15 July 2019: Seven UN Member States reported on progress in implementing the SDGs in their countries, during the 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Ministers from Azerbaijan, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Turkey presented their voluntary national reviews (VNRs), and addressed questions from other Member States as well as stakeholder groups.
The seven governments were sharing their second VNRs, with each having done so previously either in 2016 or 2017. In the first panel, Azerbaijan reported that it produces disaggregated data for 88 SDG targets. The minister shared progress on the six SDGs that are the subject of in-depth review during the 2019 HLPF, and highlighted that in 2020 Azerbaijan will host the Second Baku Forum on Sustainable Development.
In questions from the floor, other governments asked: how the 2030 Agenda can support regional stability for Azerbaijan, to which Azerbaijan said there can be no development without peace; and how the government plans to engage the private sector in SDG implementation, to which Azerbaijan said it has created an agency for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Azerbaijan also responded to a comment by Armenia, noting Armenia’s “occupation of our territory” and “ethnic cleansing.”
Questions from civil society organizations (CSOs) addressed inclusion of persons with disabilities, how the government plans to involve marginalized communities such as older persons and LGBTI people in SDG implementation and policies relevant to their lives, and the “criminalization” of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Azerbaijan did not respond to any of these interventions.
The VNR process is as important as the product.
The Philippines highlighted its long-term national plan titled, ‘Ambisyon Natin 2040,’ with which the SDGs are “in sync.” The minister said VNRs help the country maintain urgency for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the VNR “process is as important as the product.” He provided highlights of efforts related to the six SDGs under review in 2019. Among these, he noted that in 2018 the country had an all-time high per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and low unemployment, and launched a green jobs act, promoted business models that include disadvantaged groups, and expanded maternity leave (SDG 8). He also reported faster income growth for the poor (SDG 10), fewer people affected by disasters (SDG 13) and a reduction in bribery (SDG 16). He said the government has created a website for SDG engagement.
Questions from Member States addressed: alignment of the long-term vision with the medium-term national plan; involvement of civil society and trade unions in SDG reporting; and best practices in SDG monitoring and review, to which the Philippines said its yearly social economic report monitors each year’s achievements in the development plan. Thailand echoed the Philippines’ view that the VNR process is as important as the product.
CSOs highlighted the government’s rejection of International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations and its denouncement of a UN report on human rights in the country, which the minister described as an instance of “Western” human rights standards being imposed on a developing country. CSOs also asked how the Philippines will include marginalized sectors, when the “current development paradigm violates the right to development for indigenous peoples.” The minister said civil society members were involved in crafting the VNR.
Sierra Leone said that in February 2019 it launched a new operational SDG blueprint, the medium-term national development plan until 2023, which also integrates the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063. The minister said Sierra Leone has created a mechanism for CSO engagement in the SDGs, which made the second VNR much easier to prepare. He said the government has identified SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) as the country’s “accelerators.” He said justice and strong institutions are “areas where we have made tremendous progress,” including a large increase in the number of underprivileged people benefiting from legal representation and alternative dispute resolution, which has reduced the number of people incarcerated for no just cause. He also reported on efforts to establish a peace and reconciliation commission. The minister noted some areas for improvement such as the income share for the bottom segment of the population: this is “a work in progress and we have to do something about it,” he said.
In comments from the floor, fellow Member States: praised Sierra Leone’s decision to spend 21% of its national budget on public education for all, and welcomed the CSO engagement platform; asked how the 2030 Agenda can help strengthen the country’s macroeconomic output; inquired about addressing the needs of adolescent girls in public education; and asked how the government could inspire other African countries in their post-conflict reconstruction efforts. CSOs asked how the government plans to address the inequalities resulting from forbidding pregnant girls to attend school. They also asked for practical plans regarding climate change, child marriage, and violence against women.
Sierra Leone said: domestic resource mobilization will be a cornerstone for raising resources going forward; it will continue to engage and share its story at the international level as “the SDGs are not just one country’s business”; it has a cluster for women and girls in its national plan and clear strategies on the way forward, including awareness of sexual and reproductive health; and CSOs are fully part of both SDG implementation and VNR reporting. He noted that a number of CSOs are part of the country’s HLPF delegation.
Chile emphasized the contribution of the private sector and CSOs to its SDG implementation. She said that as the host of the upcoming 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC, Chile will focus on biodiversity, the transition to clean energy, e-mobility and circular economy, as well as public-private collaboration on climate change. She also highlighted efforts to reduce emissions and the country’s plans to close coal plants.
Member State delegations asked Chile how it identifies and quantifies vulnerable groups, and what factors have enabled it to expand the use of renewable energy. CSOs asked how Chile is providing sexual education for those 14 years old and younger in order to reduce pregnancy rates.
In general comments about the VNR presentations, CSOs expressed concern about the time allocated for discussion, and noted that “some SDGs have been left behind” in the reviews.
In the second panel, Indonesia reported on progress in mainstreaming the SDGs into the national development agenda. The minister said there is a national SDGs roadmap 2017-2030, and a medium-term development plan for 2020-2024 will be released soon. He said Indonesia’s first VNR experience had shown the need to involve stakeholders, and this second VNR process was underpinned by inclusiveness and leaving no one behind, including persons with disabilities. He highlighted both online and offline consultations, which, he said, showcased 43 “SDG best practices” from both state and non-state actors. The minister also noted challenges with access to and quality of public services, and availability of adequate, up-to-date and disaggregated data and information.
Member States asked Indonesia how it will further reduce deforestation, and how it made progress on action against childhood stunting, praised the strong role of the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI), and asked how the government plans to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the energy sector.
Turkey said its 2016 VNR had set a road map for achieving the SDGs, including a phase for stocktaking to assess its baseline in terms of national policies, legislation and practices. The minister reported that 218 indicators were assigned to government ministries, and that in 2019 the SAI began an assessment of Turkey’s readiness to implement the SDGs. He said the second VNR had presidential-level political ownership and featured partnerships with CSOs, academia and the private sector, for a total of 2,000 individuals and institutions were involved the VNR process. He said major achievements included performance in eradicating poverty, and that the government found that success depends on the ability of several partners to act collectively.
The Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports that Guatemala said it has incorporated 99 of the 169 SDG targets in its National Development Plan. The minister also announced a tax reform aimed at mobilizing financial resources for the SDGs; a national strategy on the role of stakeholders in SDG implementation; and efforts to reduce corruption.
During the remainder of the 2019 HLPF, 40 national governments presented their first-ever VNRs. Summaries of these sessions are provided by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.