By Margherita Musollino-Berg and Nathalie Risse

From 27-29 May 2016, UN Member States and other stakeholders will gather in Antalya, Turkey, for the comprehensive high-level midterm review of the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for the Decade 2011-2020 (IPoA) as called for by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in December 2014 (resolution A/RES/69/231).

In Antalya, the international community will assess the state of play of sustainable development in its most vulnerable segment, namely the 48 least developed countries, where over 40% of the population still faces unacceptable levels of deprivation, and structural impediments to growth seem intractable.

Taking into account the decisions contained in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3), and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the midterm review is expected to redouble global efforts to assist LDCs in their path to sustainable development and graduation out of the category. Agreement is also expected to be reached on LDC-specific new or existing global initiatives, such as a technology bank, investment promotion regimes, crisis mitigation and resilience building, as well as better, more focused and scaled up official development assistance (ODA).

Considering that sustainable development is a key concept included in both the IPoA and the 2030 Agenda, this article looks at how LDCs are advancing sustainable development at the national level, and hence seeks to contribute to the reflection of participants who will gather in Antalya at the end of May. It discusses the similarities and synergies between the 2030 Agenda and the IPoA and the need for coherence between the two processes to ensure that “no one is left behind.” It also highlights some initiatives taken so far by LDCs to translate the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs into practice.

The 2030 Agenda and the IPoA: Complementary approaches to advance sustainable development implementation?

The IPoA, adopted at the Fourth UN Conference on the LDCs in 2011, charts out the international community’s vision and strategy for the sustainable development of LDCs for the next decade. The Istanbul Programme articulates the LDCs’ priorities and the policy measures needed to address their unique vulnerabilities and reverse their marginalization from the world economy. To this end, the IPoA gives priority focus to structural transformation and productive capacity building as key to promoting poverty eradication and sustainable development in LDCs and enabling their graduation out of the category. In addition, the IPoA recognizes that the LDCs represent an enormous human and natural resource potential for world economic growth, welfare and prosperity, and that addressing their special development needs will contribute to the cause of peace, prosperity and sustainable development for all.

As outlined during the UNGA’s special thematic event on ‘Building Synergy and Coherence in the implementation of the Istanbul Plan of Action in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda’ on 11 February 2016, there are several common priority areas between the IPoA and the 2030 Agenda. These areas include: developing productive capacity for infrastructure, industrialization, and energy; building on social and human development, including through improved health status and quality education; increasing resilience to external shocks; and strengthening institutions and governance. Furthermore, it was noted that the two agreements embraced similar approaches for implementation, such as promoting the importance of building new and existing partnerships, technology transfer, support for capacity building, and improving data collection and accountability for better monitoring of results.

As a result of the active engagement of the LDC Group in all phases of the intergovernmental negotiations of the 2030 Agenda, their special needs and priorities are well recognized and firmly embodied in the fabric of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs. LDCs are mentioned more than 40 times in the Agenda. References to the LDCs are contained in all SDGs, except for Goal 6 on water and sanitation which does not refer to any specific group of countries. While in many cases LDCs are mentioned along with other vulnerable groups of Member States, important targets refer exclusively to LDC priorities, such as in the areas of agricultural productive capacity, ODA, technology and investment promotion regimes. In addition, target 8.1 calls for sustaining per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7% gross domestic product growth per annum in LDCs; target 8.a calls for increasing Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular LDCs; target 9.2 highlights the need to significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in LDCs by 2030; and target 9.c notes the need to strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in LDCs by 2020.

Translating Sustainable Development Commitments and SDGs into Practice: Early Initiatives by LDCs

As noted in a previous IISD RS Policy Update, many have called 2016 “the year of implementation,” and some first movers have already announced how their countries are implementing or planning to translate sustainable development and the SDGs into practice. Among the LDCs, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nepal and Vanuatu have announced steps for translating the 2030 Agenda into tangible actions at the national level.

Ethiopia: The Government of Ethiopia announced in November 2015 that it is mainstreaming the SDGs and the IPoA in its second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II), which runs from 2015/16 to 2019/20 (see: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, November 2015). During the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) convened by the UNGA President in April 2016, Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, reported that the government has conducted a series of consultations across the country on the role of stakeholders in monitoring and implementing the SDGs, and has developed a “matrix” for tracking SDG implementation (see: ENB, vol. 32, no. 25).

Liberia: During the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the SDGs, Marjon Kamara, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liberia, stated that Liberia formally launched the “sustainable development agenda” at the national level in January 2016. She added that her country plans to “align and synergize” the Liberian development plan ‘National Vision 2030′, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda, and agreed to establish a national steering committee to guide the process of domestication and implementation of the 2030 Agenda. As reported by IISD RS Sustainable Development Policy and Practice, the government also announced, in January 2016, that it seeks “significant progress” in both urban and rural areas, and will prioritize SDG 3 (health), SDG 4 (education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 9 (infrastructure), SDG 16 (peace and justice) and SDG 17 (means of implementation and partnerships).

