The ABC of the 2030 Agenda follow up mechanism

May 20, 2022

By Javier Surasky
Program Officer Governance and Finance for Sustainable Development

Dictionary for nonexperts

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development establishes a follow-up and review mechanism, at the national, regional, and global levels, to monitor compliance with the commitments undertaken by the governments that adopted it.

Learning about this mechanism allows us to understand the multiple reporting processes for the Sustainable Development Goals. We present a non-expert’s guide with the main elements to take into account.

United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Main meeting to follow up on the progress of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at the global level. Created in 2012 by the States gathered at the United Nations Conference on sustainable development (Río+20). The UN General Assembly defined its working methods in Resolution 67/290 from 2013, revised by Resolutions 70/299 in 2016, and 75/290 B in 2021.

It gathers multiple stakeholders every year to work around sustainable development under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); and every four years under the auspices of the General Assembly, with the participation of Chiefs of State and Government. During the forum, States present their Voluntary National Reviews to report their progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Each meeting of the Forum has a theme guiding the debates. For 2022, it will be “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development”. Additionally, a series of SDGs are chosen to be analyzed in-depth and a political declaration is adopted.

Regional forums on sustainable development

Main spaces where the 2030 Agenda is discussed at a regional level. Participants gather annually in each of the five United Nations working regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Western Asia (Arab countries) as part of the preparation process for the High-Level Political Forum to promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and support States presenting their Voluntary National Reviews.

The forums gather together States, the UN System, and actors interested in sustainable development between May and April. Their results are presented in an official session of the High-Level Political Forum. 

Voluntary National Review

An assessment of the progress made to meet the 2030 Agenda, performed voluntarily by each country whenever they see fit. Led by each State, the process must:

  1. Be open and participatory.
  2. Include stakeholders interested in being part of the process.
  3. Present the country’s perspective on national progress towards sustainable development.

Each country defines how it will undertake the process. Its results are presented in a Voluntary National Report.

Voluntary National Report (VNR)

Main document reporting on national implementation of the 2030 Agenda. A report that States present voluntarily at the High-Level Political Forum. When a State intends to submit a report, it must communicate this to the Economic and Social Council President. 

In their reports, States inform about their progress on the 2030 Agenda, the actions taken for its implementation, any obstacles and opportunities identified, good practice, lessons learned, and next steps, among others.

Voluntary Local Review (VNR)

A report not anticipated in the 2030 Agenda, produced by subnational governments to inform on their implementation efforts. Even though there is no official meeting to present them at the High-Level Political Forum, they have become increasingly relevant throughout the years.

Parallel reports

Non-State actors produce them, usually civil society organizations, where an unofficial viewpoint is presented on the progress made on the 2030 Agenda. They may be supplementary or a response to the information included by countries in their VNRs. Parallel reports are also known as “spotlight reports” or “shadow reports,” although the name does not imply a different nature.

Thematic reports

The 2030 Agenda envisaged an annual analysis of a subgroup of SDGs at the High-Level Political Forum. Once a year, United Nations agencies, funds, and programmes gather to produce thematic reports on each target under special review, which are later used as inputs for the Forum debates.

UN Secretary-General’s report on the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Produced annually by the Secretary-General, it presents the consolidated progress information on the 17 goals at a global level and highlights the differences between regions whenever appropriate.

Global Sustainable Development Report

Produced by a group of scientists appointed by the Secretary-General, it is presented every four years. It coincides with the meetings of the High-Level Political Forum, where Chiefs of State and Government are participating. It is a report on the global challenges and opportunities regarding implementing the 2030 Agenda, aimed at reinforcing communication between science and politics.

The Secretary-General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines for VNRs

They present recommendations on the desired content and structure for all reports produced by governments on their national implementation of the SDGs. They are updated periodically by the Secretary-General following expert meetings to improve the quality and comparability of VNRs. 

Follow-up indicators

The 2030 Agenda establishes (general) goals and (specific) targets for sustainable development. Countries entrusted the United Nations Statistical Commission to create a global indicator framework to monitor these targets. It is a list under continuous review that currently includes 243 qualitative and quantitative indicators. States generally use the global framework indicators. They have often adapted them to their specific needs and capacities in statistical measurement, which has led to national indicator frameworks to follow up on the 2030 Agenda.

Principles on the follow-up system to implement the 2030 Agenda

  • Voluntary and country-led, meaning that it considers different national realities, capacities, and levels of development and respects national sustainable development priorities.
  • Respect the SDGs’ universal, integrated, and interrelated nature and the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental.
  • Maintain a longer-term orientation.
  • Open, inclusive, participatory, and transparent; people-centered, gender-sensitive, respectful of human rights, and with a particular focus on the most vulnerable.
  • Evolve, taking into account emerging issues and the development of new methodologies.
  • Rigorous and based on evidence, informed by high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable, and disaggregated data by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographic location, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.
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