As we look forward to new opportunities in 2021 to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, we find it useful to learn about our readers’ needs for knowledge and information by looking back at the news that drew the greatest number of pageviews in 2020.

The most read news story in 2020 was our summary of the Secretary-General’s annual SDG Progress report. We consistently find that stories about the UN’s annual synthesis reports are a big draw for readers, as we all need to know how the world is doing with SDG implementation and where we need to focus on the road to 2030.

Several of the top stories in 2020 focused on preparations for the UN’s 75th anniversary. The September high-level meetings and the declaration that was adopted provide an agenda for the coming years. At a time when multilateralism was challenged by nationalistic politics and a pandemic that affected the very tools of global governance – face-to-face interactions – the resolve of the international community to build on the commitments reached 75 years ago was an important signal from 2020. Our stories highlighting the pandemic’s impact on global meetings also generated a great deal of reader attention, including the use of the silence procedure to keep the mechanics of decision making moving forward.

Finally, stories about global cooperation on climate change – or the lack of such cooperation – were at the top of our readers’ lists. Our summary of the outcome from the 2019 Chile/Madrid Climate Change Conference (COP 25) provides a “to-do” list for the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26), now scheduled for November 2021. And our news about the coming into force of the Kigali Amendment, which was published in 2019, still provides hope and evidence that the international community can come together to address shared challenges.

10. UNGA High-level Week Undergoing Changes to Format, Schedule

In June 2020, three months after the COVID-19 pandemic had closed UN Headquarters in New York, US, to in-person meetings and reduced global travel to a bare minimum, governments and officials considered proposals for an alternative format of the 75th UN General Debate and the surrounding high-level meetings in September 2020. The high-level week was anticipated as the starting point of a “landmark year” for the UN, with the high-level meeting to commemorate the UN’s 75th anniversary on 21 September 2020, and the Summit on Biodiversity on 30 September.

9. European Commission Adopts Circular Economy Action Plan

This story highlights a plan that could demonstrate how to take multi-sectoral action for sustainable development. The European Commission adopted a plan focusing on the design and production of a circular economy, ensuring that resources consumed would stay in the EU economy for as long as possible. The plan aims to reduce the EU’s consumption footprint, double its circular material use rate, and contribute to economic decarbonization by reducing the EU’s carbon and material footprint.

The Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe, which is central to the European Green Deal, seeks to ensure that the economy is fit for a green future and strengthen competitiveness while protecting the environment. It introduces legislative and non-legislative measures and target areas where EU-level action brings added value.

8. Plans Outlined for SDG Moment, Decade of Action

This story summarizes a late December 2019 briefing during which UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed informed UN Member States on plans for the UN’s ‘Decade of Action’ for SDG implementation and the annual ‘SDG moments’ that would begin in September 2020. The Decade of Action is an opportunity to course-correct, she said, noting that it was a priority for the Secretary-General, with “special amplification around climate action and gender equality.”

7. COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupts UN Meeting Plans Around the World

Our story from mid-March 2020 on the initial wave of postponements and cancellations of UN meetings around the world due to the pandemic revealed early impacts of the global health emergency. At that point, announcements had been made with regard to preparations for the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the Glasgow Climate Change Conference, and the fifth UN conference on the least developed countries (LDC-V), as well as efforts to reach agreements on new frameworks for biological diversity and chemicals and waste management beyond 2020. We noted that, in some areas, work was shifting to virtual formats.

As the weeks passed, all events were eventually postponed by several months or converted to remote formats, following which we began to see announcements of postponements to 2021.

6. SDG Index Measures All Countries’ Progress Since 2015

The 2020 edition of the Sustainable Development Report from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) focused on the SDGs and COVID-19. This annual report tracks the performance of all UN Member States on the 17 SDGs, measuring each country’s distance remaining to achieve each target. In addition to the narrative report on the pandemic’s impacts on the SDGs, the 2020 publication also presented the SDG Index along with interactive dashboards to visually represent countries’ performance. 

5. UN75 Declaration Finalized Following Silence Procedure

On 7 July 2020, UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande announced that consensus had been reached on the text of the declaration for the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary. The silence procedure was used to finalize the declaration. Muhammad-Bande then transmitted the final draft to the President-elect of the 75th UNGA to prepare the text for adoption at the high-level meeting to commemorate the UN’s 75th anniversary on 21 September 2020. The declaration – summarized in a separate news story on the SDG Knowledge Hub – recognizes multilateralism as a necessity for a more equal, more resilient, and more sustainable world, and that implementation of the 2030 Agenda is necessary for survival.

4. Chile/Madrid Climate Change Conference Closes with Limited Ambition

Although this news story was published at the end of 2019, most of its readership came during 2020 and it remains relevant for 2021, given that the unresolved issues from UNFCCC COP 25 are expected to be addressed at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference in November 2021. COP 25 did reach outcomes on some issues, however, including the review of the WIM, gender, and some finance-related issues, such as guidance to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Issues left unresolved included discussions on Article 6, common time frames, long-term finance, transparency issues for the Paris Agreement, report of the Adaptation Committee, and the report of the Consultative Group of Experts.

3. UN Sets Plans for 75th Anniversary, Common Theme for All UN Events in 2020

Although this news story was published in 2019, the information provided a guide for a key issue that we followed in 2020: the events to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary. As established in this decision, the high-level commemoration meeting on 21 September 2020 had as its theme, ‘The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism.’

We noted in this story that in the course of intergovernmental consultations on the commemoration plans, 169 civil society organizations issued a letter underscoring the need to incorporate the diversity of voices represented by civil society. The events that led to a focus on inequalities during 2020 made this message all the more relevant.

2. Kigali Amendment Enters into Force, Bringing Promise of Reduced Global Warming

This story was published at the opening of 2019, celebrating the entry into force of the latest amendment to the most successful multilateral environmental agreement. It remained relevant in 2020, as the parties to the Vienna Convention or the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer met online in November 2020 for the first body serviced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to hold a virtual meeting that took multiple legally binding decisions. Parties reached agreements to ensure the continued operation of the Secretariat, the Multilateral Fund (MLF), and the various bodies of the Protocol.

1. UN Secretary-General Releases 2020 SDG Progress Report

The yearly report of the UN Secretary-General on progress towards the 17 SDGs was released ahead of the 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The 2020 report drew on the latest available data on the indicators contained in the global SDG indicator framework as of April 2020, thus highlighting implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on each SDG.

Published in May 2020, the report provided an early enumeration of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on groups of people and operations around the world, and how those effects are “imperiling progress” towards the SDGs.

At the SDG Knowledge Hub, we will be keeping a close eye on that imperiled progress and efforts throughout 2021 to get back on track.