Statement in response to 2018 SDGs progress report: it's now or never

This statement, endorsed by 139 Civil Society Organisations, was published on 5 July ahead of the 2018 UN High Level Political Forum. 

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Three years have passed since governments committed to ending poverty, fighting inequalities and tackling climate change through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In identifying progress made so far on these shared commitments towards creating a life of dignity and opportunity for all, the 2018 SDGs progress report of the UN Secretary-General paints an alarming picture.

Not only has progress not been made on some of the Agenda’s most intractable and essential objectives, for many of the goals there is not even sufficient data to measure potential gains. More than half of SDG indicators remain unresolved, and many of the baselines mentioned in the report are from 2015 – meaning that, effectively, we have no idea whether the 2030 Agenda is spurring action on these targets or whether any progress on them has been made.

The data we do have indicates that the world is not on track to reach the 2030 Agenda. The hallmarks of the SDGs framing – the attention to inequalities within and between countries, the recognition of the need to simultaneously tackle the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development through an interlinkage approach – are not meaningfully reflected in global trends in either implementation or reporting. As the world steadily becomes a more unequal place, a sense of urgency around achieving the 2030 Agenda is lacking and the opportunity to imbue the process with meaningful accountability at all levels is quickly dissipating.

Inequalities: stark, increasing and ignored

The inclusion of SDG10 (Reduce inequalities within and among countries) represented a major step by governments in collaboration with civil society and other stakeholders in defining the 2030 Agenda. In many ways, however, this critical aspect of the SDGs is neglected: in measurement (indicators are lacking or practically unmeasurable), ownership (no UN agency has stepped forward to ‘claim’ SDG10), framing, and implementation. The SDGs progress report misses many opportunities to draw connections between the dismal statistics it presents – on HIV/AIDS, maternal and child mortality, and lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene – and the pervasive and ever-increasing nature of inequalities both within and between countries.

Among other explicit evidence of inequalities, the Secretary-General’s report on SDGs progress indicates:

  •  Almost two-thirds of maternal deaths in 2015 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa (p.4) 

  • 101 out of every 1000 women aged 15-19 years in sub-Saharan Africa are already mothers, though the adolescent birth rate is declining in other regions (p.5)

  • Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily impacted by HIV, with HIV incidence rates at 1/28 per 1,000 uninfected people. For women, the rate is 2.58. (p.5)

  • Only 34% of primary schools in LDCs had electricity and less than 40% had basic handwashing facilities (i.e., soap and water on premises), in 2016. (p.7)

  • The manufacturing value added per capita in LDCs was $109 in 2017, about one fortieth of the amount registered in Europe and Northern America. (p.11)

  • Less than half of all municipal waste is collected in cities in sub-Saharan Africa. (p.13)

  • Three quarters of children affected by stunting live in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. (p.3)

  • Most of [forest] losses occur in sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Latin America, and are mainly attributed to the expansion of agricultural activities. (p.15)

  • Fewer than half of all children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa have had their births registered. (p.16)

While member states continue to pay lip service to the guiding principle of "Leave no one behind," they neglect to operationalize this framing into concrete steps towards reducing inequalities by ending all forms of discrimination or ensuring access to services and opportunities. Indigenous peoples, queer, gender non-conforming and trans people, people with disabilities, and other groups historically disenfranchised and discriminated against are barely mentioned in the report, if at all. Beyond the SG’s report, there is authoritative evidence exposes the vast disparities in access to both services and justice demarcated by ethnicity/race, gender, class, or spatiality, in many 'developed' and 'developing' countries.

Excuses instead of urgency

As the UN member states negotiate the ministerial declaration for the 2018 HLPF, almost none of these crucial issues is reflected. Delegates argue back and forth over the semantics of referring to "vulnerable people" or "people in vulnerable situations," without committing to concrete or urgent actions to ensure equality of opportunity or equity of circumstance. Powerful countries request to strike through language that "reaffirms" the shared commitment to the 2030 Agenda, continually negotiating to weaken the draft outcome text. As small island developing states watch their coastlines erode and face more devastating and more frequent hurricanes and typhoons, governments sitting in an air-conditioned conference room in New York debate whether to include language on climate change, preferring instead banal mentions of "weather-related incidents."

