Report cover for Progressing National SDGs Implementation

From IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub

30 January 2019: A coalition of civil society organizations launched the third edition of a report assessing voluntary national reviews (VNRs) presented to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), with a focus on the 46 VNRs conducted in 2018 and a sample of civil society reports from 2018. The launch took place on 30 January 2019, in the context of a webinar hosted by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), which published and led the preparation of the report.

The report titled, ‘Progressing National SDGs Implementation: An Independent Assessment of the Voluntary National Review Reports Submitted to the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018,’ focuses on components that are needed to make progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs, namely governance and institutional mechanisms, policies, and means of implementation. As summarized in an IISD policy brief, the report reviews 2018 VNRs along these categories, and includes VNRs from countries from all UN regional groups. It also examines VNRs against the UN Secretary General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines, and assesses how VNR reporting is evolving over time through a comparative analysis of the review reports in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Fraser Reilly-King, CCIC, noted that more than 700 people registered for the webinar, reflecting the “huge” interest generated by SDG implementation. He also clarified that the independent report is different from the VNRs synthesis report prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) each year, since it takes a more analytical perspective.

Lead author Shannon Kindornay, Carleton University, said the 2018 edition of the report includes new areas of analysis, such as enhanced principles to better capture the environmental components of the 2030 Agenda, budgeting for the SDGs, and more details on leave-no-one-behind (LNOB) and partnerships, compared to the 2017 and 2016 editions.

The report reviews VNRs from countries from all UN regional groups, namely: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Benin, Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, Niger, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, the Sudan, Switzerland, Togo, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Uruguay, and Viet Nam.

Highlighting key messages from the report, Kindornay said the foundations for making progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs are being built, but countries are not making the most of the VNRs as they are not reporting enough on lessons learned, where they would like to learn and where they would like to get support from others.

On governance and institutions, she reported an increase of non-State actor engagement in governing structures, adding however that very few VNR reports outline specific mechanisms for stakeholder engagement. She indicated that per their VNRs, countries such as Poland are implementing some of the engagement principles outlined in the report, in terms of transparency, timeliness, information, openness, and iteration. On policies, she highlighted a marked improvement in reporting on all the SDGs, but limited references to linkages between the dimensions of sustainable development. She also stated that most of the 2018 VNRs examined or planned to examine data and/or policies to identify gaps and set baselines for achieving the SDGs, although this is less than the number of VNRs that reported doing so in 2017.

On means of implementation, Kindornay outlined: improved reporting, notably on international public finance, trade, technology and systemic issues; insufficient reporting on LNOB; the need for more effort to promote localization; marked improvement on reporting on partnerships; and limited commitment to report regularly on implementation. Among other examples, she cited that Bhutan is using the Vulnerability Baseline Assessment to better target vulnerable populations, in line with the LNOB principle; and Switzerland and Egypt (that presented their VNRs twice so far) reported on a system that indicates their status of progress on 2030 Agenda implementation. On reporting according to the UN Secretary General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines, Kindornay noted that many VNR reports are not structured according to the guidelines, but 70 percent of those reports include all the elements suggested by the guidelines, with the exception of LNOB, structural issues and the annexes.

Other organizations that contributed to the report then shared observations on national SDG reporting. Oli Henman, Action for Sustainable Development, stressed the importance of building on the national level to accelerate progress on implementation. He noted that a letter highlighting key findings of the report will be circulated to civil society organizations for dissemination in countries. He also remarked that civil society engagement in the regional forums on sustainable development should be increased to help improve accountability.

Arelys Bellorini, World Vision International and Together 2030, highlighted the importance of the year 2019 for implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, noting the two meetings of the HLPF that will take place at the ministerial level under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July, and at the level of Heads of State and Heads of Government under the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September. For 2019, she also outlined the end of the first cycle of reviews set out by the HLPF, preparations for the review of the HLPF that should start in 2020, and the “minus one” year deadline for achieving the 2020 targets of the 2030 Agenda. She called for a more “inclusive” participation in reviews and meetings related to SDG implementation.

Deirdre de Burca, Forus, stressed the importance of capacity development for delivering on the 2030 Agenda, and noted that Forus is working to map capacity development on the ground and to conduct needs assessments.

In an interactive discussion, webinar participants also discussed: consideration of human rights in the report; interlinkages between the Goals; policy coherence; and accountability and the role of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) for SDG implementation [Publication: Progressing National SDGs Implementation: An Independent Assessment of the Voluntary National Review Reports Submitted to the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018] [CCIC Report Webpage] [IISD Knowledge Hub Policy Brief on Report] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]