The local-global localization movement at the 2021 HLPF: The VLR-VSR days

The long-standing partnership by UCLG and UN-Habitat on advancing the localization of the SDGs reached a high point during the 2021 High-Level Political Forum.

VLRs and VSRs go beyond monitoring and reporting tools for the goals: they connect the dots and allow to align local and national realities with the 2030 Agenda. The local-global movement around localization is growing, and the commitment from local and regional governments and their associations to the SDGs is higher than ever. UCLG’s strategy is based around localization, and the World Organization has enhanced partnerships in this direction to ensure it grows stronger each day. The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, as well as UN-Habitat, have been fostering this local-global movement by developing tools for local and regional governments to monitor and ensure that the global goals are understood on the ground. Over 100 VLRs and 15 VSRs have been developed, almost double the amount in 2020.

The 5th Annual Report from the Global Taskforce to the HLPF, “Towards the Localization of the SDGs”, also shows that in spite of local governments’ efforts, and even if  references to the local levels have decreased in national reporting, and it is becoming clear that the national spheres of government need to endeavour to bring local and regional governments on board. The joint work from UCLG and UN-Habitat aims to bridge this gap, to trigger change from the local level and ensure that all solutions that stem to the current crisis and any future crisis are developed from the bottom-up, by providing LRGs  with the tools and opportunities to bring to light voluntary subnational and local reviews.

The VLR-VSR days, that took place from 14-16 July, in the framework of the local government agenda at the High-Level Political Forum, allowed to expand the local-global partnership on localization, and discuss how to better harness subnational reporting to achieve the goals.  With over 400 participants in five sessions dedicated to subnational reporting, the results of the discussions will directly feed into the organization of the World Urban Forum taking place in June 2022, as the main UN Forum on the local implementation of the SDGs and VLRs.

The first day of the VLR-VSR series of events built directly on the partnership between UCLG and UN-Habitat by presenting the second volume of the VLR Guidelines. This volume explores the relation between VLRs and VNRs and looks into the existing multilevel connections between national and local SDGs reviews, and more largely for SDG localization.  Over 130 participants, hailing from local and regional governments and their associations, joined the session to explore the next step of the guidelines and to witness the launch of the VLR Communiqué.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Undersecretary General of the UN and UN-Habitat Executive Director, and Emilia Saiz, UCLG Secretary-General, introduced the session and presented the second volume of the guidelines, highlighting how the  interconnection across the various levels of governance is the key for the success of the 2030 Agenda and to achieve a just, inclusive and green recovery from the pandemic.

“The guidelines demonstrate that the existence of strong connection between VLRs and VNRs, is a sign of a healthy multilevel governance arrangement. The link between VLRs and VNRs can be a turning point for the creation of collaborative and multi-level data environments, centered on the SDGs.” Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director,

“What we are trying to do with VLRs-VSRs is envision the solutions can be found at the local level. VLRs are more than a simple monitoring tool. They are not only a reporting tool. They are a test of the political will to actually contribute to the changes we know we need to trigger to make our planet sustainable” Emilia Saiz, Secretary-General of UCLG

Research Officer Ainara Fernández, from UCLG, and Human Settlements Officer Martino Miraglia, from UN Habitat, showcased the key findings of the guidelines, highlighting as well how the expansion of subnational reporting has increased in the past years. Among the key findings of the Guidelines, they shared tat:

1)   Increasingly intertwining local and national reporting processes which has had very positive outcomes. LRGs (as was shared during the session) have been included as part of national delegations of VNRs

2)   The bottom-up reporting effort is a catalyst for enhanced multi-level governance, it triggers innovation in coordination mechanisms. LRGs and National Governments have increased the demand for meeting midways and enhanced dialogue.

3)     There is a big margin for improvement. On a global average, the involvement of LRGs in this year’s VNRs has decreased compared to last year. A lot of work lies ahead of us. But what has been done opens the doors for new opportunities. When it comes to indicators and data ecosystems, the links between VLRs-VNRs-VSRs prove essential to bridge the gap between national indicators and LRG capacities and resources.

It is essential, building on these findings, to promote an enabling environment for subnational reporting, expanding joint mechanisms for VLR-VSR and VNR synchronization, and consolidate partnerships among local, regional, national stakeholders to propel subnational reporting.

