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SDGs Bulletin

Volume 208 Number 16 | Monday, 11 July 2016

Summary of the High-level Event “Towards Thematic Reviews
for an Integrated Follow-up & Review of the 2030 Agenda”:

7-8 July 2016 | New York, US

Language: EN (HTML/PDF)
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The High-Level Event “Thematic Reviews for an Integrated Follow-Up & Review of the 2030 Agenda” was held from 7-8 July 2016 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Metropolitan Hotel in New York, US. The event was organized by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Think Tank for Sustainability (TMG), with the support of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the Fachagentur für Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR), and co-hosted by the Permanent Missions to the UN of Colombia, Sierra Leone and Germany. Partners of the event were the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+), Stakeholder Forum, Together 2030, and International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

During the meeting, participants discussed, among other issues, how global thematic reviews of progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can best support and integrated and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda.


This high-level event was part of a series of conferences and events organized by IASS and various partners aiming to inform the intergovernmental negotiation process on the 2030 Agenda and follow-up and review, with a focus on ensuring an integrated and inclusive implementation of the SDGs from the perspective of natural resources.

GLOBAL SOIL WEEK: The Global Soil Week (GSW) is an initiative of the IASS Global Soil Forum. The GSW convened for the first time in Berlin in 2012. It was established by IASS and partners as a forum for interactive exchange and dialogue among stakeholders and aimed to develop plans of action for sustainable land/soil management and governance. The second meeting (October 2013, Berlin, Germany) discussed, among other issues, integrating land and soils in the SDGs debate. At the third GSW (April 2015, Berlin, Germany), participants highlighted: that soil protection and rehabilitation is not only about technologies, but also about human rights; the need to implement the SDGs consistently and take advantage of their transformational potential; and the need to build on the diversity of available knowledge and link it to decisions on the ground.

HIGH-LEVEL EVENT ON FOLLOW-UP AND REVIEW MECHANISMS FOR NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AND GOVERNANCE TO ACHIEVE THE SDGS: Organized by IASS and other partners, this event (May 2015 in New York, US) built on discussions of the third GSW, focused on natural resource management, and sought to inform UN Member States’ deliberations during the intergovernmental negotiation process on the 2030 Agenda. The event highlighted the need for a participatory and integrated approach to identify synergies and priorities for natural resource management and governance, and discussed ways for their operationalization.

UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT SUMMIT: The UN General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda including the SDGs at a summit of heads of state and government in September 2015. It is composed of a preamble, a declaration, 17 SDGs and 169 supporting targets, means of implementation (MOI) and the Global Partnership, and a framework for follow-up and review of implementation.

HIGH-LEVEL EVENT ON FOLLOW-UP AND REVIEW OF THE 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Held in conjunction with the Global Land Tool Network’s 6th Partners Meeting (November 2015, Nairobi, Kenya), this meeting was one of the first on the 2030 Agenda follow-up and review. Discussions focused on natural resources, land and soil. Participants concluded, among other issues, that: land  and  soil  and  other  natural  resources  are  a  crosscutting  issue  and  will  support  the achievement  of  many  SDGs; thematic  reviews  on  natural  resources  such  as  land  and  soil  can  support  SDGs follow-up  and review; integrated and participatory approaches require efforts by  governments, civil society, and the multilateral system; and national reviews need to be linked to the global level.

CONFERENCE ON JUMP-STARTING THE SDGS IN GERMANY: NATURAL RESOURCES AND SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION: Organized by IASS and partners, this event (May 2016, Berlin, Germany) addressed the challenges and opportunities of implementing the SDGs in Germany and worldwide. It focused on natural resources and sustainable consumption and production patterns, taking into consideration Germany’s role as a major consumer of natural resources in a globalized world. Main outcome messages included that: implementing the 2030 Agenda has to start immediately at national level and first steps have to be presented and discussed at HLPF 2016;  concrete thematic areas, such as the sustainable management of natural resources and changing consumption and production patterns, help to accomplish an integrated approach and allow highlighting synergies and trade-offs; countries like Germany must lead by example; participation is key; and SDG implementation should be seen as a global learning process.


