‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’ was the theme of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in 2017, where 44 countries presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Also this year and for the first time, a thematic review was conducted for SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, and 14 (see background document).

Follow-up and review (including thematic reviews for cross-cutting issues) are crucial elements for the successful implementation of the SDGs, and living up to the principle of no one left behind. They are part of the global learning process towards sustainability. After the HLPFs in 2016 and 2017, it is becoming increasingly clear that the interconnected nature of the SDGs requires an appropriate cross-cutting review and follow-up at all levels!

Here, we want to share the outcomes of a pilot that looked at the SDGs reviewed at the HLPF 2017 with a soil and land lens. We provide a plan to conduct a follow-up exercise, from the perspective of nutrition. We are building on an article published a year ago outlining a concrete proposal and invitation to support the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda through thematic reviews.

Why do we need thematic reviews to support the integrated implementation of the SDGs?

Implementing the universal 2030 Agenda is a complex process that requires an integrated and coherent approach offering new opportunities to work across different sectors. A number of key dilemmas surround this important challenge: How to deal with such complexity? How to support Member States in their implementation of the SDGs? How to ensure that interlinkages and synergies between SDGs and countries are taken into account? Undeniably, the HLPF as the hub to discuss the review of the SDGs places great importance on addressing these questions. However, it is also a forum confronted with ambitious schedules and lengthy discussions, which inevitably leave limited time to duly address these highly complex issues. The Thematic Reviews of the SDGs at this year’s HLPF showed the need to increase integration between the goals with segments dedicated to discussing each SDG individually and a separate session on interlinkages. Discussions at the HLPF need to move from a series of rushed statements to a meaningful dialogue and exchange on key issues that allow the achievement of the SDGs. The review of interlinkages between the SDGs at this year’s HLPF focused greatly on the national level, which is very positive since global solutions need to be translated to where the action is. However, there was a clear lack of a champion at the HLPF to effectively bring together national level interlinkages to the global level.

We believe that Thematic Reviews can allow for a crosscutting review of the goals and targets in order to achieve the SDGs as a package, rather than by looking at progress on individual goals only. Making the HLPF a success requires systematic preparation. Preparatory processes, such as ours, can serve as a resource and support the HLPF delegates’ work by offering a condensed and targeted reading of the SDGs under closer review.

What we learned from piloting a contribution to the HLPF thematic reviews with a land and soil lens

The Global Soil Week (GSW17), held in Berlin, Germany on 22–24 May 2017, was co-hosted by twenty-three partners, including four governments and a wide range of intergovernmental and academic organizations, as well as civil society networks. The GSW17 looked at the six SDGs under review by the HLPF 2017 from a soil and land perspective. The outcomes included a set of policy messages on sustainable soil management and responsible land governance, as well as a report on lessons learned from the methodology that was applied. The Participants of the GSW17 created linkages between sustainable soil and land management and governance and the six SDGs up for the Thematic Review in 2017, as well as to crucial issues under SDGs 15, 16 and 17.[1]

After conducting this exercise, we are convinced that preparatory processes contributing to the thematic reviews of the SDGs should adopt an approach framed by 2030 Agenda principles of Universality, Inclusion (to Leave No One Behind), and Integration. Preparatory processes ahead of the HLPF should also aim to serve as bridge to empower different actors to share their priorities on the implementation of the SDGs in order to raise accountability and awareness of the 2030 Agenda. They should highlight gaps, synergies, and progress; and complement available data and SDG indicators with other forms of knowledge. Proceeding in this way; they can catalyze SDG implementation.

The detailed methodological conclusions that were drawn from the GSW17 can be found in the final report of the GSW17. We believe these conclusions will be beneficial for SDG Thematic Reviews in general, and especially, we will aim to use these lessons for a plan to support Thematic Reviews from the perspective of nutrition in the coming years.

Finding systemic solutions to address complex systems: The case of agriculture and nutrition

Complex systems, such as agriculture, will require systemic solutions: nutrition, connected to poverty, health, sustainable consumption and production and to the protection of natural resources, is crosscutting to the SDGs. Therefore, looking at all relevant SDGs from the perspective of nutrition contributes to the Thematic Reviews of the 2030 Agenda.

Looking at all relevant SDGs from the perspective of nutrition contributes to the Thematic Reviews of the 2030 Agenda.

Malnutrition is a pervasive issue preventing sustainable development globally. Across Africa and Asia, the estimated impact of undernutrition on gross domestic product (GDP) is 11% every year. But undernutrition is not the only issue. The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) 2016 Global Nutrition Report shows that 44% of countries with data available (57 out of 129 countries) now experience very serious levels of both undernutrition and adult overweight and obesity. It further notes that, despite good progress in some countries, the world is off track to reduce and reverse this trend. One crucial aspect of talking malnutrition is addressing world hunger, but efforts there are not on the right track. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have all jointly acknowledged at this year’s HLPF that the gains made in fighting hunger are at serious risk and smallholder farmers need to be put at the center of food policies. Similarly, sustainable agriculture is an important means to poverty reduction and improved nutrition, yet domestic and foreign investment in agriculture is declining.

Improving nutrition could be seen as a decisive indicator of how well we manage to implement the 2030 Agenda. From a systems thinking approach, nutrition depends on several areas related to many of the SDGs. We must pay increased attention to the interlinkages between nutrition and needed efforts towards more sustainable food systems that ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; to improved health; to access rights to natural resources for the poor; and to addressing climate change.

Reviewing progress across the SDGs related to nutrition could help us increase coordinated actions to ensure local innovation to improve natural resource management, the development of institutional frameworks and inclusive and cross-sectoral national policies to ensure the right to food. Ultimately, a continued support of the thematic reviews of the SDGs looking at sets of crosscutting and interrelated issues will contribute to the effective implementation of our shared 2030 Agenda.

Getting nutrition right represents a tremendous challenge, but, it is a worthwhile effort. Therefore, we are partnering with the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture to support the implementation of the SDGs from the perspective of nutrition by preparing contributions to the Thematic Reviews of the SDGs. We are very much looking forward to building a wide range of partnerships to engage in this endeavor. Do let us know if you would like to be involved and informed of this process.

Alexander Müller and Ivonne Lobos Alva, TMG – Thinktank for Sustainability, Germany

For more information contact: ivonne.lobosalva@tmg-thinktank.com

* The work on nutrition takes place in the framework of the project “Die Förderung von Ernährungssicherheit durch eine integrierte Umsetzung der Agenda 2030” with support by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

[1] SDG15: Life on Land; SDG16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions; SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals.