State of the Voluntary Local Reviews 2022: Overcoming Barriers to Implementation

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The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact the world in 2021. Nevertheless, a record number of Local and Regional Governments (LRGs) have presented a Voluntary Local Review (VLRs) in 2021. For many of them, this year’s review was their second or third edition. VLRs are a process through which LRGs conduct a voluntary assessment of their progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Modelled on the reviews conducted by national governments—referred to as Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)—VLRs emerged in 2018 as a bottom-up exercise to demonstrate the key role of subnational levels of governments in delivering the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In subsequent years since then, a growing number of LRGs have joined the VLR movement.

This report is the third of an annual series initiated by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in 2020 to assess how far the VLR movement has progressed to date. It explores the VLR reports published in 2021, focusing in particular on 36 reports presented by cities (and written in either English or Spanish, as identified by the authors). The analysis is structured along two main themes: first, how VLRs are reflecting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; and second, how VLRs accelerate the localisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This report then looks back at the four years of the VLR movement to reflect on how cities are conducting successive VLRs and the emerging different approaches that have developed since 2018. The report concludes that VLRs are helping to identify the challenges ahead for cities as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in few instances, supporting post-COVID-19 recovery plans. It also determines that VLRs work as a framework to articulate the localisation of the 2030 Agenda by structuring a method to translate global ambitions into the local context. Finally, it identifies several distinct approaches to the VLR process, ranging from storytelling to choosing desired futures, that reflect the specific needs of local governments.

Based on this analysis, this report concludes that local governments are turning to VLRs in greater numbers because VLRs help LRGs think about the SDGs at the local level, to advance horizontal integration within the local administration, to facilitate vertical cooperation between different levels of government, and to communicate with local stakeholders and the global community. These benefits make VLRs a unique instrument to facilitate the local implementation not only of the SDGs, but also of other global agendas to advance a more sustainable, just and equal future for all that leaves no one behind.