16 November 2020
UN Updates Guidance for Voluntary National SDG Reviews
Photo Credit: Faye Leone
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Ten countries will present their VNRs for the first time in 2021.

In addition, 24 countries are conducting their second reviews and 9 countries are conducting their third reviews.

The 2021 edition of the handbook recommends including a section on the impact of the pandemic on SDG implementation and measures that have been undertaken to ensure a sustainable, green recovery.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) published a handbook for countries preparing voluntary national reviews (VNRs) in 2021. It provides practical information on steps that countries may take when preparing VNRs, presenting the VNR report to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), and following up after the HLPF.

VNRs are presented during the annual HLPF sessions convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Conducted voluntarily by national governments, the reviews are intended to track progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs at the country level, and comprise part of the follow-up and review of the Agenda. Since 2016, 205 VNRs have been presented by 168 countries. For the 2021 session, 43 countries are expected to present a VNR.

The 2021 VNR handbook was released in November 2020 as an updated version of the 20202019, and 2018 editions. The 2021 edition recommends that countries include a section on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on SDG implementation, measures undertaken to ensure a sustainable, green recovery, and impacts on VNR preparations. 

The handbook notes that the ten countries conducting their first VNR will be allocated 30 minutes. These countries are: Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Nicaragua, and San Marino.

The 33 countries presenting second and third VNRs will present them in a panel format with 20 minutes each during the three-day ministerial segment of the HLPF. Twenty-four countries are conducting their second reviews: Bahamas, Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Chad, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Namibia, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. Nine countries are conducting their third reviews: Azerbaijan, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Qatar, Sierra Leone, and Uruguay.

The handbook makes specific recommendations for countries preparing a VNR for the second or third time, including that countries should show progress made since their first VNR, and avoid repeating information presented in a previous VNR. The handbook encourages countries to address how they overcome challenges in SDG implementation and share lessons learned and good practices adopted.

On UN support for countries’ VNR preparations, the handbook notes that DESA is organizing three global workshops for working-level officials closely engaged in the national preparatory process, as follows:

  • October-November 2020: A virtual workshop to facilitate peer learning and exchange between countries conducting VNRs in 2021 and those that have previously carried out VNRs, as well as to cover key components of the preparatory process;
  • Spring 2021: In-depth exchanges on the preparation and presentation process, drafting sections of the VNR report, and presenting the VNR report; and 
  • On 11 July 2021 in New York, US, a workshop covering final preparatory matters and addressing anticipated follow-up to the VNRs.

In addition, the five UN Regional Commissions are expected to organize workshops on the margins of their respective regional sustainable development fora to discuss regional specificities and lessons learned by previous VNR countries. 

On deadlines, governments must submit main messages – the principal findings of the review – by 2 May 2021. The final VNR report is due on 11 June 2021.

The handbook concludes with suggestions for concrete follow-up steps after the HLPF. These include: presenting outcomes of the VNR presentation at the HLPF in a press conference; debriefing the VNR project team on the outcomes of the HLPF presentation; and sharing the VNR at the regional level. Further, the handbook suggests that countries promote concrete action on priorities contained in the VNR, such as through convening a cabinet meeting to consider VNR follow-up, and developing an action plan or road map that addresses the “who, what, where and when” of priority actions.

The 2021 HLPF is scheduled to convene from 6-15 July. [Publication: Handbook for the Preparation of Voluntary National Reviews: the 2021 Edition] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on 2019 edition of handbook] [VNR database]

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