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The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ (DESA) Division of Sustainable Development (DSD) published a synthesis of the 22 voluntary national reviews (VNRs) presented during the 2016 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The 22 countries who participated in the VNRs reflected on challenges, gaps, achievements, and lessons learned.

Preparations are underway for the 2017 round of VNRs, with 40 countries having volunteered to present reports.

January 2017: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ (DESA) Division of Sustainable Development (DSD) published a synthesis of the 22 voluntary national reviews (VNRs) presented during the 2016 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). 

The report, titled ‘2016 Synthesis of Voluntary National Reviews,’ shares key findings from the reviews, and examines countries’ efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during its first year.

The 22 countries who participated in the VNRs reflected on challenges, gaps, achievements and lessons learned. According to the synthesis report, common findings included: the importance of active mobilization of stakeholders in priority-setting, implementation and review; coherent, coordinated institutions as one of the first steps in implementing the SDGs; the role of capacity building, innovation, technology, and trade as critical elements of implementation, in addition to financing; and the need for increasing effectiveness and coherence in international assistance. Many developing countries highlighted that it remains important to fulfil international commitments in line with common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), including for economies in transition and middle-income countries (MICs).

On key challenges countries face in implementation, the report identifies: findings ways to raise awareness and ownership of the SDGs; and coordinating multiple government sectors in monitoring, evaluation and reporting. Many countries reported significant human and financial constraints to improving the quality of data, identifying this as a key area for capacity building assistance. Also on data, countries identified the need for: broader, more disaggregated data that is collected with greater frequency; improved capacity in registry systems and management of administrative records; and improved data production at local levels. The report also highlights: efforts to develop and increase statistical capacity and identify indicators that reflect national challenges; and the establishment of mechanisms for reporting, follow-up and review, including platforms for multi-stakeholder participation.

On specific SDGs, the synthesis finds that countries varied in their approaches to the VNR reports. Some presented in-depth reviews of all 17 SDGs. Others highlighted specific SDGs in line with their national priorities. Some countries did not address individual goals in their VNRs, while others focused on interlinkages among the SDGs.

Countries said participating in the VNR helped them map the baseline for SDG implementation, and build coherence and ownership of the follow-up and review process in their governments.

Countries reported benefits from participating in the VNRs, describing the review process as an opportunity to take stock of implementation efforts, raise political and public awareness, and create ownership. Other benefits highlighted by countries include: helping to map the baseline for SDG implementation; enhancing national understanding and commitment by stakeholders on their roles in implementing the SDGs; and contributing to greater coherence and ownership of the follow-up and review process in their governments. The synthesis report also presents data on the format of the 22 VNRs submitted and the level of delegations that participated in the 2016 VNRs.

Prior to the release of DESA’s synthesis report, Bond, the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), Save the Children UK and WWF-UK issued a report that reviews the 2016 VNRs, while experts gave video interviews reflecting on the process to date. Marianne Beisheim, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, praised countries for sharing experiences in building “whole-of-government” approaches to implementing the SDGs, while recognizing the challenge of including all levels of government, especially at the local level. She asserted that reviews “only gain traction if they deliver actual results,” and said that the follow-up process “really helps to foster national level implementation.” Adil Najam, Boston University, highlighted the importance of creating “high-trust societies,” pointing to the Philippines’ VNR. He said the biggest challenges are to keep aspirations high, and to learn from each other, going beyond “cheerleading.”

Preparations are underway for the 2017 round of VNRs, with 40 countries having volunteered to present reports. The 2017 session of the HLPF will convene from 10-19 July 2017, in New York, US. [Publication: Synthesis of Voluntary National Reviews: 2016] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on CSOs Reflections] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Preparations for 2017 VNRs]


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