Follow‐up and Review of the Sustainable Development Goals: Alignment vs. Internalization

AuthorÅsa Persson,Måns Nilsson,Nina Weitz
Date01 April 2016
Published date01 April 2016
Follow-up and Review of the Sustainable
Development Goals: Alignment vs. Internalization
Asa Persson,* Nina Weitz and M
ans Nilsson
Follow-up and review arrangements will play a criti-
cal role in ensuring that the Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) are effectively implemented, much of
which will need to happen at the national level. This
article examines the nature of commitments that coun-
tries have made and if follow-up and review arrange-
ments currently planned are consistent with those. In
particular, we consider the need to encompass both the
global SDG targets and the nationally dened targets
foreseen. We also discuss the balance between follow-
ing up and reviewing outcomes vis-
a-vis behaviour to
achieve those outcomes. Following a review of current
plans for follow-up and review, we further draw les-
sons from principalagent theory and from the two
predecessors of the SDGs, Agenda 21 and the Millen-
nium Development Goals. We conclude that increased
attention and visibility of nationally dened and inter-
nalized targets is likely to enhance implementation
effectiveness, and that they should therefore be accom-
modated in the follow-up and review systems.
With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of
Agenda 2030, adopted by the United Nations General
Assembly (UNGA) in September 2015,
now rmly in
place, attention has shifted to their implementation.
Where some actors see a task of implementing a set of
unrealistic and sprawling goals with no clear denition
of sustainability guiding them, others see a uniquely
comprehensive set of universal, integrative and
ambitious aspirations that offer a shared agenda for
transformation. Considering the multiple pathways that
implementation could take at the national level, the sys-
tem for follow-up and review at the global, regional and
national level will arguably have a signicant effect on
which pathway is chosen. This article discusses the
follow-up and review arrangements currently agreed
and proposed, and looks for lessons from theory and
practice with a view to identifying what various
arrangements might imply for implementation effec-
tiveness and the ultimate achievement of the SDGs.
Arrangements for domestic implementation of the
SDGs in Member States were addressed but not elabo-
rated in detail in the negotiation phase. This can be
explained by the principles of national sovereignty and
subsidiarity, but possibly also by the fact that Agenda
2030 is so broad and all-encompassing that it is difcult
to dene discrete implementation processes and
responsibilities. However, while calls have been made
for implementation efforts by various global institu-
tions and non-State actors, it has been clearly agreed
that governments at the national level have a key
responsibility, as well as the mandate to act. The UNGA
Resolution on Agenda 2030 states:
Cohesive nationally owned sustainable development strat-
egies, supported by integrated national nancing frame-
works, will be at the heart of our efforts. We reiterate that
each country has primary responsibility for its own eco-
nomic and social development and that the role of national
policies and development strategies cannot be overempha-
Whereas guidance on national implementation
arrangements is therefore sparse, the design of the
follow-up and review system has been more elaborated.
The Resolution text states key principles and identies
overarching institutions and processes.
This was fol-
lowed up by a Secretary-General report
in January
2016, proposing more specic design and reporting
guidelines, ahead of the rst global-level review oppor-
tunity: the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July
2016, under the auspices of the United Nations
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). While these
documents elaborate on how follow-up and review are
to take place, there is less elaboration of what needs to
be followed up and reviewed, why and with what effect.
They leave some important gaps: what does follow-up
and review mean, respectively, and what is their
purpose? These two terms are not explicitly dened.
Further, what is to be followed up and reviewed: the
* Corresponding author:
Asa Persson.
Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Develop-
ment (UNGA Resolution A/RES/70/1, 25 September 2015) (‘2030
Ibid., at paragraph 63.
Ibid., at paragraphs 7291.
Critical Milestones towards Coherent, Efficient and Inclusive Follow-
up and Review at the Global Level. Report of the Secretary-General
(UN Doc. A/70/684, 15 January 2016) (‘Follow-up and Review
ª2016 The Authors Review of European Comparative & International Environmental Law Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use,
distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
RECIEL 25 (1) 2016. ISSN 2050-0386 DOI: 10.1111/reel.12150
Review of European Community & International Environmental Law

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