A coalition of stakeholders led by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation has issued an independent assessment of the 46 VNR reports and of a sample of civil society reports that were submitted to the HLPF in 2018.
The report assesses the 2018 VNR reports on components that are needed to make progress on the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, namely governance and institutional mechanisms, policies, and means of implementation.
The report also reviews VNRs against the UN Secretary-General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines and assesses how VNR reporting is evolving over time through a comparative analysis of the review reports in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
30 January 2019: The year 2019 is an important one for the international community working on the SDGs: it not only marks the “minus one” year deadline for achieving the 2020 targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but it is also characterized by various high-level intergovernmental meetings that should keep the momentum going on the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.
In this context, and with a view to provide useful insights and suggestions to guide improved implementation and reporting on the SDGs, a coalition of stakeholders led by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) has issued an independent assessment of the 46 Voluntary National Review (VNR) reports and of a sample of civil society reports that were submitted to the July 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
The report titled, ‘Progressing National SDGs Implementation: An Independent Assessment of the Voluntary National Review Reports Submitted to the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018,’ assesses the 2018 VNR reports on components that are needed to make progress on the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, namely governance and institutional mechanisms, policies, and means of implementation. It also examines VNRs against the UN Secretary General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines, and assesses how VNR reporting is evolving over time through a comparative analysis of the review reports in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Among its key findings, the report shows that:
- Institutional mechanisms for implementation and coordination of the SDGs at the national level are largely established, but there are relatively few examples of formal processes and mechanisms that have been put in place to allow for more widespread and regular engagement with stakeholders.
- Policies reported in VNRs tend to focus on the SDGs per se, with less emphasis on the broader 2030 Agenda and its transformational principles, such as leave no one behind and inter-generational responsibility.
- Most countries have selected national priorities for the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, the most common being related to social outcomes and the economy.
- While a majority of countries gave a detailed account of their progress on sustainable development, gaps remain regarding inclusion of information on best practice, lessons learned, gaps and priorities going forward.
- Most countries have not costed 2030 Agenda implementation, but have identified public and private, domestic and international sources of finance to support implementation.
- While a majority of countries provided information on ways to review progress at the national level, information on data availability, including disaggregated data, is often unclear or not articulated.
Assessing the 2018 VNRs: an Overview
The assessment report outlines general trends across the 46 VNR countries for a series of pillars examined under ‘governance mechanisms and institutional arrangements,’ ‘policies,’ and ‘means of implementation.’ In general, it finds that country progress on establishing these building blocks for 2030 Agenda implementation still varies substantially across countries. Key conclusions for each pillar are outlined below.
Governance and institutional mechanisms
Leadership, governance and institutional mechanisms: According to the assessment, the 2018 VNR reports suggest that institutional mechanisms for implementation and coordination of the SDGs are largely established, with 31 of 46 VNR reports referring to the use of new or existing councils or committees to govern SDG implementation. Among other recommendations, the report calls for assigning responsibilities for 2030 Agenda implementation across government institutions to create ownership, lay out lines of accountability between various national stakeholders, and formalize non-state actor engagement in governance structures related to the 2030 Agenda.
Stakeholder engagement in 2030 Agenda implementation: Per the assessment, 26 VNR countries consulted with stakeholders around setting national priorities, and 43 engaged groups around the development of their VNR, but there are still relatively few examples of formal processes and mechanisms that have been established to allow for more widespread and regular engagement. The report stresses the need to, inter alia: include non-state actors in institutional mechanisms or drafting teams responsible for the VNR report; and ensure a formal response from governments to civil society reports.
Baseline or gap analysis: 32 countries reporting in 2018 noted that they carried out some kind of assessment of the SDGs or planned to carry out one in order to examine policies and/or data to inform 2030 Agenda implementation or establish baselines, according to the report. It recommends that countries: conduct an assessment that identifies gaps in existing policies and programmes; set out baselines from which to measure progress; and assess where additional efforts are needed.
Incorporation of the 2030 Agenda into national frameworks and policies: As indicated in the report, 23 of the 46 reporting countries have incorporated the SDGs into national development frameworks directly, and three have developed a specific SDG implementation strategy. The report finds that VNR countries tend to focus on the SDGs per se, with less emphasis on the broader 2030 Agenda and its transformational principles, namely leave no one behind, inter-generational responsibility, universality, human rights-based approaches, and planetary boundaries. It notes that having existing policies that already align to the SDGs is not sufficient, and calls for integrating the 2030 Agenda and its Goals into plans and strategies based on an identification of areas where further progress is needed. It also recommends that VNR reports demonstrate how their approaches to sustainable development are transforming, using the principles of the 2030 Agenda as a framework, not just the SDGs.
Nationalizing the 2030 Agenda: The assessment finds that while 35 countries have selected national priorities for the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, only seven countries have completed the process of developing national targets and indicators. The most commonly cited priorities are those related to social outcomes (32) and the economy (30), followed by the environment (26), governance related issues (21), means of implementation (14), inequality (13), and culture or issues related to national identify (6). The report suggests that countries identify national sustainable development priorities that recognize the inter-linkages between society, the economy, and the environment, and develop national and sub-national targets and indicators through an inclusive and participatory process.
Integration and policy coherence: The assessment indicates that 28 countries reported on all the 17 SDGs in the VNRs, while others reported on a more limited set of SDGs. It notes that while 30 countries gave a detailed account of their progress on sustainable development, gaps remain regarding inclusion of information on best practice, lessons learned, gaps and priorities going forward. It also finds that 25 countries made limited reference to linkages between the sustainable development dimensions in their Goal-by-Goal analysis, “tending to take a silo approach,” and that less than half of the countries examined referred to “policy coherence for sustainable development.” Among other recommendations, the report calls on countries to: assess all 17 Goals in their VNR reports, “respecting the indivisible nature of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs;” include a summary of best practices, lessons learned, gaps and priorities, and areas where support is needed; and demonstrate the contributions to realizing the SDGs not only “at home” but also abroad, in line with policy coherence.
