State of the Voluntary Local Reviews 2023: Follow-up and Review of the 2030 Agenda at the Local Level

Research Report
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Halfway to the 2030 deadline, humanity is clearly off-track on the Global Goals. Achieving the Sustainable­­ Development Goals (SDGs) proposed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains a significant challenge for society. Numerous and compounding crises—including coping with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing armed conflicts, climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the cost-of-living crisis, among many others—have hindered, and even reversed in some cases, progress towards achieving the SDGs. These crises are exposing and exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, de facto leaving many behind.

In the wake of this bleak picture, urgent and bold actions are needed to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs. Innovative solutions and cooperation between different levels of governments and all segments of society will be essential to overcome the complex and interconnected challenges facing humanity today.

Local and regional governments, in particular, are at the forefront of implementing solutions to advance sustainable development. In their sustainability efforts, a growing number of local and regional governments are using Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) as a valuable policy tool to structure the localisation, planning, execution, and follow-up and review stages of SDG implementation. Between 2018 and 2020, almost 200 local and regional governments have conducted a VLR process.

This report marks the fourth edition in an annual series launched by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in 2020 to analyse and document the VLR movement to date. This fourth edition explores the VLR reports published in 2022, paying special attention to the 40 reports identified by the authors presented by cities (available in either English or Spanish). The analysis focuses on two key themes: first, the integration between national and local reviews of progress; and second, how VLRs contribute to local follow-up and review processes.  The report also provides an overview of the trajectory of the VLR movement from 2018 to 2022 to discern ongoing trends and new frontiers in the quest to deliver the ambitious promises made by the 2030 Agenda.

This report concludes that local and regional governments can play a crucial role by conducting VLRs that go beyond monitoring and reporting progress. Well-developed VLRs can help localise the SDGs, promote multilevel governance, enhance accountability and transparency, facilitate innovation and experimentation, and contribute to policy learning and diffusion. In the face of ongoing crises, it is crucial that all levels of government coordinate their strategies to avoid duplicities, redundancies and gaps. Moreover, robust follow-up and review frameworks can inform decision-making in the face of ongoing challenges to better adapt policies to changing contexts. Based on this analysis, this report recommends integrating the VLR process into the policymaking cycle and planning mechanisms of local and regional governments. By integrating VLR processes into policymaking, VLRs can become an important tool in advancing sustainable development beyond 2030.