On Thursday morning, Jes Weigelt and Ivonne Lobos Alva, IASS, welcomed participants, noting that the countdown to achieve the 2030 Agenda was set at the beginning of 2016 and that follow-up and review will be crucial for its successful implementation. They explained that the event was designed as a contribution to discussions on follow-up and review at the upcoming HLPF meeting and that it would focus on “why” and “how” thematic reviews should be conducted so that they can support an integrated and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

María Emma Mejía-Vélez, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN, reported that Colombia established an inter-sectoral commission coordinating national government departments which, among other activities, developed indicators for use at the national and local levels. She stressed that addressing linkages among SDGs is a “titanic” task, suggesting that thematic reviews also stimulate integrated reporting by the UN development system.

Heiko Thoms, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, welcomed the variety of stakeholders in the room. He said Germany is currently in a multi-stakeholder process of updating its national sustainability strategy to align it with the 2030 Agenda. He stressed the need to regain the level of enthusiasm felt at the SDGs Summit in 2015 to ensure their implementation, and to make the SDGs known to the public on a wider scale. He further noted that Germany supports reviewing all SDGs and also subsets of goals for closer examination at the HLPF.

Vandi Chidi Minah, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the UN, discussed the challenges posed by the SDGs implementation in post-conflict states, noting that Sierra Leone is starting national implementation with new and young staff because many professionals fled the country after the civil war. He said for the 2030 Agenda to have meaning, it has to make a difference for the poorest. He invited civil society to keep asking the “hard questions” to hold leaders accountable on SDGs implementation.

WHY CONDUCT THEMATIC REVIEWS AND WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE NATURAL RESOURCES PERSPECTIVE?: In a video message, David Nabarro, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda, stressed the need for new institutional approaches to address the integrated nature of the agenda, giving the examples of linkages between poverty eradication, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, extremism, migration and refugees, and climate change. He called for interwoven actions globally to help end poverty and advance social justice.

Alexander Müller, German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Agriculture and Food, reminded all participants that the highly ambitious and universal 2030 Agenda is an answer to the “unprecedented challenges all people on the planet have to face.” He noted that the level of ambition has to be met by implementation strategies at national level and requires appropriate follow-up and review mechanisms. Mueller said SDGs implementation is a collective undertaking that requires organized learning and joint exercises to share experiences and it should also include learning from failures. He further stressed  that thematic reviews, as agreed in the 2030 Agenda outcome document, will have to support universality, contribute to integrated implementation and offer opportunities to support countries in ensuring that the Agenda’s principles and ambitions are achieved.

Kathleen Merrigan, George Washington University, said the recognition of the critical importance of issues such as food and agriculture and women empowerment has notably increased and that efforts on place-based sustainable agriculture offer a window showing how the SDGs and climate commitments can be achieved. Responding to a question regarding the complexity of SDGs implementation, she highlighted that empowering women, for example, has positive impacts on all SDGs.

Felix Dodds, University of North Carolina, underscored the need to create national commissions or councils on sustainable development, bringing all stakeholders together to work on SDGs national implementation plans. He stressed the importance of national and sub-national levels for the delivery on SDGs implementation and of addressing the water-food-energy security nexus, especially since resource scarcities can be expected and trade-offs will need to be managed.

In a dialogue with the co-facilitators for the informal consultations on follow-up and review, Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN, presented the HLPF themes proposed for the next three years, to be discussed at HLPF and adopted by the UNGA: Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world (2017); Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies (2018); and Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality (2019). He said he hopes the resolution will be adopted and noted that he sees a “huge” role for stakeholders in supporting thematic reviews of the agenda.

Janine Felson, Deputy Permanent Representative of Belize to the UN, explained that the thematic clustering of the SDGs for each HLPF: should be regarded as a lens broad enough to allow flexibility to Member States for reflecting on goals and targets; and enhance the predictability of the process, as countries can choose to present their national voluntary reviews (NVR) in the HLPF sessions most relevant for them. She said that thematic reviews will be a process of “learning by doing” and that it is important not to consider the themes proposed for the HLPF as limiting.


Reducing complexity and ensuring integration: Thando Tilmann and Matheus Zanella, IASS, facilitated the session. Tilmann asked participants to discuss how thematic reviews can integrate different types of knowledge and data while making both accessible to global, national and local decision makers; and how statistical reporting can be linked with qualitative information.

David LeBlanc, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) suggested that SDGs should be addressed individually while considering interactions to allocate resources efficiently, noting that the strength of interactions among goals varies with geographical scale. On integration, he suggested frameworks that show commonalities and divergences between different knowledge communities. Regarding accessibility, he proposed enhancing formal linkages between knowledge communities based on self-organization along common interests. Participants discussed the need to: reduce, rather than manage complexity; improve information for decision makers on the impacts of their decisions; and address the time-lag in delivering new scientific knowledge.

