31 March 2021
NGO Coalition’s VNR Analysis Calls Attention to Closing Civic Space, Accountability Mechanisms
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash
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The fifth edition of the Progressing National SDGs Implementation report is based on a review of the 47 Voluntary National Reviews submitted to the July 2020 HLPF session.

The report showcases positive trends with respect to reporting on partnerships, reviews the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and expresses concern about the closing of civic space and lack of accountability mechanisms.

The 2020 edition of ‘Progressing National SDGs Implementation’ underlines the silence of UN Member States on the closing of civic space and their lack of reference to national accountability mechanisms. The report is based on a review of the 47 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted to the July 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The report was guided by a steering committee of 13 NGOs.  

The publication released on 31 March 2021 is the fifth edition of the report. In addition to challenges, it also showcases positive trends with respect to reporting on partnerships, including the role played by civil society, and policy coherence. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on SDG implementation are also addressed.

Key messages presented in the NGOs’ analysis of 2020 VNRs include the following observations: 

  • Countries more consistently provided information on most aspects of 2030 Agenda implementation;
  • “Gains” in reporting were matched by decreased reporting on issues such as 2030 Agenda budgeting, trade, technology, and challenges faced in implementation;
  • Many States continued to provide partial information on the key components of the voluntary common reporting guidelines;
  • Reporting on the priority to “leave no one behind” increased, although work remains to be done to identify vulnerable groups, develop dedicated strategies, and use disaggregated data;
  • Non-state actors continued to be included in governance arrangements for implementation and formal processes for stakeholder engagement, although reporting on multi-stakeholder engagement outside governance arrangements experienced some backslide;
  • In addition to being silent on closing civic space globally, the 2020 VNRs did not discuss ongoing attacks on human rights defenders and environmentalists;
  • Improvements are noted on reporting on partnerships and a recognition of the role played by civil society;
  • Compared to other years, while fewer countries reported conducting baseline and gap assessments and fewer countries provided information on data availability, there was an increase in the number of countries reporting the integration of the SDGs into national policies and programs;
  • The 2020 VNR reports revealed a limited analysis of the impact that domestic and foreign policies have on the realization of the SDGs globally; and 
  • Information on national, regional, and global follow-up and review processes was more limited than in previous years, and most 2020 VNR reports lacked reference to accountability mechanisms at the national level.

A Steering Committee guided the preparation of this report. It was led by Cooperation Canada and comprised the following organizations: ActionAid (Denmark); Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD); Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); Bond; Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional (CEPEI); Cooperation Canada; CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE); Forus International; Global Focus; International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD); Save the Children (UK); Sightsavers; and World Vision International. [Publication: Progressing National SDGs Implementation, 2020 edition] [SDG Knowledge Hub summaries of previous editions of the report: 2019 VNRs; 2018 VNRs; 2017 VNRs; 2016 VNRs]

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