When adopting the 2030 Agenda, United Nations member States committed to working closely with local and regional governments on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since 2015, metropolises, small cities, regions and their associations alike have been working actively on localizing the 2030 Agenda, bringing the SDGs closer to the people they serve and using the global framework as a tool for local planning and implementation. Local and regional governments play a pivotal role in achieving the SDGs. By one estimate, at least 65% of the 169 SDG targets will not be reached without concerted engagement and coordination with local and regional governments.
In this spirit, local and regional governments are increasingly carrying out sub-national reviews of SDG implementation, known as voluntary local reviews (VLRs). While the VLRs hold no official status, they can be a powerful accelerator for SDG implementation - contributing to the collection and analysis of timely, accurate and disaggregated data; bringing stakeholders closer to decision-making processes; strengthening multilevel governance; and fostering integration of the SDGs into local planning.
Cities and regions have shown great interest in the VLR process. Though there is no official count available, this paper acknowledges at least 147 Voluntary Local Reviews have been published and recorded as of July 2022. The number of VLR submissions is growing steadily each year, from two in 2016 to 48 in 2021. A significant majority of the VLRs are at the city level (108 out of 147), indicating a growing appropriation of the 2030 Agenda by municipal authorities across the world. A growing debate and interest have emerged on this new process and on ways to improve its effectiveness.
As a UN institution working to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, help countries to develop sustainable development policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, and institutional capabilities, and build resilience to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, UNDP hopes contribute to this debate by undertaking in this discussion paper a systematic overview assessment of the contents of the 48 VLRs presented in 20214. This paper identifies general trends and highlights interesting approaches taken by some sub-national authorities to implement the SDGs and report on their progress. While this paper examines the general trends in VLRs, it also focuses on one of the core objectives of the 2030 Agenda, namely leaving no one behind.
In order to complement rather than duplicate reports issued by UN DESA, other UN bodies and civil society organizations, this paper focuses on the substantive content of the VLRs, and on cross-cutting themes of the 2030 Agenda rather than on particular goals or targets. As explained further below, the paper builds on a systematic content analysis of the VLRs. Its purpose is to provide an overview of trends in VLRs that would identify some key issues in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and highlight diverse practices of local authorities to promote mutual experience sharing and learning across sub-national governments.
Published September 2023