Nepal: Kamal Thapa, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nepal, announced that his country has conducted preparations to implement the 2030 Agenda including: the promulgation of a rights-based constitution that is expected to help “create a conducive environment for implementation of the SDGs” and the preparation of a national assessment report on each SDG, seeking to inform the formulation and implementation of a new national development plan set to begin mid-July 2016. The assessment report examines the current status of the proposed SDGs, their targets in Nepal and the existing enabling policy environment and institutions for their operationalization. It also identifies issues and challenges in implementing the SDGs, and provides comments and recommendations on the SDGs and their targets from Nepal’s perspective.

Vanuatu: Vanuatu reported that it has started incorporating the 2030 Agenda into its national sustainable development plan, as well as undertaking major infrastructure projects to enhance productivity and contribute to achieving the SDGs (see: ENB, vol. 32, no. 25 and UN coverage of the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the SDGs). Vanuatu also participated in the 2014 UN Development Group’s dialogue process on “localizing” the post-2015 development agenda. Discussions addressed implementing the Agenda at the local level, local governance to achieve the SDGs and stakeholder involvement in intergovernmental processes.

Other LDCs also have outlined initiatives to advance sustainable development implementation. The Prime Minister of Timor-Leste is among leaders from eight countries (also including Liberia) that form the High-Level Group in support of implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Group seeks to “lead by example” to ensure that the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs “are implemented at all levels of society.” Members of the g7+ (an association of countries that are or have been affected by conflict, which includes several LDCs), have agreed to jointly monitor 20 SDG indicators to ensure that fragile and conflict-afflicted states are not left behind in achieving the 2030 Agenda. This group has also announced that it will set up a portal for joint monitoring. Furthermore, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Togo and Uganda have announced that they will participate in the first round of voluntary national reviews of the 2030 Agenda at the 2016 session of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

These experiences show that countries have taken steps to move forward on sustainable development implementation through, inter alia: institutional measures; the assessment of SDGs nationally; the integration of the IPoA, the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs into national plans or strategies; consultations with stakeholders; and actions to monitor SDG indicators and to follow-up and review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Those can inspire other LDCs in their reflection on how to align country initiatives with the 2030 Agenda, while also making progress on the IPoA.

What Next?

The 2030 Agenda, taken together with the other global agreements reached in 2015 – namely the AAAA, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement on climate change – provides a reinvigorated, holistic, action-oriented policy framework within which LDCs can pursue their own national sustainable development strategies to achieve their IPoA objectives with strengthened, coherent and reliable support by their development partners.

The revitalized global partnership for sustainable development is expected to deliver results based on the fundamental principles of “leaving no one behind” and “ensuring a life of dignity for all.” Many are closely watching to see how the LDCs navigate this “new” partnership, given that the LDCs lagged farthest behind in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Some have said that progress by these countries will be the litmus test for the new global partnership.

It is important to keep in mind that achieving the new, expanded goals will require an unprecedented, profound economic transformation across all LDCs (and their partners in the global community) in the relatively short span of time of just 15 years. Considerable financial costs will be incurred in the pursuit of the SDGs. Financial and capacity constraints in most LDCs suggest that the costs of achieving the SDGs and economic transformation will have to be met by increased flows of ODA and facilitation of other sources of financing, if LDCs are to avoid falling further behind.

While recognizing that the 2030 Agenda is universal, some have argued that the international community should give the LDCs much greater priority than it did during the MDGs, including by establishing more effective partnerships with the LDCs, based on mutual accountability and firmly guided by the national development plans and ambitions of LDC governments.

As pointed out by Gyan Chandra Acharya, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the LDCs, in his presentation of the UN Secretary-General Report on the implementation of the IPoA (A/71/66-E/2016/11) on 28 March 2011, “Owing to the advances that have been made in science and technology, knowledge and information and to the availability of a larger global pool of financial resources, eradication of poverty is not only desirable but also possible with stronger international cooperation and ever stronger national efforts. The world has so much at stake in the least developed countries. If the world can do it in the least developed countries, it can do it anywhere.” With this in mind, it is encouraging to see that several LDCs have already taken steps in the process of “translating” and mainstreaming of the 2030 Agenda into their own national development plans and policies, considering that the new development countdown until 2030 has just started this year.

The midterm review in Antalya will provide, at a minimum, an opportunity for development partners to reconsider their development cooperation strategies and redirect ODA towards those most in need and to where it can produce the most development-effective results. It should indeed refocus global attention on those countries that are intrinsically least resilient and least able to generate resources and attract the large-scale investment needed to accelerate the pace of progress towards the multifaceted, all-encompassing 17 SDGs.

While this month’s meeting is expected to result in the adoption of a political declaration, and its conclusions should constitute an important contribution to the 2016 session of the HLPF, its success will, in fine, depend on the implementation of initiatives that have a positive sustainable development impact on LDCs. Hence, coherence between the IPoA and 2030 Agenda processes will be critical to ensure effective implementation, monitoring and follow-up of the SDGs on the ground as well as at the global level.


Margherita Musollino-Berg, Programme Officer, is currently on special leave from the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS).

Nathalie Risse, Ph.D., is the Thematic Expert on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, IISD Reporting Services.

The views and opinions expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations Secretariat.