Nandhini Krishna, UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)/Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) liaison office, said the SDGs improve linkages between land degradation and other issues. She listed lessons learned from the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) review process, including gathering views from different groups and clustering issues. Participants discussed: integration of existing reporting mechanisms; making side-events more relevant to issues under discussion; and holding science-policy meetings prior to the HLPF meetings to better link different networks to SDGs follow-up and review.

Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division, said that integration is a key challenge for indicators, data sources and tools. Noting that indicators are partial and do not cover all population groups, she said they are important to assess progress on the global level. Participants discussed: the need for locally-appropriate indicators; challenges in disaggregating data according to race; and progress in developing indicators for corporate social reporting.

Participants then continued discussions in two small groups. The first group considered the importance of data interpretation, noting that interpretations vary with viewpoints and that competing interpretations are sometimes necessary to fully understand a situation. They recommended: reinforcing independent data collection: encouraging civil society organizations to provide alternative reports; and strengthening the science-policy interface. The second group discussed the need to: conceptualize indicators at all levels; improve process measurement; combine top-down and bottom-up data collection; and establish platforms for standardization.

Seth Shames, Ecoagriculture Partners, summarized key challenges including: reducing complexity in measurement; limits of quantitative measurement; and the tension between the need for “global” reporting on the SDGs which aim at implementation at the national and local levels. He said possible solutions include clustering of goals, strengthening the science-policy interface, and multi-stakeholder processes.

Links to the official HLPF process: Franziska Linz and Oscar Schmidt, IASS, facilitated the session, which aimed to: deliberate on existing links between UN agencies and non-UN stakeholders in the context of Agenda 2030 follow-up and review, and discuss how the UN system’s capacities could be improved in order to live up to the Agenda 2030 principles of inclusive and participatory follow-up and review.

Tonya Vaturi, DESA, said Major Groups and stakeholders can bring their official inputs to HLPF through: submissions on DESA’s website, the inputs being analyzed and synthesized by the Secretariat and then included in a report submitted to Member States; interventions during the HLPF; side events; and the SDGs training organized by UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). In order for stakeholders’ inputs to be taken into consideration, she recommended: collaboration among different major groups and stakeholders on issues of common interest, and the issuance of common statements; and inputs focused on relevant issues, such as advocacy, innovation or research. Noting that the right policy architecture for stakeholders’ engagement was created in 2015 through the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), and the Paris Agreement on climate change, Vaturi explained that the most stringent needs for their implementation are political leadership and a type of coordination of work among all stakeholders and sectors.

Jeffery Huffines, CIVICUS, said the 2030 Agenda represents a common vision built on universal values and interlinkages among stakeholders, among goals and targets, and among the mandates of different UN agencies and others. Noting that Major Groups tend to operate in a very “siloed” way, he stressed the need for developing partnerships both among them and with other stakeholders, further highlighting the potential of thematic clusters to incentivize collaboration. He added that the HLPF should allow for “in-depth civil society and private sector participation.”

During the ensuing discussion, participants addressed: the role of stakeholders as partners in agenda-setting, implementation, advocacy and innovation; the need for finding themes for the HLPF sessions that incentivize all stakeholders to rally around; the need for coordinated messages from stakeholders around themes of common interest; and desired policy outputs from the HLPF, such as the Member States’ commitment to enforce existing international instruments that ensure the rights of indigenous people.

Accountability and empowerment: Facilitated by Charlotte Beckh and Natasha Aruri, IASS, this session aimed at exploring parameters and indicators for follow-up and review processes that foster ownership, shared responsibility, and healthier power balances. As such, it deliberated on conditions, methods and linkages necessary to empower marginalized strata and communities, thereby advancing accountability of bodies and groups involved in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Participants noted that thematic reviews should report not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively, and be a learning process for all stakeholders while enhancing a sense of ownership of the agenda. Participants further highlighted that: human rights should be the starting point for all thematic reviews; effective communication needs to be utilized to increase public awareness and strengthen UN’s discourse; thematic reviews should reflect successful stories that can be replicated and scaled up; and trust and attention to cultural sensitivity are essential for effective engagement in the review process.

