Our Perspectives

Reporting progress on the 2030 Agenda: Navigating through the maze of the 17 goals


The goal is to help countries design an SDG implementation and reporting strategy that builds and maintains momentum, while enhancing integration and synergies between the goals on the short, medium and long term. Photo: UNDP

As countries implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they face competing demands. There is the desire to embrace the entire framework as a whole on one hand, and the need to be practical and focused to achieve each goal, on the other. As UNDP supports SDG reporting at the country level as well as in the global arena, part of our role is to help countries tackle this and other challenges along the way.

The global, regional and country reporting that was largely adopted for the Millennium Development Goals was goal-by-goal reporting. This might have worked well with fewer goals, but it also served to reinforce the sectoral approach to development. There is a need to think through options for reporting the SDGs in ways that would enhance integration effects and synergies, as well reduce the burden of reporting on all goals at the same time without taking our eyes off the objectives of the entire agenda.

The annual High Level Political Forum (HLPF) offers a model that could be instructive. Held under the theme “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”, the 2017 HLPF was convened this week and last at the UN Headquarters. This is a great platform for tracking progress on sustainable development commitments, including the 2030 Agenda.

The specific themes under discussion each year ensure that there is momentum kept around SDG implementation, especially as countries are still putting in place the necessary structures, frameworks and resources to be responsive to the SDG agenda in its entirety at the national and sub national levels. The early reports to the HLPF serve this purpose and are an important benchmark for future reporting on the goals and targets. Since 2016, countries have been reporting on a few goals at a time on a voluntary basis, according to selected themes.

This is a good start, as the focus on a few goals allows for closer attention to the issues under discussion. In a lot of ways, the approach offers some strategic reflections on how countries can report on the SDG agenda looking beyond the HLPF, given its breadth and integrated nature.

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There is some initial thinking towards implementing the agenda in a strategic way, where the goals and targets can be prioritized and sequenced along the horizon of Agenda 2030 with the aim of achieving the SDGs in their entirety. For such a proposal to hold, one has to assume or employ interactive actions per planning cycle, all connected and interlinked, to contribute to a set of goals and targets within short, medium and long term horizons.

In my view, this demands that we all think long and hard on the 17 Goals and respective targets to determine which ones could be:

  • Catalytic: which should be implemented in the short-term to spur action on the SDG agenda;
  • Accelerators: In the medium term, these goals positively impact a wider range of goals at the same time; and
  • End goals: With a long-term horizon, these would be achieved primarily as a resulting action of other goals, without the process of application being linear.

With these parameters in mind, we can help each country design an SDG implementation strategy that builds and maintains momentum while enhancing integration and synergies between the goals.

Achieving the 2030 Agenda will mean paying attention to urgent needs as well as the building blocks for transformation in each planning cycle, whichever way countries chose to slice the SDG cake. Implementing all goals at the same time is ideal, but may not be feasible given the capacity gaps that exist, including in financing, data and statistics. As such, it would be important to connect the dots between short, medium and long-run goals, which should also guide the themes and reporting framework for the Agenda.

For a lot of countries that are still facing challenges to define the best way to implement the SDGs within their national frameworks, this could offer a plausible option that speaks to their own development priorities while achieving the whole of the SDG agenda at the same time. This approach would not only resolve the implementation dilemma that exists in some countries, but could also be useful in removing ambiguities in the choice of goals to address each reporting period, whether through the HLPF process, upcoming Regional or National SDG Reports.

Such an approach would also enforce integration effects, focus resources and capacities, bring a rationale to reporting frameworks and reduce the burden of reporting especially at the country level.

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