Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 by the United Nations Member States, the issue of how to track country progress against these Goals over the coming 15 years has generated a lively debate between governments, non-state actors and the UN. The definition of a 231 global indicator framework to monitor progress on the 17 SDGs has raised concerns over the availability and quality of data as well as the readiness of national statistical commissions to coordinate such a mammoth exercise. While improved data systems will be critical to the SDG agenda helping to uncover the various disparities in development progress at the national level, equally important is the call for active citizen participation and increased accountability in this monitoring framework. Many have called for the open and participatory approach that shaped Agenda 2030 to now be reflected in the monitoring process through the adoption of transparent and inclusive mechanisms for citizen participation.
Last month the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF 2016) – tasked with providing political leadership, guidance and recommendations for the implementation, follow-up and review processes of sustainable development commitments – convened for the first time since the adoption of Agenda 2030 under the theme of “Leave No One Behind”. With yet another resounding endorsement for prioritizing issues of inequality and inclusion, the grounds are ripe for moving from rhetoric to action in this regard.
Two events co-hosted by the UNDP RIO+ Centre during the Forum convened over 150 government, UN and civil society actors to delve deeper into how the Agenda 2030 follow-up and review processes can be structured so as to advance principles of inclusion and accountability. More specifically, the high-level event Towards Thematic Reviews for an Integrated Follow-Up & Review of the 2030 Agenda and the HLPF side event Thematic Reviews for an Integrated, Inclusive and Participatory Follow-up & Review of the 2030 Agenda called for the adoption of thematic reviews to accompany SDG reports allowing for integrated reporting across Goals while ensuring that this reporting is participatory.
Thematic Reviews, Participation and Accountability
The proposition of yearly Thematic Reviews that report on a select number of SDGs under specific themes provides a good opportunity to engage in more analytical and cross-cutting narratives on national SDG efforts. Since official reporting through SDG reports is likely to be driven by data from national statistics offices, the question of how to set up national processes for monitoring sustainable development that are rooted in and commensurate with Agenda 2030’s driving principle of inclusion and leaving no one behind remains unanswered.
At the HLPF in New York, the UNDP RIO+ Centre advocated for review processes that stimulate citizen-state dynamics and open opportunities not only for participation, but also for greater transparency and accountability. Thematic Reviews could provide an opportunity for more qualitative analysis on national policies, programmes and budgets that drive SDG achievement and this analysis should be produced together with civil society groups allowing them access to information. Setting up processes that foster citizens’ right to information on government policies would be a valuable step towards generating a culture of transparency and accountability.
Given the hard fought win of placing inequality and exclusion high on the SDG agenda, the Thematic Reports, regardless of their theme, should be also required to report on the cross-cutting issues of inclusion and participation as well as on how marginalized or left behind groups are actually being integrated in both policy making and reporting.
“Citizens and civil society groups need to be treated as active agents in SDG achievement processes rather than merely targets of government programmes.”
While the Agenda 2030 fully recognizes the fundamental role of civil society in the achievement of the SDGs, the space for their effective participation is in fact shrinking in many countries. A recent CIVICUS report highlights that six out of seven people live in places where the principles of free association are not respected. This points out to a worrying gap between the rhetoric on participation and the reality on the ground, further emphasizing the importance of seizing the SDG opportunity to open legitimate spaces for civil society voice to be heard through the reporting processes.
Equally important is to acknowledge the difference between participation and accountability, with the latter being key to the successful SDG achievement for all, regardless of location, race, gender and/or religion. As it is quite feasible to have strong participation with little accountability, integrating clear accountability mechanisms that are accessible to citizens is paramount to the 2030 Agenda and its sustained impact over time.
In a global context of discredited governments and a generalized loss of faith in formal political processes, the SDGs – and how governments choose to implement them – offer an extraordinary opportunity to rebuild credibility in governance systems and lay the foundations for real equitable and sustainable development.
About the New York events:
High-Level Event on Thematic Reviews for an Integrated Follow-Up & Review of the 2030 Agenda
Dates: 7 – 8 July 2016
Organizers: Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Think Tank for Sustainability (TMG), with the support of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the Fachagentur für Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR)
Co-hosts and partners: Permanent Missions to the UN of Colombia, Sierra Leone and Germany; UNDP RIO+ Centre; FAO; the Stakeholder Forum; Together 2030; International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
Summary of the event by the IISD: http://www.iisd.ca/sdgs/2030-agenda-review/
Side Event on Thematic Reviews for an Integrated, Inclusive and Participatory Follow-up & Review of the 2030 Agenda
Date: 11 July 2016
Co-hosts: Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS); Permanent Missions to the UN of Germany, Sierra Leone and Colombia; to the UN; UNDP RIO+ Centre; International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD); Stakeholder Forum; UNCTAD; FAO; TMG – Think Tank for Sustainability