The review of the HLPF in 2021- ensuring greater accountability for the 2030 Agenda?

Oli Henman

05 March 2021

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The review of the HLPF in 2021- ensuring greater accountability for the 2030 Agenda?

Since 2016, every year we have seen regular reviews of the delivery of the 2030 Agenda and of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in many countries but have these reviews actually led to real change?

The process is focused on Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) of the SDGs which include a national consultation process, cross-ministerial reporting and a presentation at the UN’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July on country progress.

There are some good signs that a number of governments have engaged a wide range of partners and more than 100 countries have reported so far, including several reporting twice or even three times. Many governments have established baselines for data and engagement and a number of countries are aiming to integrate the 2030 Agenda into their national development plans as well as tying these into their priorities for international cooperation.

The HLPF runs on a four-year cycle and the second cycle actually began in 2020, so there should have been a review of the process in late 2019 but this was delayed. The review of the HLPF process is underway now (March 2021), with two co-facilitators, the Ambassadors of Austria and Senegal guiding the discussions.

“We need to see concrete and practical changes

to enable more diverse voices to be heard at

the national, regional and global levels.

However, there are still significant gaps in the HLPF reporting cycle, which we are raising through the Major Groups & other Stakeholders engagement mechanism. These include:

1. Lack of comparability

Although the UN Secretary General provides guidance every year on the recommended ways to develop these VNRs, the reports that are presented at the UN are still widely diverging in their approach and quality of reporting. There are still cases of reports that do not cover all the SDGs and many instances of ‘cherry-picking’ specific areas of success while lacking information on challenges and areas for improvement. We strongly encourage all member states to provide information on all the goals and to identify areas of progress as well as key challenges to ensure a more complete and comparable picture, which will also enable better targeting of resources.

2. Increase the focus on Leave No One Behind

One of the guiding principles of the 2030 Agenda is to ‘leave no one behind’, however the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is having a massive impact on inequalities. Particular challenges have arisen around the lack of universal healthcare and vaccines, but there are also longer-term consequences in terms of reductions in investment in quality public services including education, social protection, welfare and housing. The focus on leaving no one behind will be more important than ever if we are to build a more just and sustainable future as part of the recovery from the pandemic. There is a critical need for future VNRs to go further than simply identifying those who are left behind, towards prioritizing public policies that reach those furthest behind first.

3. Ensure the voices of all stakeholders can be heard

Finally and perhaps most importantly in terms of the current HLPF review discussions, we need to see concrete and practical changes to enable more diverse voices to be heard at the national, regional and global levels. In terms of the specific changes needed to the HLPF, these include:

  • More time for discussion on the Voluntary National Reviews at the HLPF, including additional opportunities for questions from civil society.
  • The right to submit additional written questions to all VNR countries and receive a timely written response after the HLPF.
  • The opportunity to submit wider written interventions and reports from a national perspective on the progress of the SDGs in each country, known as alternative ‘shadow’ or ‘Spotlight’ reports alongside the official VNRs, which should also be shared on the official UN website.
  • Dedicated funding and capacity development for the meaningful engagement of civil society within the process.
  • Support for an inclusive digital space, including full accessibility for diverse groups (language and disabilities) for all sessions; and explore creative opportunities for sharing diverse voices including through video, online surveys and platforms to crowd-source ideas on key thematic areas.

If these changes are brought in for the future VNRs, we may have a chance of improving accountability on the aspirations of the ‘Decade of Action & Delivery’ and reaching the 2030 goals.

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