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How much progress did countries make on the SDGs in 2020?

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for countries to increase action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The goals provide a transformative framework to recover from Covid-19 and build an inclusive, just and sustainable future for all. But many countries, including the UK, have yet to fully embrace the transformative potential of Agenda 2030 and deliver on their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

Today, the fifth edition of Progressing National SDG Implementation, an annual analysis of all countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), has been published. The report reveals a range of good practices and recommendations, as well as positive and concerning trends in countries’ SDG implementation and reporting.

The report, led by Cooperation Canada and directly supported by Bond and other international civil society organisations, reviews the 47 VNR reports submitted to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in July 2020. The timely recommendations provide governments, civil society organisations and other stakeholders with tangible ways to accelerate action on the goals.

Trends in how countries implement and report on the SDGs

The report highlights that the formal inclusion of non-state actors, such as civil society organisations, in governance arrangements such as councils, committees, and other engagement mechanisms has emerged as standard practice. However, reporting on multi-stakeholder engagement outside governance arrangements has decreased. For example, the number of countries reporting on consultations to define national priorities decreased significantly, from 89% in 2019 to 47% in 2020. It is critical that civil society is involved in governance arrangements to ensure an inclusive, whole-of-society approach for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

A prerequisite to effective engagement is an enabling environment for civil society. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing trends restricting global civic space. Civil society, human rights, democracy and the rule of law are under increasing pressure across the world.

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Despite these concerning developments, countries reporting in 2020 were largely silent on these issues, despite increasing calls for action from civil society organisations and others worldwide. It is critical that governments promote positive public narratives around civil society and its participation in policy-making and development processes.

Reporting on the leaving no one behind agenda continues to improve. 92% of countries provided either robust information throughout their VNR report, or a dedicated chapter to “leave no one behind”.

Although data to leave no one behind improved in 2020, disaggregated data remains a key challenge for many countries. A lack of appropriate data disaggregation has a direct impact on the ability to track progress for excluded people, which is even more important as marginalised people continue to be deprived of health, education, equality, peace and justice.

Not enough progress on the UK’s commitments

In its first VNR in 2019, the UK government provided a set of welcome commitments, including establishing an effective mechanism to enhance stakeholder engagement and cooperation with government on SDG implementation. Despite this, the UK government has yet to make any progress on the commitments made in 2019.

The report recommends that all countries, including the UK, follow good practice in multi-stakeholder engagement by ensuring that approaches are timely, open and inclusive, transparent, informed and iterative. We urge the UK government to take immediate action to fulfil its 2019 commitments and establish an inclusive, multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism on SDG implementation.

As the UK hosts world leaders for the 2021 G7 Summit and COP26, it’s important that the government sets a good example in an exceptionally challenging context by focusing on achieving the SDGs, alongside fulfilling the Paris Agreement, and delivering human rights, racial justice, gender equality and labour standards.


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