The UNSGs Report on 2030 Follow Up

Report of the Secretary-General on critical milestones towards coherent, efficient and inclusive follow-up and review at the global level

Explicit links made by targets among SDG areas By David Le Blanc UNDSD from upcoming book The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus: Challenges and an Agenda for Action 
(edited by Felix Dodds and Jamie Bartram Routledge May 2016)


This is one of the most anticipated reports from the Secretary General in recent years. The reality is the report could never be able to address what everyone wanted to see as the views were very different. I commend those that worked on the report and it will offer a very important starting point for a conversation and a reform process that will be vital if the 2030 Agenda is to be implemented.

I am someone who would have liked to see an even more disruptive report. I say disruptive because if the agenda 2030 is going to be transformative then the system needs enormous change.

I don’t necessarily like to use the phrase but it seems right here the UN needs to be ‘fit for purpose’. I would add this ALSO requires governments to do their work differently and for that matter stakeholders as well.
For those who did not read my blog on the UNGA 5th Committee - on financing the post 2030 agenda within the UN - I would just recall the salient points here for you to consider in light of what this report is asking the system to do.
First a zero budget for this work was presented to the 5th committee in November but thanks to G77 this was rejected. A kind view of this is that the people developing the UN budget were not talking to the people engaged in the 2030 process at all. A less kind view is that certain developed countries lobbied behind the scene to have this happen. The revised budget, I understand after consultation with the UN System on what it would actually cost to reorganize around this agenda was a budget of $25 million. This was then heavily reduced, before it even appeared before the 5th committee, by the same developed governments who’s Heads of State had made such eloquent speeches on implementing the 2030 agenda only 3 months before.  

At last a budget of $15 million came before the 5th Committee in December which was reduced to $7.5 million in negotiations. The reduction saw a lot taken out of the regional commission’s budget – clearly they will not be doing anything new to implement the 2030 agenda  at the regional level. The Division on Sustainable Development, the Financing for Development Office and bodies such as UNCTAD. Again clearly none of these are at the center of this new transformational agenda. For those who don’t understand British humor (usually Americans) this is me being sarcastic.

I understand this report was gone through with a toothpick to check that there were no places where it implied new funding. Perhaps member states might want to reflect on that.

I will do a number of blogs on this report so expect more comments in the coming weeks. I will leave the issue of stakeholders in particular to another blog.

High Level Political Forum

The compromise reached at Rio+20 in closing down the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), replacing it by the High Level Political Forum, before the agreement of what the 2030 agenda would be, may need to be revisited in the next ten years.

The stronger proposal for replacing the CSD was with a Council of the General Assembly which would have required some form of review and merging elements of the GA Committees 2 and 3. This always seemed to me to represent a more effective body than the HLPF as we have it now. The HLPF that is sometimes in ECOSOC and sometimes in the GA. One that doesn’t have a dedicated bureau to its work may turn out to be less effective than had been hoped for. Just remember that the negotiators of the HLPF did not know what the 2030 agenda would be and even if the HLPF would be the body to review it. It is still early days for the HLPF and the reality is that if it succeeds it will be because member states, the UN Family and stakeholders invest strong political support for it (see Friends of Governancefor Sustainable Development paper).

Ill address the work programme and other aspects of the HLPF at the end of the blog.

ECOSOC Commissions

It is clear from the report of the intent to utilize the ECOSOC Commissions that have a particular relevance to particular goals and targets. These Commissions should revise their work programme once the HLPF work programme has been agreed.  They are also requested to review their ability to convene and engage with key actors relevant  to their contributions to the 2030 Agenda, including scientists, local governments, business, and representatives of the most vulnerable people, as has been done by the Committee on World Food Security.  For some bodies this will be a departure from normal practice and will advance stakeholder engagement in those bodies. If they do it. If they don’t then the pressure of the whole process should persuade them.

It seems to me from the report that whatever comes out of those Commission will still have to go to ECOSCO before going to the HLPF. This is an example of the problem that has been created by the HLPF being a hybrid body.

Other UN bodies

The report suggests a stronger relationship between ECOSOC and its interaction with the Peacebuilding Commission and utilize its Operational or Humanitarian segments to review development, peace and humanitarian issues as a nexus.  The Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council report to the UNGA and this might be an example of where the HLPF being a hybrid body is an advantage.

UN Agencies and Programmes

ECOSOC doesn’t have a control over the work programmes of the governing bodies of UNESCO, UNEP, UNDP, WHO, FAO etc. It will then it will be an early example of whether governments are seeing this as a transformational agenda in ensuring that those bodies work programmes also dovetail into the HLPF. That also applies to the Breton Woods intuitions of the World Bank and the IMF.  As these are the same member states in the governing bodies of all these organizations.

