DESA Synthesis Notes Improvements on SDG National Reviews at HLPF
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The 'Voluntary National Reviews 2018: Synthesis Report' synthesizes some of the findings of the 46 VNRs presented at the HLPF in July 2018.

The report notes that the benchmark for the reviews “is being raised every year”.

DESA also underlines additional efforts required to advance the SDGs at the country level, including: putting in place processes to meaningfully align national plans and budgets; investing in statistical offices and their capacity to produce high quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated data; encouraging work and analysis on interlinkages between the SDGs; and continuing to institutionalize engagement with civil society and other stakeholders.

12 November 2018: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has released the third annual synthesis of voluntary national reviews (VNRs). Based on a review of the 2018 VNRs, the report finds that the benchmark for the reviews “is being raised every year.” It states that policy coherence still presents a key challenge, and awareness of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs remains relatively modest for many countries.

VNRs are voluntary reviews of progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda that are conducted by countries and shared yearly during the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) when it meets under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As noted in the DESA report, VNRs should not be considered as an end in itself, but should serve as a tool for strengthening implementation.

The publication titled, ‘Voluntary National Reviews 2018: Synthesis Report,’ coordinated by DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development Goals, synthesizes some of the findings of the 46 VNRs presented at the HLPF in July 2018. It draws from VNR written reports, and examines efforts made by reporting countries to implement the 2030 Agenda, including challenges, gaps, achievements and lessons learned. The report discusses: assessments, strategies and budgets related to the SDGs; institutions for implementing the 2030 Agenda; leaving no one behind; goals and targets; monitoring and data; coherence with regional and global frameworks; stakeholder engagement; awareness raising; and means of implementation.

On additional efforts required to advance the SDGs at the country level, the report underlines: ensuring that strategies and plans contain priorities; initiating processes to meaningfully align national plans and budgets; investing in statistical offices and their capacity to produce high-quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated data; strengthening evaluation and monitoring systems; more clearly identifying capacity-development needs in the reviews; encouraging work and analysis on interlinkages between the SDGs; identifying successful models for engagement with the private sector; and continuing to institutionalize engagement with civil society and other stakeholders.

On institutions, the report notes that many countries’ VNRs describe institutional arrangements that reflect the integrated nature of the SDGs, whether by placing their implementation under the aegis of the executive branch or developing SDG budgets through inter-ministerial cooperation. It indicates that countries have established structures to link national with sub-national, regional and local governments, and that many emphasize the importance of meaningfully engaging parliaments.

On leaving no one behind, the report states that countries indicate utilizing both universal and targeted policies and measures to give effect to the principle. Among the groups at risk of being left behind, the report notes: persons with disabilities; older persons; indigenous peoples; children; youth; women; persons living in poverty, especially extreme poverty; and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning people collectively (LGBTQI).

On stakeholder engagement, DESA reports that countries are aiming at enhancing the “meaningful participation” of all relevant stakeholders in SDG implementation, with many mentioning the establishment of institutionalized engagement approaches, including SDG inter-ministerial committees or working groups that comprise stakeholder representatives.

SDG 4 continues to be a central development priority, and SDG 16 is underlined as a vital enabling Goal for the entire agenda.

On addressing the SDGs, the report notes that: all 2018 VNRs discussed SDG 1 (no poverty); most countries reported on SDG 2 (zero hunger), particularly its interlinkages with Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 12, and 13; many addressed SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), illustrating governments’ commitment to fostering a strong, growing economy; and nearly all countries described efforts to advance their infrastructure, whether in the form of road, rail, air, or marine transport, or information communication technology (ICT) connectivity (SDG 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure). It also notes that SDG 4 (quality education) continues to be a central development priority across all VNR countries, and that SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) is underlined as a “vital enabling” Goal for the entire sustainable development agenda, with several countries highlighting the importance of upholding the rule of law, ensuring universal access to justice, and enabling access to information.

On SDG 3 (good health and well-being), the report says several countries referred to the right to health, while others provided information on the provision of universal health coverage. On SDG 5 (gender equality), it indicates that inequality between men and women persists in countries, as women have not achieved full parity in any dimension. On SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), the report states that countries are taking steps to diversify their sources of water, including recycled and reclaimed water and desalinated water, while on SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), countries have identified measures, such as diversifying energy sources, developing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and connecting more households to the energy grid in rural areas.

Per the report, most countries addressing SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) emphasize links to poverty reduction, leaving no one behind, political, and economic and social inclusion, and on SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), several countries highlight their lack of capacity in integrated urban planning and the need to strengthen data and monitoring. On SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), many countries note that achieving this Goal is difficult due to population growth and increased consumption, spurred by economic growth.

On SDG 13 (climate action), the report mentions that the cross-cutting nature of climate change is highlighted in the VNRs. Challenges faced are outlined, such as increased floods, mudslides and landslides, worsening land degradation, intensive heat events, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and changing rain patterns. Many countries also reported on their actions towards enhancing their Blue Economies for SDG 14 (life below water), and mention challenges regarding sustainable fisheries and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, marine pollution, particularly plastics and nutrient pollution, and protection of coral reefs, the report says. On SDG 15 (life on land), the report indicates that increasing urbanization and population growth are the most common threats to healthy ecosystems raised by countries, as they cause competing pressures and demands on land use.

On SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), all countries outlined initiatives to revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development, according to the report, and VNRs indicate that substantial efforts have been made at the national level to assess data availability, sources, methodologies, coverage and dissemination. The report also notes key challenges on data disaggregation, data collection and management, and mobilizing financial and technical support for data and monitoring, and outlines needs for capacity building on statistics, data, monitoring and evaluation, resource mobilization, policy coherence, and enhancing science, technology and innovation (STI).

From 2016 to 2018, 111 VNRs have been conducted by 102 countries, and some have carried out more than one review. In 2019, the HLPF will meet twice: in July under the auspices of ECOSOC, during which 51 VNRs are expected to be presented, and in September under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), at the level of Heads of State and Government.

DESA has issued a handbook to guide countries’ preparations for the 2018 VNRs. [Publication: Voluntary National Reviews 2018: Synthesis Report] [HLPF 2018 Website] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on DESA Handbook for the Preparation of the 2019 VNRs]


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