The 2020 VNRs highlight countries’ approaches to preparing their VNRs when the COVID-19 pandemic hampered stakeholder engagement.
The majority of the 2020 VNRs incorporate data, and over half of all VNR reports presented since 2016 include a statistical annex.
On SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), all countries’ VNRs addressed income inequalities, with the majority reporting that this problem has remained largely the same or gotten worse.
The UN has released a synthesis report of the voluntary national reviews (VNRs) conducted in 2020. A total of 168 countries have presented VNR reports during the annual sessions of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) since 2016. In 2020, 47 countries did so, despite having to complete much of their reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ‘2020 Voluntary National Reviews Synthesis Report’ prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) is the fifth such synthesis report of VNRs. Liu Zhenmin, head of DESA, writes in the foreword to the synthesis that the reports highlighted countries’ alternative approaches to preparing their VNRs when the COVID-19 pandemic hampered stakeholder engagement. The VNR reports were “open and candid” about challenges amid the pandemic, enabling others to learn from each country’s experiences. Liu also notes that despite limited evidence and data challenges, the majority of the 2020 VNRs incorporate data, and over half of all VNR reports presented since 2016 include a statistical annex.
The synthesis report outlines action and insights on each of the 17 SDGs, as reflected in the 2020 VNR reports.
- On SDG 1 (no poverty), numerous countries said progress could be stalled or reversed amid the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- On SDG 2 (zero hunger), the VNRs identified mechanisms to: support sustainable agricultural production through small-scale and family farmers; reduce land degradation; and conserve agricultural biodiversity.
- On SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing), some countries reported a drop in maternal mortality rate and the mortality rate of children aged five and under. The prevalence of tuberculosis and malaria are also declining in some countries, but non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory disease, and cancer continue to rise in many areas.
- On SDG 4 (quality education), countries emphasized the need for education policy to ensure inclusion, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to reach marginalized groups.
- On SDG 5 (gender equality), over half of the reporting countries described measures and policies to address violence against women and girls during the pandemic.
- On SDG 6, countries reported increasing issues related to water scarcity – due to the effects of climate change – but said the pandemic has raised awareness of proper sanitation and hygiene practices.
- On SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), countries reported on efforts to guarantee access to energy for all, promote electricity generation from renewable sources of energy, and phase out the use of fossil fuels.
- On SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), several countries reported on use of artificial intelligence (AI), digitalization, and a digital economy.
- On SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), countries reported progress in upgrading, diversifying, and greening infrastructure and industry. Reports also highlighted a focus on advancing digitalization and improving health infrastructure.
- On SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), all countries’ VNRs addressed income inequalities. The majority reported this problem has remained largely the same or gotten worse.
- On SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), many VNRs stressed the need to ensure housing quality and affordability, improve infrastructure, and reduce pollution.
- On SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), VNRs highlighted sustainable food systems, sustainable lifestyles, sustainable public procurement, sustainable building and construction, sustainable tourism, and consumer information. They also stressed the implementation of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production.
- On SDG 13 (climate action), many reports described the impacts of climate change on agriculture, water, and human settlements, and stressed the importance of disaster risk preparedness.
- On SDG 14 (life below water), the synthesis notes that a majority of VNRs dedicated a specific section to this goal, including several landlocked countries.
- On SDG 15 (life on land), reports noted that many of the SDG 15 targets are far from being met, but progress has been made to increase protected areas, preserve wetlands, and increase forest coverage.
- On SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), efforts to achieve progress toward SDG 16 were “widely reported” by the 2020 VNRs.
- On SDG 17 (partnership for the Goals), reports noted that before the pandemic, several aspects were already challenged, such as mobilizing financial resources, the multilateral trading system, and data availability.
The VNRs are a central focus of the annual HLPF sessions held under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In 2020, countries were given the option of livestreaming their presentation, sending pre-recorded presentations, or mixing these two options. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin produced a summary of the 47 VNRs, with links to the full documents. In May 2020, 48 countries were scheduled to present VNRs.
In September 2020, DESA released a synthesis of the 2020 VNRs with a specific focus on the reported impacts of COVID-19 in each country. [Publication: 2020 Voluntary National Reviews Synthesis Report] [SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of 2020 HLPF]