*This article was written by Faye Leone and originally appeared on the IISD SDG Knowledge Hub.

A multi-stakeholder network on national review processes for the SDGs discussed solutions for a more robust UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), as well as preparations for the HLPF’s two sessions in 2019. The Partners for Review (P4R) network is implemented by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ).

Initiated by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the P4R network meets twice per year to convene government representatives and stakeholders from civil society, academia and the private sector who are involved in national processes to review and monitor action to achieve the SDGs. The fifth meeting took place from 6-7 November 2018, in Berlin, Germany.

Welcoming participants, Ingolf Dietrich, BMZ Commissioner for 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, emphasized that the SDG Summit 2019 – the HLPF meeting at the level of Heads of State in September 2019 – needs to provide a strong political impetus to the global community to increase ambition to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. Dietrich furthermore stressed that national SDG review processes must go beyond data and statistics to also ask “why.” Stephan Contius, BMU Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, said the UN is considering a focus on the SDGs for its 75th birthday celebrations in 2020. He also highlighted his expectation for common messaging from both the SDG Summit and an event convened by the UN Secretary-General on climate action (SDG 13), taking place the day before the SDG Summit.

Eric Olson, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the voluntary national review (VNR) component of the HLPF is especially important at a time of “shifting views on international cooperation.” He suggested that the VNRs should include a stronger focus on mutual learning.

A panel discussion launched a P4R magazine titled, ‘Tracking progress together: emerging practices in National SDG Review.’ Among the practices highlighted in the publication, Enid Chaverri Tapia of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy described the national pact signed by the three branches of government and various stakeholders. She noted that there has been continuity from the previous administration to the new one, due to political will from the current president.

During the meeting, participants expressed a strong interest in the HLPF review process and having a voice in shaping reforms. Among the proposals discussed were:

  • Provide specific guidelines for a country’s second and subsequent VNR, to ensure that governments report back to the HLPF on implementation experiences following the previous VNR;
  • Make more use of opportunities at the regional level to convene substantive exchange and peer learning;
  • Review SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) each year along with SDG 17 (partnership for the Goals);
  • Agree that the VNRs can use non-official data;
  • Publish shadow/spotlight reports together with official reports;
  • Increase the time during the HLPF devoted to each VNR presentation; and
  • Increase the number of days allocated to the HLPF each year and/or convene a separate “spring meeting.”

Participants underlined the value of testing ideas, admitting challenges, and learning from each other, stressing that governments must make more of the mutual learning element of the follow-up and review process, and ensure that they have a “real dialogue” during the HLPF. Discussions also underscored:

  • The importance of data privacy in the context of efforts to use available data sources, and the value of journalism and storytelling for enhancing the impact of data;
  • Tension between the need for urgent, transformative action and the need to establish data sets and indicators to measure progress; and
  • The need for critical assessments of stakeholder participation to ensure it is not just cosmetic but meaningful, and to carefully consider the role of “shadow” or “spotlight” reports to ensure they are making a difference.

On specific SDGs, discussions underscored that SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) may be the most difficult because of the behavior changes required and the complexity of decoupling resource use from growing prosperity. SDG 16 was described by many participants as the most interlinked Goal with all the others. On SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), some noted that its consideration during the 2019 HLPF could set up the coming year as a phase of connecting the SDGs and human rights.

The P4R meeting also included three optional segments around Berlin on 5 November. During these field visits to the offices of SDG-related entities, participants learned about trends and challenges related SDG implementation at the federal level, in civil society organizations and with regard to data and statistics.

Preceding the network meeting, a high-level conference took place on the evening of 5 November, hosted by BMU and BMZ. International speakers from both politics, academia, civil society and business addressed the need to accelerate change for sustainable development in Germany and worldwide. They discussed ways to ensure that real transformation is taking place, rather than incremental change, and shared initial views on the September 2019 SDG and climate summits. German government officials emphasized that the SDG Summit should serve as a wake-up call for countries to deliver on their commitments, and that the summit also has to stimulate increased action on implementing the SDGs, particular on the goals and targets on which least progress has been made, and to boost support for investment in sustainable technology.