In the subsequent plenary session, the groups reported back. Müller summarized the key points of the discussion, including: the 2030 Agenda opens the door for participation but raises the issue of finding the right methods for engagement, including by maybe making all citizens direct agents instead of talking on their behalf; effective communication implies both listening and talking, and thus the space and capacity for listening need to be carefully addressed; transparency and trust are essential drivers for participation in reviews; and power imbalances need to be addressed and the right to information ensured.

WHAT ARE OUR SIGNPOSTS AND STEPS TO BE TAKEN?: On Friday, Weigelt and Lobos Alva summarized the main messages from the previous day. Weigelt recalled that thematic reviews are uncharted territory and offer room for input by stakeholders, noting that thematic reviews cannot be expected to resolve linkage issues, such as the combined demand for natural resources arising from all SDGs, but reveal how follow-up and review needs to be designed so that they offer the space for the discussions necessary to address linkages.

They then outlined suggested recommendations to inform the HLPF: encouraging Member States to support the draft follow-up and review resolution and proposed HLPF themes for review in 2017-2019; encouraging the use of informal processes and reports to support global reviews at the HLPF; reaffirming the HLPF as forum that ensures that the principles of the 2030 Agenda are fulfilled at the international level; and encouraging member states to consider adding principles for the design of multi-stakeholder processes to the proposed format for voluntary reviews at the national level.

In a video message, Amira Gornass, Chair of the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS), described CFS’s activities to contribute to SDGs implementation, serving as an inclusive platform to review, discuss and implement integrated policy tools for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, with a focus on the role of food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture.

Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) New York Office, noted that civil society and other stakeholders have better chances than the UN at putting pressure on governments to include stakeholders in the follow-up and review at the country level. She suggested creating a UN task team that could integrate civil society.

Fatuma Ndangiza, former Chairperson of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Panel of Eminent Persons, said thematic reviews provide an opportunity for civil society to engage and deepen the scope of some issues that might be left out by the general review process, like land, corruption, marginalization and discrimination, or youth unemployment. She stressed the need for: setting clear guidelines for thematic reviews, to ensure that stakeholders can complement the governments’ monitoring instead of creating a parallel follow-up and review process; defining roles and responsibilities for all actors; and setting clear time-frames and road-maps.

Carla Mucavi, Director, FAO Liaison Office in New York, noted that rural communities and civil society need to be seen as active partners and agents of change, and that UN agencies are already undertaking significant research on relevant issues that could contribute to thematic reviews. She said thematic reviews should give voice to the people and civil society groups that are not always represented.

Jan-Gustav Strandenaes, Stakeholder Forum, invited stakeholders to commit to improving HLPF and to come together to collaborate for outlining a strategy that addresses the HLPF’s shortcomings, as the HLPF will be reviewed in 2019.

Linda Peake, Director, City Institute, York University, highlighted the role of thematic reviews in monitoring crosscutting issues and suggested that they could contribute to strengthening the discussions on nexuses, such as the nexus between food, water, and energy. She noted that scholars in US universities on the political left have no interest in engaging with the UN and cautioned that US academia is currently producing a generation of scholars who are very ill-equipped to engage in the follow-up and review process, as they are not trained in quantitative analyses.

One participant asked for suggestions regarding the format and financing for the HLPF. Stradenaes replied that HLPF requires a well-funded secretariat supported by a bureau authorized to take relevant decisions.

Participants also discussed: the value of synthesizing views through non-UN processes; the need for central leadership for SDGs implementation; how to overcome disinterest among academia and the general public in SDGs implementation. One proposed adding recommendations to: add natural resources concerns to the proposed review theme for 2017 (Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world); and note that SDGs complexity can be reduced when the geography of SDGs integration is addressed through integrated territorial planning.

Müller noted: the discussion on malnutrition in urban areas underlines the need for thematic reviews; and comments on environmentally motivated non-tariff barriers to trade excluding small-scale producers underline the need to integrate trade in the SDGs implementation. Carpentier added the need to focus resources on facilitating regional trade and building e-trade capacity.

In response to a comment lamenting the lack of public knowledge of SDGs, Carpentier replied that public knowledge of the SDGs is much better than it was for the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs). One participant suggested engaging story tellers to explain HLPF outcomes to the public.

