The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) has concluded, with six SDGs reviewed, several thematic discussions held, 46 countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented, and a declaration adopted (via a vote) at the end of the ministerial segment. This week’s knowledge brief looks at issues at the forefront of participants’ minds, including reports that address countries’ progress in light of the VNRs, tackle systemic challenges such as data collection and leaving no one behind, and evaluate opportunities to make progress in the private sector.

Daily ENB coverage of the HLPF is available here, and coverage of selected side events is here. All HLPF-related content on the SDG Knowledge Hub can be found here. For a selection of reports and articles on the individual SDGs that were reviewed, see SDG Knowledge Weekly: High-level Political Forum, Part 1.

Country Reviews and Civil Society Spotlight Reports

As 46 countries discussed their VNRs (a summary of main messages is here), civil society organizations were present to hold governments to account. Civil society organizations were also active throughout the Forum to share their own findings in the margins of official VNR presentations.

Numerous civil society reports, also known as “spotlight reports,” have been released to provide another assessment of countries’ progress than what governments present during the VNR sessions. As UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted during the Partnership Exchange on 13 July, these reports can serve to confirm, strengthen or sometimes even refute official VNRs. Also on 13 July, a side event titled ‘SDG Implementation at National Level: What’s the Point of National Reports?’ shared knowledge across civil society actors, and discussed whether spotlight reports lead to changes. An IISD Reporting Services summary of the event is available here.

  • AwazCDS-Pakistan, in collaboration with Pakistan Development Alliance, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Pakistan and UK Aid, released a report titled, ‘Where Pakistan Stands on the Implementation of the SDGs 2018.’
  • The British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) authored a publication titled, ‘Where Canada Stands, Vol. II, 2018: A Sustainable Development Goals Shadow Report’
  • Platform Agenda 2030 released a report titled, ‘How Sustainable is Switzerland: Implementing the 2030 Agenda from a Civil Society Perspective.’
  • UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) launched the report, ‘Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.’
  • Coalition 2030 released a report evaluating Ireland’s progress on each SDG. The report notes that the country’s National Implementation Plan for the SDGs 2018-2020 is a first step, but progress has been slow and that more action is needed. A press release is also available.
  • Additional releases on the Action for Sustainable Development platform respond to the official VNRs for Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Mexico, Palestine, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

In addition to these country-specific reports, a civil society report titled, ‘Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2018: Exploring new policy pathways,’ reviews “how to overcome obstacles and contradictions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda,” also looking at cross-cutting policy ideas and individual SDG “spotlights.” It is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. The authors note that the world is off-track on delivering the policy changes needed to enable SDG achievement.

The authors of the Spotlight Report 2018, also provide 18 national reports. A corresponding post by Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum, stresses that implementation issues and countries’ being “off-track” is not due to a lack of financial resources, but rather the need to ensure policy coherence and reduce contradictions. Martens also highlights military spending and improving regulations for sustainability and human rights as key areas to address.

Additionally, a middle ground of sorts seemed to emerge in reporting: the Government of Germany invited an independent, international peer review of the country’s 2016 sustainable development strategy, which delivered its insights at a side event on 12 July.

Another actor with a potential voice in reviewing SDG progress is each country’s parliament. Together 2030 and partners released a civil society handbook for engaging parliaments in support of the SDGs, opening with an explanation of parliaments’ relevance to SDG implementation. The document features engagement strategies to approach private meetings, run SDG trainings and launch public campaigns, identifying entry points into parliamentary activities and noting which strategies are most valued by members of parliament themselves.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) also led an initiative to bolster the official VNR sessions, by convening a series of “VNR Labs” during the HLPF ministerial meeting. The Labs aimed to take stock of countries’ experiences with the reviews to date, and to provide an informal space for dialogue focused on key themes, including leveraging interlinkages, leaving no one behind, data, and mobilizing resources, among other topics.

Data and Ensuring that No One is Left Behind

With SDG 17 (partnership for the Goals) under review each year, a number of reports and initiatives continued to be developed around data, analyzing interlinkages across the SDGs, and evaluating progress towards key principles that underpin the 2030 Agenda, such as leaving no one behind.

Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) launched their 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report. Assessing where each country stands in terms of SDG progress, this iteration of the index and dashboard also ranks countries based on their aggregate performance, incorporating trend data for the first time. Sweden, Denmark and Finland stand atop the ranking, but the authors note that several indicator and methodology changes mean that this year’s findings are not comparable to those of 2017. Overall, the report finds that conflicts have reversed progress in many parts of the world, and that no country is on track to meet all SDGs. A Q&A with SDSN Director Jeffrey Sachs is available on Devex.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted its Arab Development Portal, developed in partnership with the Coordination Group of Arab, National and Regional Development Institutions (CG), the Islamic Development Bank and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) to track progress on SDGs in the region. Initially launched in 2016, the Portal, UNDP notes, is now available to everyone. Additionally, UNDP and the RISE Institutes of Sweden launched the ‘SDG Trend Scanner,’ which provides “an opportunity to understand key disruptive trends” through an SDG lens. It also creates a platform to compare different trends and trend assessments, as well as identify trends that feature “low probability, high impact characteristics.”

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) released the second version of a tool to analyze and visualize interlinkages amongst SDG targets. The SDG Interlinkages Analysis & Visualization Tool (version 2.0) methodology builds on the official SDG indicator framework, World Bank and other time series data, proxy indicators from other sources and a comprehensive literature to identify relationships between pairs of targets. The tool allows for quantitative analysis of SDG interlinkages, which, the release notes, can inform policy-making, priority-setting, resource allocation and monitoring efforts. A separate post on Eco-Business by Zafirah Zein highlights the importance of analyzing interlinkages amongst SDG targets, describing the Millennium Institute’s iSDG model.

An analysis by The Brookings Institution seeks to quantify how many people might be left behind, as well as identify those the world is set to “help,” by 2030. The authors’ study examines 21 “people-focused” SDG targets, segmented into absolute and relative terms (i.e. zero poverty versus reducing road deaths by half) and distinguished by life and death issues or basic needs (i.e. child mortality versus gender equality of opportunity). Preliminary findings suggest that, for six indicators alone, over 40 million lives are at stake. The study also features a country-by-country analysis that identifies where targeted actions are needed.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) launched its ‘Leave No One Behind Index 2018,’ on which SDG Knowledge Hub coverage is forthcoming. The Index reviews the readiness of 86 countries to leave no one behind, looking at measures taken in the realms of data, policy and finance. A second ODI paper, titled ‘Leaving no one behind through enabling climate-resilient economic development in dryland regions’ looks at the issue in dryland economies. Linking data and the leave no one behind agenda, a blog by ODI’s Elizabeth Stuart released prior to the HLPF calls for “governments to be honest about failure and rigorous in analyzing progress.”

Engaging Businesses

With a variety of private sector actors in New York for the 17 July SDG Business Forum, a range of events and papers highlighted efforts that leaders in the private sector are taking to contribute towards the SDGs.

Harvard Kennedy School’s Corporate Responsibility Initiative and Business Fights Poverty released a paper titled, ‘Advocating Together for the SDGs: How civil society and business are joining voices to change policy attitudes and practices.’ The paper outlines six key building blocks for responsible and effective advocacy collaboration: 1) respect government’s leadership role; 2) put the interests of people and planet first; 3) invest sufficient resources at the outset to gather necessary data and evidence to build understanding; 4) understand and manage stakeholder dynamics; 5) ensure consistency between external positions and internal policies; and 6) conduct advocacy collaboration transparently. It features several examples of corporate-NGO advocacy efforts, as well as multi-stakeholder initiatives on global frameworks, such as We Are Still In.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) released a document prepared for the HLPF, which reviews ‘Business Action for Sustainable and Resilient Societies.’ The paper identifies business actions on each of the SDGs that were reviewed, recommending that governments work with the private sector to build collaborative frameworks and policies that will leave no one behind, incentivize investment, and set a solid foundation for public-private partnerships and public procurement processes.

The UN Global Compact Local launched a report demonstrating how local networks can close gaps in SDG achievement. Titled, ‘Global Compact Local Networks: Accelerating National SDG Implementation 2018 Edition,’ the paper considers systematic business engagement through five areas of activity: awareness raising; capacity building; recognizing leadership; policy dialogue; and multi-stakeholder partnerships. Under these activities, the document describes case examples from more than 30 countries.

A paper by econsense takes a business view of the SDGs. Titled, ‘Taking on Sustainable Development in Germany,’ the paper advocates for an open dialogue with all stakeholders and encourages the German government to further-embrace the SDGs. Econsense emphasizes the need to recognize partnerships with the private sector as a means of not only driving SDG implementation, but also setting norms and ethical principles.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development also co-organized multiple events that highlighted additional report in the areas of water, sanitation and health (WASH), chemicals, human rights, investor needs and business reporting, on which SDG Knowledge Hub coverage is forthcoming.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.