The United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) has a central role in the global follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is where countries present their National Voluntary Reviews (VNRs), the main tool for monitoring national progress in the implementation of the Global Goals.
The Forum promotes the exchange of experiences that nurture the VNRs presented each year by the countries. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has shown a high participation in this scenario. Between 2016 and 2019, 21 of the 33 countries in the region have submitted VNRs to the HLPF, 5 of them twice.
This story synthesizes Cepei's work for the last four years in monitoring and analyzing the reports presented by LAC countries (see Center for Studies en VNRs), to showcase the VNRs importance as a means of learning about countries priorities and sustainable development visions. To this end, a contextualization of the Forum, the VNRs and the Voluntary Common Guidelines suggested by the UN Secretary General for their preparation is presented. Also the degree to which VNRs include the principles of the 2030 Agenda and the participation of multiple stakeholders is analyzed. Furthermore, the story identifies to what extent the 17 SDGs are addressed in the reports. The information is presented through interactive graphics which provide the reader with an overview, but also with the possibility to focus on particular interest areas in a simple and intuitive way.
High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
In 2012 the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development was established in the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20), "The future we want". Every year, the Forum meets under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) with the aim of monitoring progress to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs.
As established by the UN General Assembly Resolution (1) "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" the Forum:
[F]acilitate sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, and provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations for follow-up. It will promote system-wide coherence and coordination of sustainable development policies. Item should ensure that the Agenda remains relevant and ambitious and should focus on the assessment of progress, achievements and challenges faced by developed and developing countries as well as new and emerging issues (UNGA, 2015, párr. 82).
What are the National Voluntary Reviews?
VNRs are a key mechanism to track progress in implementing the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They aim to promote accountability, support effective international cooperation and encourage best practices exchanges and mutual learning.
UN Secretary General Voluntary Common Guidelines for the preparation of Voluntary National Reviews
In 2017, the UN Secretary-General recommended countries to follow a set of Voluntary Guidelines in the formulation of their reports. They were updated in 2018 and 2019.
Click here for complete information on each guideline.
Between 2017 and 2019, the most followed recommendation by LAC counties in their VNRs was the inclusion of an introduction. The recommendation to present the methodology used for the preparation of the reports was also highly received: It was applied in 91% of the VNRs. Guidelines 8 and 13 (87% each) are the most widely applied guidelines. While guidelines 7 and 9 have a low reception percentage (26% each).
The use of guidelines is uneven in the LAC region, which suggests that they are not a determining factor for the countries when preparing their VNRs. This situation makes it more difficult to make comparisons between reports and quickly locate information in them.
Source: Own elaboration based on VNR 2016-2019
Principles of the 2030 Agenda in the VNRs
Furthermore, VNRs refer to the principles of the 2030 Agenda (3) as guides to the national SDG implementation and follow-up processes. As it occurs globally, the principle of “leaving no one behind” appears as the main narrative discourse on the relationship between the 2030 Agenda and the social policies adopted at the national level; This principle is found in 22 of the 26 VNRs presented between 2016 and 2019. The same occurs with the principle of “multi-stakeholder implementation”, mentioned in 25 VNRs. Almost half of the reports adopt the principle of "an integrated approach to sustainable development". The principle that received less attention was that of “universality of the 2030 Agenda”.
Although the principle of “multi-stakeholder implementation” is adopted in almost all VNRs, references tend to follow the perspective of vulnerable groups as passive policy actors. This leads to losing their potential contributions and, what is even more serious, to their exclusion from decision-making processes.
Participation of non-governmental actors in the VNRs
When observing the participation of non-governmental actors in the implementation and/or national monitoring of the SDGs, a broad involvement is identified: civil society is mentioned in 25 VNRs, the private sector in 24, academia and sub-national governments in 19 opportunities each, parliaments in 16 and other actors in 19. This is where the high reception of the principle of “multi-stakeholder implementation” is evident.
However, when analyzing the participation of non-governmental actors in the construction of the VNRs, lower participation than that recognized in the implementation and/or monitoring actions was identified. The two actors that had the most representative decrease were the private sector (falls from 24 to 16) and parliaments (from 16 to only 7).
Source: Own elaboration based on VNR 2016-2019
The participation of non-governmental actors in the institutions in charge of implementing and following-up on the 2030 Agenda is even less: Civil society, the private sector and academia are reflected in 38% of the VNRs presented (9 countries), sub-national governments in 23% (5 countries), parliaments in 14% (3 countries) and other actors in 27% (6 countries).
Taking civil society as an example, Chile mentioned this actor in its first report (2017), but not in the second (2019); On the contrary, Mexico did not mention it in its first report (2016), but it did in its second report (2018). Regarding the private sector, Colombia made reference to it in its 2016 report, establishing that “The SDG Commission will have as a permanent guest a leader from the Private Sector” (p. 16) ”, but not in 2018; Chile mentioned it in 2017, but not in 2019; On the other hand, Mexico did not mentioned it in 2016, but it did in 2018.
Regarding the academy, Mexico did not consider it in 2016, but it did in 2018; Chile did include it in 2017, but not in 2019. Sub-national governments were not contemplated by Mexico in 2016, but in 2018 while the parliament is not mentioned by Guatemala in 2017, but in 2019.
The institutional framework for implementing the 2030 Agenda (4), in more than 9 of the 21 countries that have submitted their reports, no actor has been included. Likewise, three traditional non-state actors (civil society, private sector, and academia) are the most considered, while a generic set of the group "other actors" (workers, youth, indigenous peoples and ethnic groups), is considered by six countries (29% of the total reporting countries).
Despite the recognition of the importance of the territory as a scenario for the implementation of the SDGs, only 5 LAC countries indicate their participation in the national implementation institutional framework for the 2030 Agenda. Along the same lines, parliaments, over whom they bear budgetary responsibilities to adopt Laws and control between powers, are only included in the VNRs of three countries (14% of the total reporting countries).
The SDGs in LAC countries VNRs
The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The 17 Goals are interconnected, which means that interventions in one of them will affect the results in others.
Source: Own elaboration based on VNR 2016-2019
When analyzing the 17 SDGs in the VNRs presented by LAC countries, we observe that SDGs 1 (No Poverty) and 5 (Gender Equality) are addressed in 89% of the VNRs, and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) in 92%; While SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth, with 62%) and 15 (Life on land, with 62%) have lower participation.
Identifying which are the most considered SDGs in the reports, and how they are being implemented allows to outline which have greater possibilities of being achieved at the regional level.
The United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is extremely relevant in monitoring progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs. Analyzing VNRs offers the possibility of identifying experiences, efforts and national priorities in the matter.
A vision of the whole shows us that, in the LAC region, the Caribbean countries are lagging behind in terms of reporting, indicating the need to support them to increase their participation in the review and monitoring processes of the SDGs. Data exploration included in the VNRs also makes it possible to track how each country is addressing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs, and to carry out comparative analysis of these processes from which it is possible to extract lessons and identify regional cooperation points. The results of this story offer all interested actors new possibilities in these directions.
(2) The three reports presented in 2016 (first report from Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela) are not considered, since the voluntary national review processes of these were already underway when the guidelines were adopted.
(3) The principles of the 2030 Agenda are human rights-based, integrated approach to the SDGs, multi-stakeholder implementation, interdependence between SDGs, leaving no one behind, reference to the 5Ps and Universality of the 2030 Agenda.
(4) Regulatory / operational framework created by countries for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.