LUNCHEON: During lunch, conference chair Alexander Müller outlined the following key messages:

  • We have a highly ambitious agenda with unprecedented challenges regarding the global transformation of development pathways which require new answers.
  • The implementation of the 2030 Agenda can therefore be only successful, if it is organized as a collective learning process.
  • These learning processes do not take place on a level playing field. There are power imbalances and knowledge is not always neutral. Further, participation cannot replace rights being upheld.
  • Development pathways of member states are connected in a globalized world. To account for these interlinkages and to live up to the principle of universality, we need follow-up and review mechanisms that can respond to this.
  • The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda involves unprecedented levels of complexity in its implementation. Follow-up and review processes need to respond to this challenge. Thematic reviews can support reducing complexity by highlighting linkages among selected SDGs and targets.   

He then invited speakers to comment on these messages with a particular focus on: innovative approaches needed to address the SDGs in an unprecedented context, how to organize collective learning, how to address national priority setting in an overarching way, and how informal processes such as the current event can inform the work of HLPF.

Virachai Plasai, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN, said a philosophy necessary for achieving the SDGs should be founded on strong moderation, reasonableness, and prudence, while promoting self-reliance. He further stressed the importance of mutual understanding and compassion in the HLPF process.

Noting that implementing the 2030 Agenda is a national responsibility and not a UN responsibility, Juan Sandoval Mendiolea, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN, underscored the need to engage governments at all levels and create inter-ministerial follow-up mechanisms. He called for civil society to bear pressure on governments not to let bureaucracy become “the biggest enemy” of the 2030 Agenda.

Speaking about the SDGs, Vandi Chidi Minah, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the UN, said “fine words” need to be matched by “fine delivery” and noted that citizens need to be empowered to play a key role in helping societies become self-reliant.

Irena Zubcevic, Chief, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Oceans and Climate Branch, DESA, announced that DESA received more than 40 inputs for HLPF from UN’s intergovernmental bodies, their synthesis being available on DESA’s website. She noted that the 11 principles set by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) provide guidance for overcoming UN’s working methods currently structured in silos.

On SDGs implementation, Sarah Cliffe, Director Center on International Cooperation, New York University, noted that international development might move towards the model of middle income countries that draw on their ministries to deliver on international cooperation objectives. She recommended putting governance at the center of the follow-up and review process, including thematic reviews.

Müller highlighted the need for all stakeholders to focus on the governance of the follow-up and review process. He closed the meeting at 1:58pm.


HLPF 2016: The fourth HLPF, convening under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), will take place on 11-15 July 2016, followed by a three-day ministerial meeting on 18-20 July 2016. The theme of the 2016 session will be “Ensuring that no one is left behind.” The outcomes of the IASS High-lelvel event “Thematic Reviews for an Integrated Follow-Up & Review of the 2030 Agenda” will be presented at a side-event on Monday 18 July 2016. dates: 11-20 July 2016  venue: UN Headquarters  location: New York City, US  contact: Marion Barthelemy  phone: +1 (212) 963-4005  e-mail: [email protected] www:

2016 INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: This meeting will convene under the theme “Moving Forward: The SDGs in Practice,” and will share practical solutions for achieving the SDGs at local and national levels. The conference will focus on four thematic areas: innovation in technology and governance; data; the science-policy-implementation interface; and education and training. The main topics for discussion will be: low carbon urban development; socially inclusive economic growth; agriculture, food security and nutrition; and disaster resiliency and adaptation.  dates: 21-22 September 2016  venue: Lerner Hall, Columbia University  location: New York City, US  e-mail: [email protected] www:

UNCCD CRIC15: The 12th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP12) to the UNCCD decided to convene a special session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) to discuss methodological questions relating to reporting. This session will address enhancing synergies in national reporting requirements under the UNCCD, and the SDGs, especially the Land Degradation Neutrality target.  dates: 18-20 October 2016 [tentative]  location: Nairobi, Kenya  contact: UNCCD Secretariat  www:

43RD SESSION OF THE COMMITTEE ON WORLD FOOD SECURITY: The 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is expected to address a series of items arising from its Multi-year Programme of Work, including: nutrition; engagement with the SDGs; connecting smallholder farmers to markets; urbanization, rural transformation and implications for food security and nutrition; and monitoring. A thematic event is expected to share experiences and take stock of the use and application of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT).  dates: 17-21 October 2016  venue: FAO Headquarters  location:  Rome, Italy  contact: CFS Secretariat  email: [email protected] www:

UNFCCC COP 22 AND CMP 12: The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UNFCCC and the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) will be held in, Marrakech, Morocco.  dates: 7-18 November 2016  location: Marrakesh, Morocco  contact: UNFCCC Secretariat  phone: +49-228 815-1000  email: [email protected] www: