It’s a good moment to reflect on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. In July each year, Governments come back to the United Nations in New York to report on the progress they have made at the catchily named ‘High level Political Forum’ or HLPF for short. Ok so the name might not sound that exciting but it’s a really important moment to hold Governments to account for the promises they made when they signed up to the Global Goals just 2 years ago.
Each year a different set of Goals are in the spotlight – this year it was:
- Goal 1. No Poverty
- Goal 2. Zero Hunger
- Goal 3. Good Health and Wellbeing
- Goal 5. Gender Equality
- Goal 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
- Goal 14. Life below Water
These reviews are voluntary so there is absolutely no obligation on countries to report. Nevertheless, this year 43 countries signed themselves up (which in addition to the 22 from last year brings us up to 65 )– not bad given we’re only two years in. The other challenge is that there is still no consistent reporting format so it’s difficult to actually compare countries. There is a huge amount of information on the HLPF website. However, it can be a frustrating progress to figure out what is actually going on and get beneath the jargon. So, having just returned from the HLPF, here’s 5 things that jumped out at me:
- We should be optimistic about progress
It’s easy to feel down about the state of the world what with the cataclysmic political changes of the last few years. There are many naysayers who think we simply can’t achieve the aspirations of the Global Goals. But there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Each year the UN releases a progress report to coincide with the HLPF. It highlights some of those reasons for optimism – from the fact that extreme poverty and the number of children dying from preventable diseases have halved in a generation to increased access to clean fuels and technology . As the brilliant Nick Kristof has pointed out, that means that every day
- Another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty
- 300,000 people gain access to electricity
- and 285,000 get their first access to drinking water.
That’s pretty amazing right?
2. There’s some pretty cool stuff happening nationally:
As well as the big picture, there is some impressive stuff happening on the ground. You can read every country’s review on the UN Website and if you’re a bit of a policy wonk there’s lots to dig into. Here’s a few things that caught my eye both from the HLPF and other things announced this year:
- Innovative policy solutions to fight poverty: like India’s huge financial inclusion programme which has already reached over 300 million people. Or how about the installation in Nairobi of water ATMs enabling city dwellers to pay for water using mobile technology.
- Donors stepping up: at the HLPF, Japan announced it would commit US$1 billion in aid in by 2018, and this year Germany became one of the few countries to meet the UN’s 0.7% aid target
- Action on women’s empowerment: This year Canada unveiled what it called its first feminist international-assistance policy to ensure that at least 95% of the country’s aid will help improve the lives of women and girls. There’s also progress on getting more women into politics. In Kenya the High Court has ruled that at least one third of parliamentarians must be women. Let’s see what happens in this month’s election. And even though we have a long way to go in the UK the fact that we now have more women MPs than ever is a great step forward.
- Countries are taking SDG implementation seriously: On the wonkier side many countries are really prioritising SDG implementation from Nigeria’s appointment of a presidential adviser on the SDGs to the Netherlands establishment of a high-level working group with representatives from each Ministry.
3. Leave No One Behind is getting a bit well ‘left behind’:
The commitment to Leave No One Behind was one of the most ground-breaking elements of the Global Goals. Yet whilst this was the theme of last year’s HLPF there is no stipulation to report on this. There were some countries who did emphasise the importance of this agenda like Botswana who spoke about their flagship poverty eradication programme. Civil society is also trying valiantly to keep a spotlight on the issue – including through the Leave No One Behind partnership which Project Everyone is part of. But more needs to happen and countries should be obligated to include a report back on this element each year
4. We need better data
Data was a big topic at this year’s HLPF and whilst there’s lots of great work in this area like the work being carried out by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data we need to step up the pace as the SDG progress reports. After all, if we don’t know what’s happening we can’t address the gaps or maximise the opportunities.
5. The Goals really are for everyone:
As mentioned, this year 43 countries reported to the UN on progress. They ranged from the rich like Denmark to some of the poorest like Afghanistan. From tiny states like Monaco to giants like Nigeria. The breadth of countries reflects the universality of the agenda. And for the richer countries – this isn’t just about what they do as donors (although this is clearly important) but also reporting on their own progress to achieving the Goals. That’s because the fight against inequality and environmental damage is relevant wherever you live. The only way we can defeat them is together.
So what’s next?
2030 is not that far off – in fact we’ve got about 1000 days till we hit the 5 year mark of 2020 and as the UN has emphasised we need to ramp up action if we’re going to have any chance of reaching those targets. It’s important that we continue to join forces – governments, business, civil society, the UN – to keep the pressure up.
For our part, Project Everyone is working with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to bring together leaders from around the world (young and a bit older!) during the UN General Assembly for a new event called Goalkeepers. The aim is to put a spotlight on progress, delve into what needs to happen next and help galvanize action towards the Goals.