Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The 2018 HLPF featured the presentation of 46 VNRs, including 11 presentations on the final day.

These VNR presentations showcased country progress on the SDGs, particularly those SDGs under review at the 2018 HLPF.

VNR presentations also addressed challenges and reflected on the role of civil society in both implementing the SDGs and preparing VNRs.

18 July 2018: The Ministerial Meeting of the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) featured the presentation of 46 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) over three days. On the final day, 11 countries presented their VNRs, bringing the total number of participating countries to 46.

The HLPF convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 9-18 July 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, with the Ministerial Meeting taking place from 16-18 July, and held jointly with ECOSOC’s High-level Segment. The meeting focused on the theme of ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.’

The Bahamas’ VNR presentation noted the vulnerability of The Bahamas given its location in a volatile hurricane zone, and outlined challenges, including in sectors related to poverty, youth unemployment, education, health, energy efficiency, and coastal resilience. He outlined SDG-related plans to promote land reform, empowerment, and backyard farming. Romania’s VNR presentation described work across national and local governments to advance the SDGs, and highlighted: breaking down silos to address a complex agenda; the need for stability to support human rights; and the importance of SDG implementation, commencing with individual lifestyles.

Lebanon’s VNR presentation emphasized the country adopted a bottom-up and “whole of government” approach to SDG implementation. The presentation highlighted good progress in education, heath, women, poverty reduction and development of small and medium enterprises and recognized the need for more work in areas improving statistical capabilities. Hungary’s VNR presentation focused on: water management; a sustainable energy strategy, which includes a programme to promote the use of electric cars; a focus on sustainable cities, which includes housing, climate change and air quality-related components; and a national strategy on sustainable consumption and production (SCP).

Malta’s VNR presentation highlighted: a high and steady economic growth rate; investments in skills development and health and education, especially on life-long opportunities for education and training; a high employment rate; and efforts to ensure gender equality and social inclusion, including of persons with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. Poland’s VNR presentation described social, economic and environmental initiatives, including ones to: help families with children through cash transfers; assist the elderly; promote innovation, research, and development through tax relief; help start-ups; and deal with air pollution. In response to questions, Poland noted measures to implement a circular economy; address water management; and tackle air pollution as part of efforts to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Singapore’s VNR presentation highlighted: the implementation of integrated closed-loop systems for recycling water and waste materials; an integrated long-term planning for sustainable cities, including an emphasis on urban greenery; and a long-lasting commitment to combine environmentalism and development, particularly in the area of water management. On SDG 13 (climate action), Singapore said it is one of the first Asian nations to implement a national carbon tax and described a Climate Action Package, which aims to develop climate resilience capacity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Spain’s VNR presentation focused on: high levels of inequality and youth unemployment; high levels of gender violence; large pay gaps between men and women; high levels of women’s participation in politics (11 out of the 16 ministers are women); and high vulnerability to climate change.

Saudi Arabia’s VNR presentation highlighted: a national water strategy to achieve universal clean water access; the involvement of women and youth in urban planning; and local partnerships for SDG implementation. Responding to questions, Saudi Arabia noted close collaboration between ministers and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund plans to increase investments in renewables. Paraguay’s VNR presentation addressed institutional processes such as the establishment of audits and indicators for monitoring progress on the SDGs; programmes fighting violence against children and adolescents; and ongoing efforts to improve the well-being and living standards of indigenous peoples and rural communities, among other actions. Paraguay identified the need for greater statistical capacities as a future challenge.

Qatar’s VNR presentation showcased: plans to increase economic growth; improvements in the literacy rate; reduced youth unemployment; and the country’s universal access to clean drinking water. Qatar said it leads the Middle East and North Africa peace index.

On stakeholder participation, The Bahamas said it does not have a strong culture of engagement with civic organizations. Romania acknowledged the importance of involving universities in the VNRs. Lebanon highlighted the inclusion of CSOs in the VNR drafting process and elaborated on private sector involvement in the 2030 Agenda, which took place primarily through the UN Global Compact network for Lebanon. Hungary described youth participation in the SDGs and efforts to promote inclusivity of disadvantaged people, such as Roma communities. Singapore and Spain both shared their countries’ multi-stakeholder approaches to SDG implementation, with Spain explaining it has 50 organizing platforms for civil society participation and decentralization in SDG implementation. Saudi Arabia highlighted coordinated support of the private sector and civil society. Qatar emphasized the contributions of civil society to SDG implementation and the drafting of the VNR.

Several countries highlighted alignment of national development plans and strategies with the 2030 Agenda, including Poland and Paraguay. Malta elaborated on a national law mandating mainstreaming of sustainable development in all policies. Saudi Arabia described the alignment between Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ and the SDGs. Spain said it has a national committee for SDG implementation and a research and development strategy for the SDGs.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), the 46 VNRs presented during the 2018 session provided a “good snapshot of action on the ground, but also of the numerous challenges faced by national and local actors.” The ENB noted that the challenge of capacity and financial resources, notably in a number of developing countries, was a recurring issue among the VNRs, and reflected that the level of participation of non-state actors in the preparation of the VNRs varied among countries in scale and depth. The ENB underscored some frustration among participants at the lack of follow-up to and feedback on the VNRs, and suggestions for more clear and consistent reporting methodologies. [IISD ENB summary of HLPF 2018] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on VNR presentations, day 1] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on VNR presentations, day 2]


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