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From lip-service to genuine accountability: how to monitor the pledge to Leave No One Behind

A new report released today on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a message of hope. In suggesting governments are starting to step up their efforts to meet the SDGs and ensure no one is left behind, it’s a welcome antidote to the usual discourse about the world being seriously off track for the 2030 deadline.

The report, Progressing National SDGs Implementation, commissioned by a coalition of civil society organisations, including Save the Children, reviews governments’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on SDG progress. It examines countries’ reporting on:

  • governance and institutional arrangements
  • stakeholder engagement
  • policies
  • means of implementation
  • reporting.

By exploring and adopting the report’s key findings, good practice case studies and recommendations, governments can take a large step forward in their collective effort to get back on track.

What’s a VNR?

Designed to be transparent, thorough analyses of where each country is on their SDG journey, Voluntary National Reviews are at the heart of the SDG accountability and monitoring process.

They are meant to be prepared through inclusive and participatory processes, in order to serve as invaluable sources on:

  • good practices
  • lessons learned
  • challenges in implementation
  • peer learning and accountability at the global level.

Some positive signs

The report reveals a range of good practices and positive trends in implementation and reporting:

  • Countries are more consistently following guidelines for VNR reports than in previous years.
  • Of the VNR themes that civil society has tracked over the years, the most significant increase in reporting was in inclusion of a dedicated chapter or robust information on leaving no one behind – 81% in 2019 versus 61% in 2018.
  • 76% countries provided information on data availability to track SDG progress – a significant increase. Reporting on the key forms of disaggregated data needed to leave no one behind improved in 2019 from the year before, with countries most commonly citing the need for disaggregated data by gender, age and disability.

But some worrying trends

However, some trends – particularly those relating to the pledge to Leave No One Behind – are a cause for concern:

  • Only 36% of countries identified efforts to embed the pledge to Leaving No One Behind or to address inequality and social exclusion as part of overarching development plans.
  • VNRs continue to be largely silent on civic space being closed down in countries around the world and on attacks on human rights defenders and environmentalists.
  • 75% of countries had not costed implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Addressing the inequality blind spot

It is encouraging to see the increase in the number of countries reporting on the pledge to Leave No One Behind. However, this needs to move beyond paying lip service to the pledge and acknowledging the problem towards stating what is being done to address it. The VNRs provide the opportunity for governments to put on record how they are delivering on this vital promise to their citizens.

As we kick off the Decade of Action – and delivery – governments must drive transformative change for those who are furthest behind, tracking not just national and global average progress, but also the pace at which disparities between socioeconomic groups are narrowing. This must be done at global, regional, national and subnational levels, using data disaggregated by age, economic group, gender, sex, race, ethnicity and geography or migratory status, and be reported publicly in accessible formats. And crucially, in their VNRs governments must start detailing their plans for accelerating progress for those groups of people who are furthest behind.

It is only when inequality trends are made visible, and accompanied by concrete plans to address them, that the VNRs will fulfil their potential of being truly meaningful tools of accountability for the SDGs.

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