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In September 2015, 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted a historic resolution committing themselves to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, seeking to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that ended in 2015. The SDGs are ambitious and universal—applicable in both developed and developing countries —and transformational, aimed at balancing economic growth, social development and environmental protection. The Agenda is driven by the principle of leaving no one behind. It is rooted in universal human rights principles and standards.

The SDGs are the result of a long, intensive, consultative process, and are strongly owned by various stakeholders — countries, civil society and international organizations, including the United Nations. The transition from the MDGs to the SDGs is a huge step forward in national commitments to fulfil the United Nations founding vision of peace, well-being, economic stability and the realization of human rights for all. The UN Charter, adopted in 1945, has human rights and dignity at its core. It covers all aspects of what then was termed ‘social progress and better standards of life — today generally described as human development and human well-being.

Implementation of the 2030 Agenda’s vision of sustainable development requires an integrated approach. The SDGs are indivisible in nature and call for collective action, at all levels. They aim to address the challenges of our time, with an overarching imperative of leaving no one behind, and addressing inequalities and discrimination as a defining feature. For many developing countries, the 2030 Agenda was adopted at an opportune moment, as they were preparing long term development plans/strategies that could mainstream the SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda and the Secretary-General’s report on follow-up and review state that reviews should take place at national, regional and global levels, and that these processes should build on each other. They provide key information and feedback as well as learning mechanisms at every stage, and provide scope for inclusiveness and broad participation, as illustrated in Figure 1.

The 2030 Agenda also stipulates that all review processes apply the following principles:

- Voluntary and country-led;

- Focused on universal, integrated, and interrelated goals and targets, including means of implementation;

- Long-term orientation; Open, inclusive, participatory and transparent for all peoples;

- People-centred, gender-sensitive, and respect, protect and promote human rights, with a particular focus on the people who are poorest, most vulnerable and left furthest behind;

- Built on existing platforms and processes, while taking into consideration emerging methodologies;

- Rigorous and evidence-based, informed by country-led evaluations and data that is high quality, accessible, timely, reliable, and disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts;

- Track progress in implementing universal goals and targets, including means of implementation; and maintain a longer term orientation, and identify achievements, challenges, gaps and critical success factors.