CSO Coalition Finds Greater Focus on “Leaving No One Behind” in National SDG Planning
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The fourth annual edition of the report titled, “Progressing National SDGs Implementation,” finds that the “leave no one behind” concept is the primary issue through which the VNRs address the transformative principles of the 2030 Agenda.

During two webinars organized to launch the report, speakers discussed challenges related to VNRs, including the lack of clarity of what the role of second and third national VNRs should be, the importance of multistakeholder mechanisms in preparing VNRs, and the need to incorporate planning for the "post-HLPF presentation" period in a country's SDG implementation plan.

The fourth annual edition of the report titled, ‘Progressing National SDGs Implementation,’ finds that Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented to the 2019 meeting of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) placed a greater emphasis on “leaving no one behind” than VNRs presented during the previous three years, indicating that the concept is becoming a defining consideration in implementing the SDGs. Nonetheless, the report indicates that the VNRs have paid limited attention to other transformative principles of the 2030 Agenda.

The fourth independent assessment of the VNR reports submitted to the HLPF in 2019 also finds that countries are more consistently following the official guidelines for VNRs and providing information on most aspects of 2030 Agenda implementation than in past years. The report, which is produced by a coalition of civil society organizations, notes with concern that the VNRs remain silent on closing civic space globally and ongoing attacks on human rights defenders and environmentalists.

The report, which was prepared by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CICC) with inputs and research assistance from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional (CEPEI) and Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), identifies ten key pillars that are essential to the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Two webinars were organized on 26 February 2020 to launch the report. Shannon Kindornay, Director of Research, Policy and Practice, CICC, provided an overview of the report’s findings, highlighting that improvement in reporting against the UN Secretary-General’s guidelines was evident in the 2019 VNRs, with 75% reporting against all elements. She noted that stakeholders were increasingly included at the technical working level for SDG implementation, but cautioned that they are losing ground in participation in national and higher-level strategic councils. Kindornay also noted gaps in references to follow-up and review mechanisms, including how the HLPF process will contribute to follow up and review.

A country’s second VNR should not be a “second first VNR” but build on objectives set out in the first report, and show the evolution of its implementation.

Javier Surasky, CEPEI, said that attention should be given to the role of second and third VNRs, and what the appropriate timing and focus of these subsequent VNRs should be. He noted that a country’s second VNR should not be a “second first VNR,” but rather should build on the clearly identified objectives set out in the first VNR and demonstrate how the country’s SDG implementation process is evolving.

Deirdre de Burca, Forus, discussed the ongoing discussions regarding the format for the HLPF during the next four years, and recommendations for how the VNRs should be incorporated into the HLPF. She noted that the HLPF is the central space for following up and reviewing SDG implementation, and emphasized that the HLPF should be a multistakeholder platform. Among other recommendations, she suggested that the HLPF should allocate more time for VNR presentation and a side event should be scheduled to continue the discussion on each VNR.

CSO representatives from Ghana, Mongolia and Sri Lanka discussed their national experiences with VNR preparation and presentation at the HLPF. They noted that national reviews of SDG implementation should take place annually, and not just be linked to reporting at the HLPF. The lack of a multistakeholder consultation forum was highlighted as a challenge for setting appropriate national SDG targets. And the exclusion of CSO participants from a multistakeholder task force and use of a consultant to prepare a VNR were highlighted as challenges in achieving ownership of the VNR in another country.

John Romano, TAP Network, highlighted the need to focus on the post-VNR process and what happens in a country after the VNR is presented. He suggested that countries should be challenged to make explicit commitments on what they will do to address the challenges they identify in their reports. He also noted the value of civil society “spotlight” reports, especially those that are prepared by civil society coalitions who can consolidate their advice to government through the report and present a joint perspective in subsequent discussions with their government.

This report was produced with financial or in-kind support from the following organizations: Action Aid (Denmark), Action for Sustainable Development, Arab NGO Network for Development, Bond, CCIC, CEPEI, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, Forus, IISD, Save the Children (UK), SightSavers, Together 2030, Waterloo Global Science Initiative and World Vision International. [Publication: Progressing National SDGs Implementation, fourth edition] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]

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