management Guide, a publication that brings a set of tools to advance on innovative plans in line with the SDG. The material presents the 260 basic indicators between 12 lines of work, and their correlation with the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the UN. The lines of work are Governance; Common Natural Resources; Equity, Social Justice and Culture of Peace; Local Management for Sustainability; Urban Planning and Design; Culture for Sustainability; Education for Sustainability and Quality of Life; Vibrate, Creative and Sustainable Local Economy; Responsible Consumption and Life Style Options; Better Mobility, Less Traffic; Local Action for Health and From Local to Global.


The work of correlating the program's axes and indicators with SDG marked an important advance for the SCP, incorporating a new group of indicators and opening up opportunity for the signatory municipalities to implement goals and targets established by the United Nations. In this way, the Sustainable Cities Program represents a viable path for the municipalization of SDG and implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Brazil. From the announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015 and within the municipal elections of 2016, the Sustainable Cities Program entered a new stage highlighting goals and targets of the SDG to be implemented on a regional level, precisely where cities have a central role on governance.
Between 2013 and 2016, 287 Brazilian cities joined the Program, between which 22 capitals and the Federal District. The total of the signatory cities of the program represents a number of 67,665,692 inhabitants, 33% of the national population. The adhesion demonstrates the potential of impact and scalability of the initiative. The Sustainable Cities Program was one of the responsible organizations for the creation of the SDG National Commission, a structure of governance aiming the implementation and monitoring of SDG in Brazil, with the purpose of internalizing, diffusing and giving transparency to the implementation process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations. The SCP is also a reference in the Platform SDG / UNDP - http://agenda2030.com.br/contato.php.
In order to assist local managers, SCP offers training programs throughout Brazil, as well as informational and technical publications driven for public governance. The Platform intends to be active in the function of stimulating partnership with the private sector, disseminating national and international events agenda, among other initiatives. Other instrumental tools will be offered, such as geoprocessing systems, a social participation module to encourage community engagement and information to allow municipalities to think about diversifying their sources of resource.
The city count on the support of tools to improve administrative efficiency, inclusion of members of civil society as actors of the process, orientation of the public servant in the exercise of their work and, mainly, continuity of public policies. The Plan of Goals and the SCP Platform seek to fulfill an important gap present in most Brazilian cities, since lack of planning is a reality and mechanisms of transparency and social control are generally inefficient or non-existent.

Enabling factors and constraints

Considering the wide diversity of services and competences legally established as Brazilian municipalities responsibility, the understanding of public limitations and deficiencies becomes essential for the implementation of SDG. Administrative mechanisms for public management must be aligned with SDG demands and goals, allowing cities to notice their main deficiencies, limitations and opportunities to establish strategic actions.
In the last two years, more than 210 cities in Brazil (among them 15 capitals) became signatories, impacting 34% of the Brazilian population. In addition, seven cities in Latin America have already adopted the SCP methodology: Pilar, Encarnação, Cidade de Leste, São Lorenzo, Concepción, Paraguari, and Asunción. City halls willingly signed the program's charter, a fundamental work to extend the Program scope and strengthen its initiatives. Our main challenge remains the engagement of the public managers and the commitment of cities with the implementation of a local agenda for sustainability. The continuity of the training programs, both for managers and technicians, as well as of society, is fundamental for the consolidation of the project.
It is worth mentioning the importance of citizen participation for social control and public data monitoring. In order for civil society to participate in the political life, as well as in government decisions, citizens must have adequate knowledge through high-quality public information. In this sense, the construction of an SDG monitoring system will make an enormous contribution to the strengthening of participatory democracy and the engagement of more people. In this process, listening to the community and knowing their needs to develop policies would represent a concrete step forward the 2030 Agenda aspirations.
Considering the context and political formation of the Brazilian institutional structures, the main barriers of the Program are related to the difficulty of municipalities in the implementation of the guidelines, indicators and goals of the SCP. The low operational capacity of partner civil society organizations to focus on public policies and to monitor public authorities adds to a political culture of little space for planning and management tools, the resistance of governments to increase the participation of civil society and the frequent changes due to the exchange of mandates.
Within the historical and cultural perspective, the long and slow process of maturing the concept of sustainability as transversal to public policies must also be taken into account. Fiscal contingencies for the implementation of regional economic goals and the Brazilian economic crises is yet another factor that impact municipal policies and make it difficult to develop the necessary projects for sustainable development.