The SG’s progress report indicates that Official Development Assistance (ODA) decreased 0.6% in real terms between 2016 and 2017. Overall, ODA represents only 0.31% of gross national income overall, and only five countries have met or exceeded the 0.7% benchmark. ODA is an obligation, a reckoning on the part of industrialized countries of their historical responsibility to the countries that provided and continue to provide the raw material and human labor that allowed the richer countries to develop. Ten years on from the global economic and financial crisis, for which most of the responsibility lies in the corporate behemoths and enabling policy of industrialized countries, the constraints in the global economy cannot be used as an excuse to dial back international aid. Donor governments should consistently report on their ODA at each year’s accounting of progress towards achieving sustainable development, and the HLPF should explicitly recognize that without significant increases in international public finance, developing countries cannot realistically plan to implement the SDGs, much less achieve them.

Accountability: a word that cannot be spoken aloud at the UN

As the HLPF receives little media attention and civil society participation is limited primarily to those with UN accreditation who can afford staff presence in New York, the governments at the global level are getting away with their inertia on SDG implementation and instead present only cursory reports on progress made. Though the 2030 Agenda is closely tied to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other global obligations acknowledging the requirements for a decent and dignified existence, the 2030 Agenda is non-binding, and governments are not obligated to implement it orreport on it. The "follow up and review" (explicitly not "accountability") mechanism, labeled even in its acronym as voluntary, allows each country only 30 minutes to present their national reviews. Many of these Voluntary National Review (VNR) reports cherry-pick only the SDGs currently in focus each year, and the structure of government presentations obscures the impacts one country can have on other countries’ progress on SDGs.

The HLPF – the primary platform for review of SDGs progress – should function as a truly high level, political accountability space to track global efforts in implementing the 2030 Agenda and address its challenges through multilateral and multi-stakeholder efforts. Its current mandate is a long way from providing a meaningful mechanism by which governments can be held to account. Most if not all hope rests on the review of the HLPF modalities scheduled to take place during the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, beginning in September 2019. The GA must dedicate more time, human and financial resources, and political commitment to the HLPF making it a meaningful mechanism for engagement and accountability.

Time is running out to make the SDGs meaningful

2018 marks the third opportunity for governments to report on their SDGs progress. Fewer than twelve years remain to take urgent action nationally and globally to achieve the 2030 Agenda and ensure all the world’s inhabitants can live in dignity and see their human rights fulfilled. The international community now finds itself at a crucial junction – perhaps the last – to generate the political momentum necessary to put in place policy, programs, and funding to reach the shared commitments of the SDGs.

This year’s HLPF is maybe one of the only remaining opportunities to demonstrate the leadership of the UN in the sustainable development arena and the significance of government commitments in this space to improve the situation of the planet and all who live in it. As the foundation of multilateralism is under threat, the SDGs must offer guidance, hope and change. In July at United Nations Headquarters, we encourage governments to show the world that this is exactly what they are doing.

This is a public statement endorsed by the following organisations:

  1. AARP

  2. Action for Sustainable Development

  3. ActionAid

  4. ADET

  5. African Initiative for Waste Management Empowerment (AIWE)Nigeria

  6. Afrihealth Optonet Association [CSOs Network], Nigeria

  7. Aliwe Media Communications, Nigeria

  8. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)


  10. Anjuman Samaji Bahbood (ASB)

  11. Asia Civil Society Partnership On Sustainable Development (APSD)

  12. Asmaa Society for Development

  13. Associacio Planificacio Familiar de Catalunya i Balears/Agenda2030Feminista

  14. Association for Farmers Rights Defense, AFRD

  15. Association For Promotion Sustainable Development. India

  16. Association of Dalit Women Advancement of Nepal

  17. Association pour la promotion de la lutte contre les violences faites aux femmes et la participation au développement de la Femme africaine(LUCOVIFA)

