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Voluntary National Reviews: Making Countries Accountable

When the 2030 Agenda was approved in 2015, a burning question was: Will this remain on paper? What do we need to do to ensure that the goals we set for the international community will be implemented in each country at national level and at each level of government within the country? Finally, countries decided that they would submit voluntary reviews as a means of accountability to the international community and naturally to the people they serve within their own country.

Spain submitted its second Voluntary National Review to the 2021 High level Political Forum (HLPF), covering the period 2018 – 2020 from its first VNR.

The Report divided into two parts. The first part reported on actions taken to: advance poverty reduction, access healthy food, obtain quality health services and overall well-being, provide decent work for all, address existing inequalities, encourage responsible consumption and production, address the climate crisis, as a peaceful society based on the rule of law with strong institutions and transparent governance and finally collaborate on many levels to create a more sustainable world – Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17.

Actions were taken to protect the population during COVID and deliver effective responses to address employment, health, housing/rent and education crises, and food needs. In terms of the ongoing work of governance, a number of significant steps were taken with new legislation and strategies to address: the climate crisis, working conditions and minimum pay, protection of immigrant minors arriving alone, inclusive education and protection of children.

Part 2 of the Report presented the recently approved Sustainable Development 2030 Strategy (EDS) which details the levels of implementation, review, and accountability for the Central and Regional governments. One of the challenges facing the Spanish government, and every government, is to ensure that the legislation and strategies at national level are converted into concerted action down the line to local authorities to ensure that the whole population is reached. In the case of Spain, in addition to the central government, the autonomous regions need to translate the international agreements and national directives for their region. During the presentation at the United Nations, other countries remarked with amazement at the way the country has addressed this huge challenge.

While the report named hundreds of measures taken to advance each of the areas pertaining to the SDGs, it did not include data to support the level of implementation, success, or challenges. As the previous Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, stated in 2019, Spain has hundreds of Action Plans on paper, but not much on results!

The underlying economic structures and social strategies are not effectively improving pockets of extreme poverty; access to education is unequal and social services are difficult to navigate. These need a whole of government response at all levels.

The most vulnerable and marginalized group, invisible in the Report and incarcerated in reality, is that of the undocumented immigrant population in the country. This group is not contemplated in any international agreement. Something to think about, and act on, if we have not done so already.

Author: Cecilia O’Dwyer IBVM