Source: Small Island Developing States
13 November 2018: The UN organized a global preparatory workshop for countries that will present their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) at the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July 2019. The summary of the workshop notes that VNRs are “an accelerator for national implementation” of the SDGs, notes that the VNR is a learning process, and argues that it should be directly linked to SDG implementation, rather than being a “side-line project.”
The VNRs were called for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to facilitate the sharing of national experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating SDG implementation. They are presented yearly at the HLPF when it is convened by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) each July.
The global workshop for the 2019 VNRs was the first in a series of expected preparatory meetings. It took place from 16-17 October 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, bringing together representatives from 39 countries that will present their VNR at 2019 HLPF and from 12 countries that presented their reviews in previous years.
The workshop’s summary notes that the were introduced as an “innovation” at the time of the negotiations related to the 2030 Agenda, and have become the “hallmark” of the HLPF. From 2016 to 2018, 102 UN Member States presented VNRs, and in July 2019, 51 countries are expected to present reviews, including ten countries that have already presented VNRs in the past. The summary reports that expressions of interest to present VNRs in 2020 have already been received by the UN Secretariat.
The summary reiterates that follow-up and review processes at all levels are guided by six main principles: national ownership of the VNRs; incorporation of the SDGs into national frameworks and plans; integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development; leaving no one behind; making use of existing national frameworks to prepare the VNR reports; and reflecting on cross-cutting issues, nationally and at the regional level.
Per the summary, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) presented information related to the organization of the 2019 VNRs, noting that the ten countries that are preparing for their second VNR will present in panel format, on 15 July 2019, while countries presenting reviews for the first time will do so during the Ministerial Segment of the Forum, from 16-18 July 2019. DESA noted that: countries will have up to 30 minutes for their individual presentations, including 15 minutes for interactions with governments and stakeholders; and the main messages of the VNRs should contain approximately 700 words.
On the timeline for preparations, the summary indicates that: VNR main messages should be submitted to DESA by 17 May 2019, while the final VNR reports should be submitted by 14 June 2019. Countries are requested to report on all 17 SDGs, but a special focus can be placed on some SDGs, depending on national priorities.
On resources to support countries in their VNR preparatory process, the summary outlines, inter alia: the UN Secretary-General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines for VNRs at the HLPF; the VNR Handbook and the VNR database. It also mentions the annual VNR synthesis report produced by DESA, which provides a snapshot of countries’ actions, and analytical work on VNRs carried out by the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP).
The summary also highlights benefits and lessons learned that are associated with preparing for a VNR. On benefits it notes that reviews have: helped countries identify areas in which they are doing well; revealed the need to raise awareness about the 2030 Agenda; helped identify areas where support from partners would be required; served as a communication tool to showcase how the SDGs are relevant to the lives of citizens; and helped identify priorities across all 17 SDGs.
Lessons learned from VNR experiences include the need for: establishing a clear action plan that outlines SDG responsibilities and expectations; appointing a coordinator for the VNR process and understanding that the process is “a full-time commitment”; starting the VNR process early and making the review process useful to the country; and preparing a comprehensive checklist and terms of reference for engaging line ministries. It also notes the importance of: identifying the SDGs that can accelerate the achievement of other Goals; including a statistical annex in the VNR report as it contributes to evidence-based decisions; highlighting good practices, gaps and challenges to ensure efficient peer learning; and sharing experiences on budgeting for the SDGs, particularly how technical and financial resources have been allocated.
The summary underscores the usefulness of planning and mainstreaming the SDGs into national development plans, and of establishing a robust institutional setup, including through legislative and regulatory processes. It states that governments should take the lead in encouraging stakeholder engagement, should promote self-organization of stakeholders, including by establishing umbrella organizations, and should focus on communication and awareness raising. It also notes the importance of: mapping stakeholders and vulnerable groups; making use of existing networks and involving all ministries and stakeholders from all relevant sectors; holding consultations at the local level; and translating the VNR reports into local languages.
On challenges, the summary highlights: establishing SDG cross and inter-institutional coordination mechanisms; addressing the principle of leaving no one behind and engaging stakeholders; ensuring data availability, data disaggregation, and statistical capacity, and improving data complementarity at the global, regional and national levels. Other challenges identified include: completing the VNR report in time for the submission to the HLPF; highlighting interlinkages between the SDGs in the reviews; transforming reporting exercises into a useful input for debate in parliaments; linking VNRs to budgets in governments; and putting in place monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and assessing policy impact.
On challenges faced at the regional level, the summary reports “little ownership” of the 2030 Agenda and of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 (the long-term strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of Africa) by public institutions in Africa, and slow progress in adapting and implementing SDGs in many African countries. It also reports challenges related to SDG implementation in countries affected by conflicts in the Western Asia region.
The workshop also resulted in a knowledge exchange leaflet comprising tools and approaches that can support VNR preparations.
The 2019 session of the HLPF under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), will take place from 9-18 July, and consider the theme, ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.’ It will review in depth SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (climate action), 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and 17 (partnerships for the goals). The 2019 Forum will thus complete the first cycle of reviews on the 17 SDGs and, according to the summary, provide an opportunity to build on the lessons learned thus far.
In addition to convening under ECOSOC in July, the HLPF will also take place under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2019, at the level of Heads of State and Government, as requested in UNGA resolution 67/290 on the ‘Format and organizational aspects of the high-level political forum on sustainable development.’ This SDG Summit is expected to consider progress achieved, identify gaps and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda overall, and should “reiterate the commitment” of the international community to the 2030 Agenda, the summary notes. [Workshop Summary] [July 2019 HLPF Website] [HLPF Summit Webpage] [Publication: Knowledge Exchange on Approaches and Tools for the VNRs: Summaries of approaches and tools]