An independent assessment of the voluntary national reviews (VNRs) submitted to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in 2022 urges governments to provide more details on non-state actor participation in governance arrangements and on the extent to which SDG integration in national policy frameworks has led to transformations in policy approaches and outcomes.

The report also encourages governments to follow the UN Secretary-General’s common reporting guidelines as closely as possible, to enable better comparability.

These recommendations are among the many offered in the seventh edition of the annual ‘Progressing National SDGs Implementation’ report, which was launched on 22 February 2023 alongside three policy briefs on civic space, leaving no one behind (LNOB), and localization. The report was compiled by Action for Sustainable Development, ANND, BOND, Cepei, Cooperation Canada, CPDE, Forus, Global Focus, IISD, Save The Children, Sightsavers, and World Vision International.

Oli Henman, Action for Sustainable Development, opened the launch event. He said the report reviews the 44 VNR reports and main messages submitted to the HLPF in 2022, along with 21 VNR-related civil society reports, analyzing progress and identifying gaps, based on a framework that includes more than 100 variables.

Nicolas Sautejeau, Action for Sustainable Development, summarized key findings across the report’s four main sections: governance, institutional mechanisms, and engagement; policy frameworks; implementing the 2030 Agenda; and reporting.

Sautejeau flagged that information on data availability remains limited, with 20% of countries reporting that data are available for less than 50% of SDG indicators, and that detailed information on SDG costing and resource identification is mostly missing from the VNRs.

He further noted that the number of countries highlighting civil society participation in consultations within the VNR formulation process increased from 81% in 2021 to 93% in 2022. However, only 66% of countries provided information on partnerships with civil society – a significant drop from 86% in 2021.

Diedre de Burca, Forus International, presented the main findings from the policy brief on civic space. Warning that the 2022 VNRs remain largely silent on issues of shrinking civic space, she offered recommendations for the international community, including to:

  • Agree on an annual review of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) by the HLPF;
  • Adopt new structural and process-oriented civic space indicators linked to SDG 16 implementation; and
  • Establish a global civic space observatory.

For national governments, she recommended, inter alia, establishing an enabling environment for organized civil society and reporting on national civic space trends in the VNRs.

Presenting the LNOB policy brief, Lilei Chow, Save The Children, pointed to challenges related to data availability and the level of detail and quality of information provided on LNOB. She urged governments to mainstream the principle in policies and programmes, close data gaps, and ensure that databases with SDG indicators are publicly available and accessible.

Darron Seller-Peritz, Cooperation Canada, introduced the main findings from the policy brief on localization. Noting that there were fewer references to localization in 2022 VNRs than in 2021, he indicated that only seven of the 44 reporting countries mentioned voluntary local reviews (VLRs). He called on national governments to strengthen coordination with local governments and institutions, improve data collection and monitoring systems, and prioritize the needs of marginalized and vulnerable communities, among other recommendations.

Responding to questions from the audience, panelists described the role of the private sector in local reporting, outlined COVID-19 impacts on VNR reporting in 2022, and discussed ways to expand civic space.

A reflection panel discussed lessons learned to ensure effective follow up and review of the SDGs and shared insights on implementing whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches in Ghana and Pakistan. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [Publication: Progressing National SDGs Implementation] [Report Highlights] [Publication Landing Page]