In the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: Civil Society plays key role in voluntary national reviews and coherence

By Sarah Dayringer

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are using United Nation’s processes to hold governments accountable for their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including processes such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the Climate Change agenda. The annual High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the main forum by which CSOs can hold governments and others accountable at the global level. It brings together global, regional, national and thematic reviews.

The 2017 HLPF will convene under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 10-19 July, including the three-day ministerial meeting of the Forum 17-19 July 2017. The theme is “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”.

The HLPF has a multi-year programme and it will focus on a set of the SDGs each year. The 2017 HLPF will take an in-depth look at the following set of goals in 2017:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

  • Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. This goal will be reviewed each year.

Many CSO groups have already connected the HLPF to their national and regional level work. In 2016, the Social Watch network members issued many national CSO reports ( Their findings and recommendations are also essential contributions and building blocks for the “Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development”, which was produced as a synthesis of the progress towards the SDGs in 2016 (

Preparations are already being made for the 2017 HLPF by the United Nations and some governments.

One aspect of the review process, among other functions, is to conduct voluntary national reviews (VNRs), which are meant to be, as laid out in General Assembly resolution 67/290 (, “state-led, involving ministerial and other relevant high-level participants’ and should provide a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders” on the set of goals chosen for the HLPF. As of January 2016, there were 40 countries signed on to deliver VNRs at the 2017 HLPF. These are listed on the UN Sustainable Development Platform (

Afghanistan                   Argentina                     Bangladesh                   Belarus

Belgium                           Belize                             Botswana                       Brazil

Chile                                 Costa Rica                     Cyprus                            Czech Republic

Denmark                        El Salvador                   Ethiopia                          Guatemala

Honduras                       India                               Indonesia                       Iran (Islamic Republic of)

Italy                                  Japan                              Jordan                             Kenya

Luxembourg                 Malaysia                         Maldives                         Monaco

Nepal                               Netherlands                Panama                           Peru

Portugal                         Qatar                               Slovenia                          Sweden

Thailand                         Togo                               Uruguay                          Zimbabwe

Two Expert Group meetings were organised by the UN to refine and further develop the process. The Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Voluntary National Reviews, held in December 2016 (, discussed the draft synthesis report on the 2016 HLPF Voluntary National Reviews. The final report was released in early 2017 ( and examines a range of topics addressed in the 2016 VNRs, including awareness raising, the involvement of stakeholders, institutional mechanisms to implement the 2030 Agenda, incorporation of the SDGs into national frameworks, capacity building needs, and means of implementation (MoI).

At the EGM in December, it was recommended that the tentative deadline for the submission of main messages from the VNRs be 19 May and for full reports, 16 June 2017. This was due to strong interest in ensuring that Member States and United Nations leadership take into consideration the efforts being made at the national level prior to the HLPF itself, as to better inform and advise the way forward.

The second EGM focused on coherence between the agendas, including input from the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development follow-up (FfD Forum) and the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology & Innovation (STI Forum) ( Its main objectives, as stated in the meeting’s Concept Note ( are:

  • To facilitate preparations for the 2017 HLPF and foster synergies with the FfD and STI Fora.

  • To engage in discussions aimed at ensuring a coherent review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global level considering its holistic and indivisible nature in the course of this first four-year cycle.

  • To engage in a strategic debate on maximising the role and contribution of the ECOSOC system to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, in keeping with existing mandates and responsibilities.

A series of questions were developed to guide the work towards the integrative implementation of the Agendas.

The following questions addressed the follow-up and review process:

  • How should reviews address the thematic cycle of the HLPF (in 2017, SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17) and still respect the indivisible nature of all SDGs?

  • How should Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) be structured and presented at the HLPF to facilitate sharing and comparison?

  • How could Member States invite Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS) participation in the VNRs at the national and global levels?

The EGM also focused specifically on the FfD Forum (to be held 22-25 May 2017), recognizing its mandate to provide a dedicated follow-up and review of the financing for development outcomes, as well as for the means of implementation (MoI) of the SDGs. It acknowledged  some weaknesses of the 2016 FfD Forum: “the [FfD] Forum needs to provide more space for in-depth dialogue on national implementation among national policymakers”. Additionally, the level of engagement of international financial institutions (IFIs) in the FfD Forum has been prioritised. And voluntary country presentations of the implementation of the Addis Agenda are a proposed addition for the 2017 FfD Forum, being seen as complementary to the VNRs at the HLPF. In considering these issues, the following questions were laid out:

  • How can the 4-day Forum address sufficiently the entire Addis Agenda, including all its action areas and the MoI of the 2030 Agenda and at the same time provide opportunity for focused thematic discussions? How can the three-pronged approach of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) report be reflected in the programme of the Forum?

  • How can the FfD Forum mobilise greater participation of national policy makers dealing with FfD issues, in particular, ministers of finance, foreign affairs and development, as well as central bank governors? Building on the success of the VNRs of HLPF, can voluntary country presentations of the implementation of the Addis Agenda help the FfD Forum to strengthen sharing of national experiences? How can these presentations be organised most effectively in order to complement the VNRs at the HLPF?

  • What actions can ECOSOC take to improve engagement with IFIsl and trade institutions, in particular Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the preparations for the FfD Forum? What elements of the interactive dialogue with BWIs can be further strengthened to improve the participation of BWIs and the quality of discussions?

Another set of questions addressed how the UN can manage inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships:

  • What actions are needed to employ effective policy integration, coherence and coordination at the global level, as a lever for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda? How can such actions ensure that sustainable development reaches the most marginalised, isolated and vulnerable groups within countries?

  • What will it take for partnerships – in all its forms – to best support efforts in all countries, to achieve the integrated 2030 Agenda and leave no-one behind?

  • What incentives are needed to ensure and strengthen multi-stakeholder engagement at all levels of implementation? How can the 2030 Agenda become a business model for the public and private sector?

  • What is expected of the UN development system at the global, regional and country levels

Preparations are taking place at the regional level leading up to the HLPF in July, which provide additional opportunities for CSO engagement. The UN Regional Commissions are holding meetings as follows:

  • The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, Thailand 29-31 March 2017;

  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)  in Geneva, Switzerland 25 April 2017;

  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Mexico City, Mexico 26-28 April 2017; and

  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)16 May 2017. The venue has yet to be announced.

To keep track of HLPF 2017 news, including the most recent documents, side events and registration process, visit the United Nations Sustainable Development Platform ( Follow Global Policy Watch on Twitter @gpolicywatch, using hashtags #HLPF and #SDGs; or, see the latest news from inside the UN in New York at


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