10 January 2017
SDG Implementation: What’s on the Horizon for 2017?
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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We, the editors of the SDG Knowledge Hub, will be watching for a number of trends in 2017, including whether the traditional issue-areas silos "learn to dance," as well as what the second round of Voluntary National Reviews brings to our understanding of SDG implementation.

We will also watch how global indicators contribute to tracking accountability to the 2030 Agenda, and we will follow the development of partnerships and finance.

As wind blows in the sails of 2017 – or ‘Year Two’ if you work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – we, the editors at the SDG Knowledge Hub, will be watching for a number of trends on the horizon. SDG-related integration, national monitoring and reporting, and partnerships and finance are expected to take shape this year as national governments continue to bring the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to life.

Are the Silos Learning to Dance?

Many argue that the individual Goals are not new to the sustainable development discourse. It is the emphasis on the universality of the Goals, the need to implement all of them, and the interlinkages among the Goals and targets that make the 2030 Agenda a new way of doing things. How are actors teaching the traditional silos to “dance” with each other to achieve this transformation?

The international community has an opportunity to embrace these linkages through its consideration of oceans issues, including challenges such as pollution, waste management, climate change and food security. The UN High-Level Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14 (life below water) will provide a chance to see if integration is being pursued at many levels. Critical, long-standing issues, such as plastics pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing and destructive fishing practices will receive special scrutiny during this meeting. But will the cross-sectoral linkages with other SDGs be incorporated into the discourse?

Discussions on forests will also provide an opportunity in the first half of 2017 for the international community to engage in the integrated consideration of the Goals. The UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) will meet to adopt its Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030 (UNSPF), which will align its voluntary Global Forest Goals and associated targets with the SDGs, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as other global strategies and agendas. The UNSPF will elevate the role of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests as well as partnerships with other UN entities, regional organizations and stakeholders. Will the Plan spur collaborative action on the SDGs? We will also learn more as it provides input to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on the cross-sectoral contributions of forests to the SDGs.

Another arena in which this integration could be displayed will be within the Group of 20. Germany, which will hold the G20 Presidency in 2017, has already announced that the Group “wishes to make headway on ambitious implementation” of the Paris Agreement. To that end, it will aim to link climate and energy policy more closely, thereby integrating SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy). The document outlining the priorities for the G20 2017 Summit also draws a link between climate change, food security and migration.

Packing a Cargo of Targets and National Reports

After 22 countries presented national reports on SDG progress and challenges in 2016, almost twice as many have volunteered to participate in the second round of voluntary national reviews (VNRs) taking place this July. Will the second round of countries report that they learned from the early lessons of the first round? Has the HLPF learned how to use the VNRs to facilitate peer learning by national governments?

High-level national reporting will be complemented by action at multiple levels within countries to set individual targets. For example, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP) will assess the efforts of over 100 Parties to establish their own targets to achieve the goal of land degradation neutrality (SDG 15.3). The lessons learned within and across countries through this process can provide multiple entry points to review implementation. With VNRs serving as the most visible reflection of SDG implementation efforts, we will be watching to assess whether they connect to efforts to achieve changes on the ground.

Calibrating the Compass: Accurate Indicators

The SDG framework emphasizes accountability through the mandated inclusion of global indicators. The 220 proposed indicators, which have been welcomed by the UN Statistical Commission as a starting point, promise to provide comparability in measuring countries’ efforts to advance each SDG target. There is pressure on the indicator framework, also, to ensure close adherence between what is measured each year in the SDG Progress Report from the UN Secretariat, and the ambitions set out in the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets.

As the SDG indicators undergo the remaining stages of refinement before all UN Member States approve them, national governments and stakeholders are taking steps to use the indicators in their own countries. In ‘year two,’ more countries are expected to formalize the incorporation of the SDGs into their national development plans and strategies. In addition, the UN system is assessing data needs and capacity building needs regarding data. These challenges offer one highlight expected to come from the discussions at the UN World Data Forum in January. Will the data revolution bring benefits to implementation this year?

Partnerships and Financing on the Crest

The SDGs’ means of implementation (MOI) is the subject of several ongoing processes at the UN and among governments. How will financing and partnerships, two crucial strands of MOI, be put into practice at all levels? How will the private sector be engaged, and how will momentum and resourcing for implementation be ensured in 2017?

In a December briefing, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Peter Thomson reminded Member States that implementing the SDGs is estimated to require annual investments of US$5-7 trillion. He said it is possible to establish sustainable financial systems that promote long-term investments for sustainable growth, foster social inclusivity, and encourage environmentally sustainable practices, but it will require governments to make “hard choices,” and he stressed the importance of harnessing private capital flows towards sustainable development. Thomson will hold an event on SDG financing in April/May 2017. Meanwhile, G20 countries have mandated the Financial Stability Board to develop new guidelines for boosting green finance flows, which are due to be published in early 2017.

Among other related processes, as mandated by the Marrakech Climate Change Conference, UNFCCC Parties will engage in a round-table discussion on initiation of a process to identify the information to be provided by Parties in accordance with Article 9, paragraph 5, of the Paris Agreement (biennial information on public finance), in conjunction with the May 2017 session of the subsidiary bodies. Also, as mandated by COP 22, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) will address the governance and institutional arrangements, safeguards and operating modalities for the Adaptation Fund to serve the Paris Agreement.

Another process to shore up financing for sustainable development is the follow-up to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA). Building on these mandates, the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters addresses the role of taxation in financing implementation of the SDGs, and will hold its 14th session in April. Also in April, the Global Infrastructure Forum will hold its second session. The Forum aims to ensure that the infrastructure gap is filled, and that infrastructure is sustainable, resilient and helps to implement the 2030 Agenda. The annual UN Economic and Social Council Forum on FFD Follow-up (FFD Forum), also established in the AAAA, will take place in May, and addresses the follow-up and review of FFD outcomes and MOI for the 2030 Agenda. The functioning and directions of the recently established Technology Bank for LDCs will offer another vantage point for assessing how governments are able to use new and existing tools to pursue the transformative agenda. In the end, efforts to incorporate new and emerging actors and intermediaries, like digital finance, could provide the transformation that the agenda requires.

On partnerships, questions remain on how to manage alliances among the private sector, governments, and UN actors to implement the SDGs. We will be watching to see how the new UN Secretary-General António Guterres will lend his influence in shaping these issues. Announcing his “strategic priorities for change” in late 2016, Guterres said the UN Development System will engage in a comprehensive reform at Headquarters and country levels, which will involve leadership, coordination, delivery and increased accountability. He has also expressed his intention to increase the UN’s engagement with civil society and the private sector, in order to pursue “strategic cooperation.” Accountability and transparency will also be the focus of an intersessional workshop, to be held in May 2017, in conjunction with the third part of the first session of the APA.

Towards an Ocean of Progress?

The UN system is focused on navigating the 2030 Agenda towards success, and this ambition will inform the processes launched by the 2016 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) resolution, as well as upcoming intergovernmental negotiations on aligning the UNGA agenda with the 2030 Agenda.

This year, we hope to see the headwaters of implementation flow faster towards what those who assembled at the UN in September 2015 had hoped would be a vast ocean of progress on the SDGs.


Alice Bisiaux, Faye Leone, Lauren Anderson, and Lynn Wagner

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