How Innovation Can Enable Local Governments Reach the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 11, 14 and 15

Dr. Arthur Hayne Mitchell
Climate Change and Landslides Mitigation Specialist
5513 Landmark Place, Fairfax, Virginia 22032 USA;

It Meeting sustainable development targets requires action on several dimensions, including harnessing and maximizing the potential of technological innovation. Required are more appropriate policy interventions, institutional innovations and new approaches to shaping the innovation process. Examples of such technologies include carbon capture and storage systems, more efficient irrigation methods, essential medicines, household water purification devices and manufacturing processes that minimize waste and pollution. While some needed innovations can be developed and promoted through existing public and private mechanisms at the national level, such efforts have proven inadequate to meet global sustainability goals, particularly with regard to meeting the needs of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable or marginalized in current and future generations. Too often, technologies are either not developed at all due to lack of a sufficiently profitable market, or if developed, are not accessible or well-adapted to end-user needs at the local level. Thus, a question may be asked: How can we advance knowledge and understanding of how to equitably and locally improve the functioning of the “global innovation system” for sustainable development technologies?

For centuries, the concept of innovation has primarily related to economic issues, but environmental and societal pressures have spurred the rethinking of innovations in the context of sustainable development. The main challenge towards this essential transition to greener, cleaner and more equitable economic growth is to address innovation not just from a pessimistic economic level but also from a humanistic social and environmental dimension. As innovations are regarded as a means towards this

transition, an integrated perspective among social, economic and environmental dimensions should be held at the center of attention. Developing relevant knowledge for managing complex innovation processes requires a transdisciplinary approach to bridge the gap between science and practice.

Increasingly stringent economic competition, unequal access to scarce natural resources, an aging workforce and environmental degradation have motivated some European institutions to go beyond their traditional understanding of innovation that has focused primarily on technological solutions and scientific innovation linked to improved market developments. However, new innovative concepts (e.g., “eco-innovation”, “social innovation”, “open innovation”, institutional, governance, organizational innovation) are increasingly regarded as a “window of opportunity” for markets and society to move toward social progress with an equal, low-carbon and knowledgeable economy.

To stimulate more innovations for each of these three goals, some examples that are locally appropriate include:

Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  • Lagos, Nigeria: Providing Incentives for Recycling in Low-Income Communities:

    Wecyclers is fueling social change for the environment by allowing people in low-income communities to capture value from waste using low-cost collection infrastructure. Wecyclers uses a fleet of low-cost cargo bicycles to offer a convenient household recycling service in densely populated low-income neighborhoods.

  • Melbourne, Australia: Public-Private Partnership for Citywide Retrofitting:

    Melbourne’s Environmental Upgrade Agreement (EUA) system is part of the city’s efforts to meet its goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2020. It consists of an agreement between a property owner, a bank, and local government that facilitates a building upgrade to improve energy efficiency.

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
  • Madagascar: Andavadoaka Village: Marine Reserves for Octopus:
  • Fishing pressure has been considerably exacerbated by commercialization of traditional fisheries. The strategy ensures long-term survival of octopus and greater yields for local fishers when the bans are lifted. In parallel, project leaders have been working with local communities to stimulate and diversify the local economy through the development of alternative sustainable livelihoods, including eco-tourism and mariculture businesses, providing financial alternatives to overexploitation of natural resources, the primary non-climate-related threat to the region’s biodiversity.

Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss
Forests and Land use
  • New institutional and regional coordination forms for sustainable land management:

One example for this innovation management challenge can be found in the biosphere reserve Spreewald, Germany, where actors need to develop new sustainable land use business models for the maintenance of fen peatlands, relevant for climate change and biodiversity.

  • Innovative financing for sustainable forestry:

The real challenge is to apply and customize today's normative "best practice" public and private financial strategies and mechanisms to the business realities and opportunities of sustainable forestry enterprises and projects. It is widely recognized that public funds to promote sustainable forestry practices have been lacking and existing funds have not been very effective in reducing deforestation or in achieving sustainability objectives.


• Mongolia: Improving productivity and combating desertification: Results included: better management of the herds has led to economic increases for the shepherds. A rise in productivity for the livestock farmers has made them all the more determined to participate in the program. In the almost seven years since the program began, over 3 million hectares have been returned to grazing use. One of the most successful outcomes includes the creation of 66 associations organized by the shepherds (PUGs), which allow the beneficiaries of government subsidies to be accurately identified. The plan also foresees monitoring of the lands in line with international indicators and standards.

  • Recognizing and enhancing local innovation in managing agricultural biodiversity:
  • The focus is on current innovativeness of local people and current dynamics of indigenous knowledge: how farmers, on their own initiative, develop new ways of using and managing genetic resources. Such endogenous processes are often overlooked when outsiders intervene in efforts to conserve biodiversity. Indeed, some interventions may unknowingly undermine local creativity and energies. But there are encouraging examples of projects that support local initiatives in managing agricultural diversity.

  • South Africa: Bushbuck Ridge Project: Working for Wetlands:
  • The National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment 2004 found that 44 % of freshwater ecosystems associated with the main rivers in South Africa are critically endangered, compared with only 5 % of terrestrial ecosystems. ‘Working for Wetlands’ is partnering with private sector companies in the mining and forestry industry to expand both the funding base and program outreach. In the 5 years to 2005, the Working for Wetlands Program rehabilitated 175 wetlands nation-wide and employed 8,000 disadvantaged South Africans at a cost of USD$ 28 million.

Author: Dr. Arthur H. Mitchell is a senior environmental, biodiversity and natural resources manager, environmental policy specialist, conservation biologist and biological anthropologist with nearly 30 years of experience, including over 20 years outside the United States in 15 countries, primarily in Southeast and South Asia. Dr. Mitchell have worked in a variety of team leadership roles on many conservation and development projects; and has coordinated and been primary investigator for institutional, social, environmental and field biodiversity management projects.

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