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The UK Voluntary National Review: making progress or missing opportunities?

Andrew Griffiths, July 2019
A busy conference chamber at the United Nations.

In November 2017, the UK government committed to report its progress towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has now presented its review (known as a voluntary national review, or VNR) to the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York.

It is great that the UK has used its VNR to reiterate its commitment to sustainable development, covering all goals and targets. However, it is also a missed opportunity, because it does not begin the process of developing a cross-government plan for SDG implementation – as a result, the VNR reads more like a mapping exercise, rather than a strategic document, and does not identify or challenge incoherent policies.

At Sightsavers, we work together with a wide range of civil society organisations. From those focused on domestic implementation in the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development network, to those working on international implementation in the Bond SDG Group, all of us agree on the need for a comprehensive UK-wide SDG implementation plan to galvanise action across government, the private sector and civil society.

We need the plan to ensure that all government policies are coherent and consistent with the SDGs, because without this we will see opportunities missed and actions in one area undermining those in another. We have argued consistently for a plan, and still believe that it is needed.

Despite the VNR’s shortcomings, hope is not lost. The review also includes a welcome commitment by the government to developing a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism. We wait to hear more detail, and are committed to working with the government to develop this mechanism, but it is clear that it will be important in the continued effort to get everyone working together to implement the SDGs, and deliver on the promise to transform our world and leave no one behind.

While the lack of a strategic plan is the headline, there are some other things to note. It is great to see the use of a case study on Sightsavers’ Everybody Counts project on disability disaggregated data included in the VNR. The use of this case study on our work supports the government’s commitment to the Inclusive Data Charter.

This is another project we work on with the UK Department for International Development and it is a critical tool for increasing political will to use disaggregated data to ensure no one is left behind in SDG implementation. The review also talks about important work to end neglected tropical diseases and to liaise with people with disabilities in its international development work, and the section on leaving no one behind is welcome.

We want to see more emphasis on listening to the voices of marginalised people, including people with disabilities, and we hope the new stakeholder engagement mechanism will be empowered to support better consultation in future.

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name of person followed by a fullstop.Andrew Griffiths
Andrew is head of advocacy at Sightsavers.
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