  18. Avoid Accident

  19. Born Free Foundation


  21. Center for Civil and Legislative Reform

  22. Center for Economic and Social Rights

  23. Centre d'Accompagnement des Alternatives Locales de Developpement

  24. Centre for Human Rights Movement


  26. Charles and Doosurgh Abaagu Foundation, Nigeria

  27. COC Netherlands

  28. Compassion in World Farming

  29. Dave Omokaro Foundation

  30. Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association

  31. Dignity Restoration and protection Foundation, Nigeria

  32. Dr. Uzo Adirieje Foundation (DUZAFOUND), Nigeria

  33. Elizka Relief Foundation

  34. End Water Poverty

  35. Family Literacy Global Peace Initiative



  38. forum international des femmes de l-espace francophone

  39. Free Trade Union Development Center, Sri Lanka.

  40. Freshwater Action Network Mexico

  41. Fundacion Arcoiris. Mexico

  42. Fundacion para Estudio e Investigacion de la Mujer

  43. Garn Press (Philanthropic Publisher of Writers of Conscience)

  44. Gatef

  45. German NGO Forum on Environment and Development

  46. Ghalayini for Trade & Turnkey

  47. Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP)


  49. Global Goals Champion

  50. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  51. Gomal Daman Area Water Partnership (GDAWP )

  52. Gray Panthers

  53. Habitat International Coalition

  54. Health Poverty Action

  55. Housing and Land Rights Network - HIC

  56. Housing and Land Rights Network-India

  57. ILGA - International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

  58. Initiative for Equality (IfE)

  59. Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary -Loreto Generalate

  60. Integrated Regional Support Program (IRSP)

  61. International Alliance of Women

  62. International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care

  63. International Association for Public Participation

  64. International Council for Adult Education

  65. International Federation of Business and Professional Women

  66. International Federation on Ageing

  67. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

  68. International Forum of national NGO platforms (IFP)

  69. International HIV/AIDS Alliance

  70. International Indian Treaty Council

  71. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

  72. International Movement ATD Fourth World

  73. International Partnership and Development Organization

  74. International Presentation Association

  75. International Road Victim's Partnership

  76. jeunes de l'espoir asbl(hope youth)

  77. Jeunes Volontaires pour l'Environnement

  78. Kadesh International

  79. Kikandwa Environmental Association

  80. Kinderenergy

  81. Kkr ks charitable trust

  82. Korea SDGs Network

  83. Krisoker Sor (Farmers' Voice)

  84. Lanka Fundamental Rights Organization

  85. Make Mothers Matter (MMM)

  86. MPact Global Action for Gay Men's Health & Rights

  87. MY World Mexico

  88. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement



  91. Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development

  92. Nonviolence International

  93. ONG C.A.F.E

  94. Ong femmes et enfants en detresse feed


  96. Pakistan Youth Parliament for Water

  97. PAMPA2030 (Plataforma Argentina de Monitoreo Para la Agenda2030

  98. Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement

  99. POSCO-Agenda 2030

  100. Poverty Reduction Forum Trust

  101. Public Services International

  102. Rapad Maroc

  103. Reacción Climática

  104. Red Educacion Popular entre Mujeres A latina y el caribe REPEM LAC

  105. ReSista Camp

  106. RESURJ - Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice

  107. RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights

  108. Saudi Green Building Forum

  109. SDG Watch Europe

  110. Sisters of Charity Federation

  111. Social Justice Ireland

  112. Society for Conservation and Sustainability of Energy and Environment in Nigeria (SOCSEEN), Nigeria

  113. Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries

  114. Soroptimist International

  115. Sudanese SDGs Platform

  116. Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN)

  117. Terraafont Consulting, Sustainability audit, education, research and advisory

  118. The Initiative For Equal Rights

  119. The Millennials Movement

  120. The Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC)

  121. Toi Du Monde Sénégal

  122. Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

  123. Uganda National NGO Forum

  124. UNANIMA International

  125. Vier Pfoten International

  126. WaterAid

  127. Women Coalition for Agenda 2030

  128. Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF)

  129. Women Environmental Programme, Nigeria

  130. Women for Peace and Gender Equality Initiative

  131. Women for Water Partnership

  132. Women for Women's Humans Rights - New Ways

  133. World Animal Net

  134. World Federation for Mental Health

  135. Youth For Environment Education And Development Foundation (YFEED Foundation)

  136. Zimbabwe United Nations Association

  137. Zimbabweanwomen5050

  138. ZONTA International