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Don’t know your ECOSOC from your elbow? Or your HLPF from your PDF? Two of Restless Development’s policy team, Sarah Haynes, Policy Co-ordinator, and Sophie Foreman, Communications Officer, break down the jargon in the recent UN Secretary General’s report to uncover what’s good, what needs work and what’s missing.
What is the UN Secretary General report, why does it matter?
Don’t know your ECOSOC from your elbow? Or your HLPF from your PDF? Sometimes UN spaces and policy documents are filled with so many acronyms, it can get confusing, even for us! All you really need to know is that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General (UNSG), has released a report on how we should follow-up and review the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, also known as the “Global Goals”), which officially kicked in on January 1st this year.
The follow-up and review part of the process will look over what action is being taken to achieve the SDGs in every country around the world, find out what is going well, and look to learn from what is not working. Follow-up and review will take place in national parliaments, regional meetings, and at the UN itself. For all the policy geeks out there, you can read more about the follow-up and review process in the full report here.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the things we like in the UNSG Report, things we want more of, and things we think are missing. Having just released our own report on How To Scale Up Ambition on Youth-Led Accountability for the SDGs, we think there’s room for improvement.
What we like:
- National & Regional element - The report sets out that “Global action and review are only valuable if they build on national and regional efforts”, (para. 12). As it’s the national governments who are implementing the Global Goals, it makes sense to use national review systems, too. The national level is also where most countries are held accountable by their citizens. In our Scale Up Ambition report, we recommend Members of Parliament hold regular dialogues with young people, ensure open access to information on how implementation is going, and ensure youth are included in regional review spaces, (our recommendations 1.3, 1.4 & 1.5).
- Shadow reporting and external reviews - The UN has pledged to consider “rigorous and independent” work of non-UN actors in progress reviews, (para.14), and will “champion innovative practices to engage non-state actors” (para. 15). This will provide an extra level of scrutiny on progress towards achieving the SDGs, with civil society and young people assessing the progress of governments. This will include the Major Group for Children and Youth.
- Long term view and vision - The report outlines the need for the global level,( UN systems), to look at the “impact of today’s trends and policy choices on the SDGs – 10, 15 or 30 years from now – and serve as the platform for identifying and addressing new and emerging trends”. In a world full of five-year electoral cycles, one of the main roles the UN can play is building in the longer terms vision and goals. Our Scale Up Ambition report, outlines the kind of youth-led accountability framework we hope to have in place by 2030 - a “youth-led paradigm shift on accountability”, in line with the long-term vision Ban Ki-moon sets out in his report.
What we want more of....
- Participation - There are hints at an “inclusive approach” with wider “inclusiveness and participation” at the national and sub-national levels, (para. 16). But, young people are only mentioned three times! If the SDGs are to be truly ambitious and transformative, participation of young people and other marginalised groups still needs to be prioritised.
- Ensuring that high quality data supports the reviews - Whilst highlighting the need for high quality data is welcome, unfortunately the report specifies “drawing on already existing in-depth technical analysis and datasets” (para 70). We call for citizen-generated and third party data, with shadow indicators, designed and measured by young people in partnership with UN bodies and national agencies. You can find out more about these in proposal two of our Scale Up Ambition report!
- The word “accountability” - Is not used NEARLY enough. Whereas “follow-up and review” will enable learning as we implement the SDGs, the word “accountability” includes seeking answers and enforcing action. Interestingly a number of Member States were against the use of the word “accountability” through the SDG negotiations, but we see it used in this report. Whilst this addition is welcome, unfortunately the report only mentions accountability of civil society for the SDGs, but not the UN system, national governments or the private sector.
- Review at the local level - The best people to comment on the progress of the SDGs are people themselves: based in local communities. The SDG follow-up and review process is missing ‘ground-level’ monitoring and reporting based on the experiences of citizens, something we suggest in our Scale Up Ambition report.
- Informal styles of feedback - Gathering feedback through informal mechanisms such as online platforms and social media would not only include young people, but would enable participation from a wider sector of society overall.
How can we ensure accountability for the SDGs is effective and youth-led? Find out more in our full report Follow-up and Review: How to Scale Up Youth-led Accountability for the SDGs.