Sami Pirkkala, Secretary General of Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development, and the city of Helsinki, represented by Mia Malin, Project Manager SDG at City of Helsinki, laid out the elaboration of VLRs in Finnish cities, starting from the experience of Helsinki (which elaborated their second VLR in 2021), and the key innovation of Finland: the first country that included voluntary local reviews in their national reporting to the HLPF (including the cities of Turku and Espoo). The interaction between the local and national authorities, they argued, has been critical to elaborate the VNR.

The city of Helsinki laid out the steps taken to evolve the VLR between 2019 and 2021, including a new thematic approach, integrating the VLR with the strategic management of the city, as well as developing an electronic indicator platform to share more information and update indicators.

The panel discussion that ensued included representatives from national governments in charge of VNRs, local and regional governments, and stakeholders form countries that reported either in 2020 or 2021, and they shared their experiences regarding dialogue between spheres of government to support the VNR process and how VLRs had been considered to the development of VNRs.

Alfredo González Reyes, Head of the 2030 Agenda, Mexican National Government, Mexico, highlighted the involvement of the civil society in the Mexican VNR, and included several review sessions to integrate the views from various stakeholders into the VNRS (from the civil society to the private sector to the youth movement).

Hüseyin Keskin, Mayor of Sultanbeyli, highlighted that, even if local and regional governments had not been involved in the Turkish VNR in 2019, the situation had evolved with regards to subnational reporting. The VLR elaborated by Sultanbeyli, to be released in October, has been made through a participatory process, consulting public institutions and CSOs.

Stefan Wagner, Head of Department of International Affairs, Bonn, highlighted that there is room for improvement and that national goals addressed by the German VNR are not adequately translated to the local level. In spite of that, the German Association of Cities has been engaged to ensure local voices feed the national report.

Jonan Fernández Erdozia, General Secretary for Social Transition and 2030 Agenda, Basque Country, highlighted the importance of VLRs and laid out the experiences of the Basque government to improve coordination among regions and the national government in the reporting process. He called to strengthen spaces for engagement for subnational governments both in dialogue with the national government and with the international system.

Ken Oluoch, Senior Programme Officer, Sustainable Development Goals Unit Council of Governors, laid out how the inter-agency technical committee from Kenya allowed for local experiences to be considered in the 2020 VNR. Kenya, he argued, had adopted a whole of government approach and gave the opportunity to measure the progress on SDG achievement also at local level, building on the experience from the 2017 report.

Junichi Fujino, Programme Director, Integrated Sustainability Center, IGES, Japan, highlighted the SDG Future Cities Programme, which was born in 2018, and now boasted 124 SDG Future Cities. These cities, he argued, show there is potential for over 120 VLRs. Mr. Fujino also addressed the importance of language barriers in Japan when it comes to sharing lessons, and laid out the efforts of the Japanese national government in holding roundtables to discuss VLRS.

Carmen Sanchez-Miranda Gallego, Head of Office UN-Habitat Spain launched the VLR Communiqué, building on conversations held in the UN-Habitat EGM in February 2021. The Communiqué, she argued, comes out of a process that demonstrates the willingness and capacity to report from LRGs, and showcases the need to transform the approach to the national reviews and even how we think about SDG localization.  The Communiqué highlights that there is still work to be done, to build bridges and dialogue to build an enabling reporting ecosystem.

Santiago Saura Martínez, Councillor for International Affairs and Cooperation of Madrid City Council, showed the process of the city of Madrid when developing the VLR. The Madrid VLR, he argued, has a double purpose: to both help the city achieve the SDGs, and to contribute to the 2030 Agenda at national and global level. The VLR helped to strengthen coordination between spheres of government and foster local planning and the mobilization of private investment.

UCLG MEWA Secretary General Mehmet Duman offered closing remarks that highlighted how the VLRs have a large transformational potential, as political process that are capable of influencing national reporting processes, as well as essential to develop evidence-based policymaking, as tools that bring together LRGs and increase SDG ownership. Lauding the experiences shared in the session, he called for VLRs to  be acknowledged as drivers of the global goals, in a similar way as to how local decision-making needs to be involved in global decision-making. Only then will we ensure the achievement of the SDGs.

Shipra Narang Suri, Chief, Urban Practices Branch, UN Habitat, wrapped up the session highlighting that the VLR-VSR-VNR connection can help rebuild communication among spheres of government and help local and regional governments get involved in national and international platforms. The guidelines for VLRs offer a tool that can help advance this path.

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