DESA Synthesis Identifies Advances in VNRs, Areas for Improvement
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
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The UN Division for Sustainable Development issued ‘2017 Voluntary National Reviews: Synthesis Report,’ examining efforts carried out at the national level to implement the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs.

The report considers: SDGs and their targets; leaving no one behind; monitoring and data; bringing SDGs into the national context through assessments, strategies and budgets; the institutions and mechanisms put in place to implement the 2030 Agenda; coherence with regional and global frameworks; stakeholder engagement; awareness raising; and means of implementation.

22 November 2017: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ (DESA) Division for Sustainable Development published a synthesis report based on the 43 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented at the 2017 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The synthesis report outlines areas of progress on SDG implementation at the national level, and additional efforts needed, while also assessing the depth of analysis contained in the VNRs.

VNRs are voluntary reviews of progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that are conducted by countries at the national and sub-national levels, and shared during the HLPF when it convenes each July under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

With some countries presenting their second or third VNRs, the process will yield a further deepening of the reviews.

The synthesis report notes improvements in the quality of the VNRs themselves compared to those presented in 2016, with their focus shifting from describing progress or challenges faced, towards examining causes and providing data and information on progress achieved. In the future, the authors suggest, VNRs could shift to identifying the “factors that can trigger transformative change.” They expect that with some of the participating countries in 2018 presenting their second or third VNRs, the process will yield “a further deepening” of the reviews.

The synthesis finds that a majority of the 2017 VNRs included SDG-specific analysis and reviews in their reports. About a third of the countries addressed all the SDGs; about a third covered the specific SDGs that were the subject of in-depth review at the 2017 HLPF (SDGs 1 (No poverty), 2 (Zero hunger), 3 (Good health and well-being), 5 (Gender equality), 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), 14 (Life below water) and 17 (Partnerships for the goals)); and other countries selected Goals related to their national priorities.

The report observes a “deep commitment to the integrated nature and indivisibility of the goals” in all the reports. For instance, interlinkages between SDG 2 and other SDGs were prominently reported, particularly with regard to poverty eradication (SDG 1), job creation (SDG 8) and women’s empowerment (SDG 5). Countries also highlighted the dependence of SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) on having sufficient investment in both capital and human resources, and the impact of factors such as climate change and transnational crime.

On monitoring, the report indicates substantial efforts to strengthen countries’ statistical systems, such as establishing clear governance structures for data and monitoring, using technology to strengthen data collection, analysis and dissemination, and mobilizing resources through multi-stakeholder partnerships. Challenges include a lack of disaggregated data and of capacity in data collection and management, and insufficient financial and technical support.

At the institutional level, the report notes progress in all 43 countries through the establishment and/or strengthening of institutional frameworks, inter-ministerial coordinating offices, committees or commissions, with an emphasis on coherence, integration, coordination and multi-sectoral involvement. Also, per the report, many parliaments have established committees on the 2030 Agenda and SDGs, and Members of Parliament participated in some delegations at the 2017 HLPF. However, policy coherence and multi-sectoral coordination still present major challenges for a majority of countries.

On stakeholder engagement, the synthesis finds that many of the 43 countries have incorporated designated stakeholder coordination elements in their overall institutional mechanisms for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. However, the form of stakeholder engagement varies, it says, ranging from stakeholder consultations in decision-making processes, to the establishment of multi-stakeholder partnerships to advance on certain goals and targets. Among challenges faced, the synthesis outlines securing the resources required to maintain well-structured and collaborative engagement with stakeholders, and the need to manage high expectations by stakeholders.

The report states that several VNR countries highlighted activities
 to raise awareness and increase
 ownership of the SDGs, including organizing conferences, workshops 
and festivals, using social media and including 
celebrities and artists in promoting the SDGs. According to the report, many countries 
highlighted the 
importance of including youth, and some started to integrate the SDGs into curriculum and educational programmes.

On means of implementation, the synthesis indicates that concrete estimates of financing needs for SDG implementation are still lacking in many countries, and several countries noted the need for cost analyses and needs assessments. The report also states that many countries, particularly the least developed countries (LDCs), highlighted the role of trade as an enabler for SDG implementation and national finance mobilization.

Overall, the report notes that areas of improvement for country-level implementation include: achieving real policy coherence and implementing “whole-of-government” approaches; addressing the low capacity of many national statistical institutions; improving the institutional capacity of local governments; promoting greater coordination between the different spheres of public administration; accelerating the integration of the SDGs into the policies and programmes of all relevant line ministries; and inculcating a “whole-of- society” approach, “so that the SDGs become a truly national endeavour.”

While the synthesis report highlights examples of actions and measures that support implementation at the country level, the SDGs progress report issued each year by the UN Secretary-General contains a statistical profile of progress. At the 2018 session of the HLPF, 48 countries will present their national reviews, including some for which it will be their second (Colombia, Egypt, and Switzerland) or third VNR (Togo). The 2018 HLPF will take place from 9-18 July at UN Headquarters in New York, US. [Publication: 2017 Voluntary National Reviews: Synthesis Report] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Compilation Report] [HLPF 2018 Website] [VNRs Webpage] [VNR voluntary common reporting guidelines contained in the Annex to the UN Secretary-General’s report A/70/684]


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