Addis Follow up and links to the HLPF

One of the problems about the AAAA and the 2030 Agenda is that they were not better linked together. The outcome is ECOSOC also has critical responsibilities in the follow-up to the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development through the new FFD Forum, the Multistakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and the, all of which inform the discussions of goal 17 at the HLPF. There is troubling corridor discussions on if the new FFD Forum should be 3 or 5 days. You can imagine which countries want 3 and which want 5. I am very much in favor of 5 – I would have just used the five to deal with the 2030 means of implementation discussion and put the follow up too Monterrey somewhere else.

I do like one of the suggestions that the “Dialogue with Executive Secretaries of Regional Commissions” and a “High-level Dialogue with the Heads of Financial and Trade Institutions”, which are held during the ECOSOC High Level Segment (HLS), moving to become part of the HLPF discussions on regional reviews and on Means of  Implementation.

Again of the reasons why the CSD failed in its second ten years is development ministries stopped coming. In the first ten years of the CCSD there was always a week on Means of Implementation in the CSD and so development ministries attended and were active participants at a high level in the CSD (1993-2002)

So what should the Regional Commissions and other regional bodies do?

The report identifies a number of activities that the regional level might play an important role. This isn’t helped by the fact of member states reducing the core budget contribution.

The first is on regional reviews. I am a huge fan of this the idea of peer leaning working with countries often at the same or similar levels of development there can be very relevant lessons learnt and sharing of good practice as well as early indications of gaps and the development of partnerships. The African Peer Group Review Mechanism (see Friends of Governance for Sustainable Development paper) is a good example of what already exists and can be built on. A common format of reporting will need to be developed so that those lessons can be conveyed to the HLPF. The lack of proper instructions to Regional Commissions during the CSD (2003-2012) provided to be a real problem (read Stakeholder Forum report on the Energy cycle).

National Reviews

What the report and the 2030 Agenda misses is the call for governments to produce their National SDG Strategies. These should be a first step in any countries implementation of the 2030 agenda. The development of these should be done with stakeholders in their countries.  In around a third of the member states of the UN there are still in existence National Councils or Commissions on Sustainable Development (see Friends of Governance for SustainableDevelopment paper). These should play a role and governments may want to establish ones where they do not exist to help ensure that the 2030 agenda is not only inclusive but also jointly owned in its implementation by all stakeholders.  The 2030 agenda also called for a role for parliaments and any national report should also be reviewed by parliaments and their committee structure (see Friends ofGovernance for Sustainable Development paper). This should then ensure that gaps in legislation can be addressed and the executive held accountable.

The High Level Political Forum work programme

This is probably the most difficult issue to get right and I wish I had a good suggestion to make but I don’t.

What is different about this discussion compared to the ones on the work programme for the CSD in 1993, 1997 and 2003 is that it is really trying to address the interlinkages between the goals and targets.

The four year cycle in effect means there are only three years when the focused work would be undertaken before Heads of State come back together to review progress – every fourth year. It may seem a lot to deal with 17 goals in three years but the CSD did 40 chapters in 4 years it did have 4 weeks to do that in though in the period 1993-2001.

With so much of the system not yet in place I wonder if we should not start the process is earnest at the HLPF Heads of State meeting in 2019 and use the HLPFs between now and then for developing the norms and utilizing dialogues on the way forward.

The report suggests that inputs to HLPF might follow a simple template covering:

(i) an assessment of areas  of progress and setback at the global level;
(ii) the identification of areas requiring urgent attention; 
(iii) valuable lessons learned; 
(iv) emerging issues; 
(v) areas where political guidance by the HLPF is required; and 
(vi) policy recommendations and  tools to accelerate progress.

The HLPF itself would:
(i) Review  of  overall progress, with the review of the SDG progress report, National Reviews, and Regional Reviews; 
(ii) Review of progress in specific areas, with thematic review on the Theme and In-depth Reviews of a subset of SDGs; 
(iii) Review of SDG 17 and other inputs on the implementation of the AAAA; and 
(iv) new and emerging issues and looking to the long term.

One significant difference from the CSD 2003-2011 is the suggestion that emerging issues can be part of the HLPF. This is important because a lot will happen over the next 15 years and the HLPF should be tasked to address any of those that impact on the 2030 agenda or need to be included.