Sustainability and replicability

In order for an experiment to be considered successful, must present solid and positive results, covering administrative, environmental, scientific, social, political and economic elements, with references based on evidence of development at the municipal level. In this sense, the concept of integrated planning is central to the Program, being considered fundamental for the effectiveness of public policies and guaranteeing their continuity.
The Best Practices Database is an example of how the exchange of experiences is fruitful in public administration, in cases where municipalities share similar challenges and obstacles. The fact that the Platform was built on a free software gives access to any user, anywhere in the world, to reproduce it, adapt and customize it to their local reality. From the technical and operational point of view, there is no limitation to joining the program, simply by political will. Besides being free, membership is voluntary.
Mechanisms for planning and monitoring enable the continuity and expansion of public policies, being the objective of the institutional tools the Program offers, precisely to offer this support to public officers. Continuously training allows the development of an internal knowledge to be incorporated by local technicians on the long term, in favour of a culture of sustainability in the administration.
Likewise, the Plan of Goals is an instrument of planning and management, but also consolidates the government program and electoral proposals in the same document, allowing it to be treated by the population as an instrument of social control. By updating and disseminating information at the end of each year, public officers ensures the accountability principle regarding the budget and management decisions during the term of office.
Any Brazilian city may join the Sustainable Cities Program and use its web platform to produce and monitor municipal indicators and data, producing diagnoses and planning documents. The Platform was built on free software and open data precisely to scale the SCP and make possible its adaptation by any interested entity.
SCP works continuously in the mobilization, sensitization and coordination of municipal governments and public managers, in order to broaden the base of signatory cities and to disseminate the methodologies and tools of the program. To strengthen the program reach, there is also an intense work to build strategic partnerships with municipal entities, civil society organizations and government agencies, in order to broaden their dissemination. In addition, the Sustainable Cities Program is continuous initiative, launched in 2012 and developed to reach as many cities as possible.


Available for the public, the SCP web platform allows civil organizations and the general population to monitor the city's indicators and targets progress, appropriating relevant information about its municipality. This process promote public policies that improve quality of life and the reduction of inequalities. In this way, it contributes to the strengthening of mechanisms for social control, transparency and accountability to the local population.
The SCP is also a valuable instrument for civil participation in the construction of local goals, since the holding of public hearings and the disclosure of reports of accountability are indispensable requirements for local legislation approval. In-person training activities are also a great opportunity for direct contact with local managers and technicians. In these meetings, it is possible to identify more assertively the different patterns of use of the Platform and the methodologies offered, which allows us to make possible adjustments to improve them and more effectively meet the demands, difficulties and needs of public managers.
In the period 2013-2016, 287 Brazilian municipalities joined the Sustainable Cities Program. This total included 22 capitals and the Federal District. The 287 signatory cities of the SCP had a population of 67,665,692 inhabitants and represented 33% of the national population. Another important fact is the fact that 56 Brazilian cities have already approved the Law of Goals, which obliges mayors to prepare the Plan of Goals in the first months of management and report annually on the progress of the commitments assumed.
São Paulo was the first city to approve the law, in 2007, after an initiative of mobilization and articulation idealized by Rede São São Paulo, one of the organizations that make up the SCP. It is also important to note the salutary effect of the Sustainable Cities Program in the signatory municipalities when, for example, cities are found where the Plan of Goals has already been presented with the incorporated SCP and SDG indicators, such as Santos/SP, Guarulhos/SP, Colonel Fabriciano/MG, Antonio Prado/RS, Cascavel/PR and Ribeirão Preto/SP.

Other sources of information

Developed from existing structures, the Sustainable Cities Platform will be launched in September 2019 as an extension of the Program, allowing objectives and goals proposed in its creation to be scaled. In order to implement and adapt integrative policies in Brazilian municipalities, the Platform is conceived as a mobilization and action vector to advance the agenda of sustainable cities in Brazil, being a valuable tool for integrated planning, policy monitoring and decision making for local managers.
The Sustainable Cities Knowledge Platform will support the development of integrated urban plans that will result in both policy and investment formulation based on reliable urban metrics and the implementation of innovative technologies in key sectors for local management. As a catalyst for the sustainable cities agenda in Brazil, the Platform includes processes of engagement, training and training, stakeholder dialogues and thematic meetings and development of references.
The development of this web environment is one of the components of the Integrated Urban Planning and Use of Innovative Technologies project, funded by the GEF (Global Environment Facility) and implemented in Brazil by the UN Environment Program and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications ). One of the established goals is that the Knowledge Platform reaches 300 Brazilian cities that are signatories of the Sustainable Cities Program.

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Basic information
Start: 19 August, 2011
Completion: 01 January, 0001
Ongoing? no
Latin America and the Caribbean
Geographical Coverage
The project coverage is nation-wide, thus the program could support any of the 5.000 municipalities in Brazil. Currently, the Program are directly supporting 206 signatory cities and aim to scale to more than 300 by 2020.
Sustainable Cities Institute
Type: Civil society organization
Contact information
Zuleica Goulart, Sustainable Cities Program Coordinator, zuleica@cidadessustentaveis.org.br, +55 11 994576085
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United Nations