Means of implementation
Implementing the 2030 Agenda: The report states that most countries have not costed 2030 Agenda implementation, but have identified public and private, domestic and international sources of finance to support implementation. It adds that 25 VNR reports provided no information on inclusion of the SDGs in national budgets or budgeting processes, and mentions data availability and monitoring progress as the most commonly cited challenges to implementation, followed by mobilizing financial resources. The report notes the need to: integrate the SDGs into national and subnational budgets and identify sources of finance to ensure that resources are allocated for implementation; and clearly specify capacity constraints to better assess gaps, including in identifying where greater domestic and international efforts are needed.
Leave no one behind: Per the report, countries most commonly cited persons with disabilities, children and youth, women, and elderly people as the groups at risk of being left behind. The report notes that only 16 VNRs provided a detailed account of efforts to leave no one behind, and countries tended to highlight their existing policies and approaches to address this challenge, rather than signaling the development of new approaches. Among other recommendations, the report calls on countries to demonstrate, in their VNR, how the “leave no one behind” approach is being translated into action, and to report on the outcomes of these efforts.
Awareness raising and localization: Based on the assessment’s findings, 38 VNR countries reported on awareness raising activities on the 2030 Agenda, and nine countries referred to the VNR process as part of awareness-raising efforts. Also, 30 countries provided information on efforts to localize the 2030 Agenda, and Benin, Greece and Spain have included dedicated sections on efforts by local governments to advance the SDGs in their reviews. The report recommends to: adopt innovative ways to raise awareness of the SDGs among the general public with a view to long term engagement; and strengthen local institutional structures and resources, as well as capacities for implementation.
Partnership to realize the 2030 Agenda: The assessment indicates that: 30 VNR reports provided information on specific partnerships and initiatives carried out by civil society to realize the SDGs; 18 VNRs reported on efforts by parliamentarians to support SDG implementation; 28 countries provided information on specific initiatives with the private sector; and 23 countries reported on the contributions from academics or experts. On development partners, the report identifies the provision of finance as the role most commonly identified by countries, followed by technical assistance. It underlines the need to support and develop partnerships with a variety of non-state actors, and for providing details on priority areas for support from the international community.
Measurement and reporting: While 31 countries provided information on ways to review progress at the national level, information on data availability, including disaggregated data, is often unclear or not articulated, the report says. On reporting approaches, the assessment indicates that three countries highlighted the role of their supreme audit institutions (SAIs), two noted parliamentary discussions on progress, and three highlighted reporting to cabinet or the parliament. Among other suggestions, the report calls on countries to: further report on data availability, including disaggregated data; improve data availability; and link reviews of progress for 2030 Agenda implementation to parliamentary oversight mechanisms to ensure accountability.
Evolution of VNRs since 2016: Improvements, Status Quo or Backsliding?
The assessment report is the third edition in an annual series commissioned by civil society organizations following an independent assessments of the 2016 VNRs published by Bond, and the 2017 VNRs published by the CCIC. Therefore, this year’s report is able to review the 2018 VNRs against those presented in 2016 and 2017, identifying ways in which national reporting to the HLPF is evolving over time. Compared to previous years, the report finds that VNRs have improved on various aspects of SDG implementation. For example, relative to the 2017 VNRs, it notes a significant increase in participation by non-state actors in formal governance mechanisms. It also notes: a marked improvement in terms of reporting on all SDGs in 2018, and in reporting on contributions from civil society, parliamentarians, the private sector and academia; improved reporting on the means of implementation, notably international public finance, trade, technology and systemic issues; and an increase in reporting of best practices.
Countries have made progress in reporting on all SDGs, but gaps remain on reporting on action to leave no one behind.
The assessment of the 2018 national reviews also finds that countries have made progress in terms of: incorporating the SDGs into national policies; developing institutional mechanisms for implementation; and building partnerships and/or monitoring and evaluating progress.
However, the report indicates that: fewer countries than in 2017 prepared an assessment of the SDGs (in terms of policies or data that could inform the implementation of the 2030 Agenda) or planned to carry one out; gaps still remain in terms of reporting on lessons learned or areas in which countries would like to learn from others; there is still limited reporting on progress in leaving no one behind despite the inclusion of this component in the UN Secretary General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines; more work is needed to promote local implementation of the 2030 Agenda; and VNR reports continue to not be structured according to the outline of the UN Secretary-General voluntary common reporting guidelines, although they capture most elements of those guidelines.
About the report
The report assesses VNR reports from Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Benin, Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, Niger, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Switzerland, Togo, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and Viet Nam. It also reviews civil society reports for these countries, when available, and includes an annex that outlines the methodology used for the assessment and highlights key findings for each of the 46 countries reviewed.
The report was guided by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from: ActionAid; Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD); the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); Bond; the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD); CCIC; Forus; the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD); Sightsavers; Together 2030; World Vision International; and WWF-UK. It was written by Shannon Kindornay (Independent Consultant and Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University), with contributions from Javier Surasky (The Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional, CEPEI), Nathalie Risse (IISD), and Anas El Hasnaoui (ANND).
The executive summary is available in English, French and Spanish. [Publication: Progressing National SDGs Implementation: An Independent Assessment of the Voluntary National Review Reports Submitted to the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018] [CCIC Report Webpage] [Executive Summary – English] [Executive Summary – French] [Executive Summary – Spanish] [Annexes]