Progressing National SDGs Implementation

As the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cross their halfway mark, the latest report by a civil society watchdog coalition shines a spotlight on how countries are making progress—or backsliding—on building a better world.

By Wangu Mwangi on April 2, 2024
  • Out of roughly 140 SDG targets for which data is available, only around 12% are on track.

  • Compared to 2022, more countries say they have established new SDG coordinating institutions to enhance a "whole-of-government" approach. However, data is lacking.

  • The report supports establishing an annual "commitment tracker" where member states include progress on commitments made as part of their VNRs or at the 2023 SDG Summit.

This eighth report in the Progressing National SDGs Implementation series examines the 39 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented in July 2023 to the United Nations during the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). These reports are intended to hold UN member states accountable to their citizens and each other on reaching the visionary SDGs but can vary widely in terms of depth of data, inclusion of civil society voices, and adherence to the UN Secretary-General’s Updated Voluntary Common Reporting Guidelines for VNRs.

As with previous editions, the 2023 Progressing National SDG Implementation report provides an annual “SDG reality check” by interspersing countries’ official analysis with direct responses and additional insights from spotlight reports submitted by broad coalitions of civil society organizations directly involved in SDG implementation and monitoring in each country.

Key findings include the following:

  • most countries have continued to improve means of implementation and their overarching policy processes to formally mainstream the SDGs within national policy frameworks;
  • a considerable number of reports focus on cross-cutting and systemic issues, in part due to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to address intersecting global crises;
  • many reports generally lack tangible evidence of iterative policy-making for the SDGs, which is critical to learning from past experiences and setting future targets that are both realistic and ambitious;
  • while there are some good examples of self-critical and forward-looking analyses, the bulk of VNRs fall short of the standard set in the UN Secretary-General’s VNR Guidelines;
  • there is an increasing tendency to view opportunities to dialogue with civil society groups as a “tick box” exercise—a formal requirement with limited impact on the drafting of the final VNR.

Springboarding off the VNR gaps and best practices of 2023, this report makes recommendations for both the country-level and global actions to improve VNR reporting and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs as their deadline edges closer.

This report was coordinated by Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD) in collaboration with diverse partner organizations, including Cooperation Canada, British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND), Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), Forus, Global Focus, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Save the Children UK, and Sightsavers.

2023 VNRs were submitted by the following countries: Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Comoros, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, European Union, Fiji, France, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Maldives, Mongolia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, and Zambia.

Report details

Governance and Multilateral Agreements
Sustainable Development Goals
Focus area
Act Together
Action for Sustainable Development
Action for Sustainable Development, 2024