The second significant issue that is different from the CSD is the recognition that the HLPF needs to address the interlinkages between the goals and targets. The 2030 Agenda decided that the HLPF will carry out thematic reviews of progress on “the SDGs including cross-cutting issues”. The report suggested various options for reviewing the SDGs.
  1. A first option is, in any given year, to have a comprehensive review of all the SDGs through the lens of the theme. Such an option will help examine the linkages and synergies among the goals and targets. This however may restrict the depth of the treatment of the SDGs during the HLPF, given the number of meeting days.
  2. As a second option, the HLPF could look not only at all 17 goals through the lens of the theme for that year, but also, in addition, carry out an in-depth Goal by Goal review of a few SDGs.

Although more difficult the second option seems to me to have more merit. It ensures both a review of each Goal over the three year period as well as looking at theme through a cross sectorial approach. This will force UN bodies, government departments and stakeholders to think more coherently and not just through sector lens.

It is critical that SDG17 is looked at each year. I would have preferred as those who have read my blog before I think much more could and should have been done about mainstreaming SDG 17 under each goal. Not as much as a goal but as a section on means of implementation. Perhaps in the review the parts of the FfD process that address a relevant goal should also be considered there after initial discussion in the FFD Forum.

The report makes some suggestions on what the cross sector issues might be: “Governance for sustainable development: a means and an end”; “empowering women and girls for sustainable development”; “integrating sustainable development into plans and processes”: “Giving effect to the 2030 Agenda; eradication of poverty in all its form and dimensions”; “integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development”; “strengthening and renewal of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”; “science and technology and productive diversification for sustainable development”; and “crosscutting enablers of sustainable development: culture and the rule of law”.

The other suggestion was organizing the work programme around People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships as contained in the 2030 Agenda.

Of the two I think the second working around the 5 P’s would be the best its clearly in the agenda 2030 and would ensure I think that some of the cross cutting themes in option 1 are dealt with more often.

UN reorganization

Once the changes have been agreed by member states then the Secretary General should look at the issue of reorganization with the secretariat. Perhaps breaking up UNDESA to two Departments one dealing with the 2030 agenda the other less related issues. After all it used to by three Departments up until 1997 when the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, the Department for Development Support and Management Services and the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis were merged to form the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

A living document

I remember discussing with former UNDSD Director Tariq Banuri what could have been done different in the old CSD. He came up with an idea I think is worth considering. He suggested perhaps that Agenda 21 should have been a living document. That when we reviewed it we added or deleted from the original document so that it was very clear what was being implemented. Perhaps the 2030 Agenda should also be considered this way.

A final word

As I said earlier in the blog I will return to the issue of stakeholders in another blog in the coming week. The general thrust of the report is in the right direction and clearly strengthens the stakeholder discourse and I would suggest that those promoting the civil society discourse consider how they will interface through the HLPF. As there is no civil society seat but an NGO one. I’ve again blogged on this issue and will continue to do so this year a stakeholder discourse opens space a civil society discourses closes space.


  1. Interesting. However, your comments like the Draft SG Report itself focus on What questions instead of focus on How questions.

    Shame that budget of $25 million was slashed to $7.5 million. This is bad. That entire UN less WBG and IMF Budget is about Budget of New York is Worse. There is no reason, if there is enlightened self interest, why the UN should not be adequately funded and Empowered to achieve more with such fund.

    It will be recalled that the Draft SG Report on Follow Up and Review Summary suggested rightly that it would focus on answer to How questions but the content focus on answer to What questions. This is regrettable and should be corrected without delay before release of Final SG Report on Follow Up and Review in 6 UN Official Languages.

    It will be recalled further that the SG Global Consultation on How report is yet to be released. It was to have been released 15 December 2015. What was released on 3 different dates last year was Synthesis Report on contributions of respondents on Member States, UN System and NGO sides that avoided or evaded inclusion of points made by the only respondent from any of the 3 sides that actually answered How questions - ISPE / EAG International Society for Poverty Elimination / Economic Alliance Group. We understand that the Draft SG Global Consultation on How report will be released in January 2016. It is our hope that this Draft Report will indeed answer How questions and will be relaesed in 6 UN Official Languages.

    It is clear that without correct answer to How, Who does What, Who Pays for What, Sanctions and Enforcement questions, it will be a Mirage seeking to achieve AAAA, SDG, COP21 Outcome, Agenda 21 Vision Ambitions. Can our World afford ultimate catastrophic consequences of failure to achieve Global Goals in each of 193 Member States?

    In sum, it would be more helpful, if you devote your energy in ways that help shift 193 Member States, UN System including WBG and IMF and CSOs'/NGOs' focus away from Talking and Thinking towards focus on Action and Accomplishment.

  2. Dear Lanre
    This is the report the UN has produced due to the input from the member states and the UN system and stakeholders there is no other report being produced. warmest regards felix


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