The global response to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has not been ambitious enough, and a renewed commitment and accelerated action is needed to deliver the SDGs in time. This was the key message from the 2019 High-level Political Forum (HLPF), which completed the first four-year cycle of its mandate to review the 17 SDGs and assess progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda).
The Forum also identified new threats to SDG implementation in line with its mandate to identify emerging issues, such as climate change, a reduced pace of economic growth, the threat of a further decline in the economy, and the “double-edged” sword of new technologies. “Our collective ambition for realizing the 2030 Agenda hinges on how we manage the evolving risks and challenges, and whether we seize the social, economic, and environmental opportunities before us,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, on the first day of the Forum. “Otherwise, we will not be able to fulfill our duty to deliver on the SDGs in time.”
The review of six SDGs during the Forum brought further sobering news: SDG 4 (quality education) is battling a “global learning crisis”; progress on SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) is “slow and uneven”; income inequality (SDG 10, reduced inequalities) is on the rise; climate change (SDG 13, climate action) is disrupting national economies and affecting lives; and no substantial progress has been made on the SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) targets. On SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), official development assistance (ODA) is down by 2.7% in 2018 compared to 2017, humanitarian aid fell by 8% in the same period, and aid to the least developed countries and African countries, who need it most, is falling.
VNRs were presented by 47 countries during the Ministerial Segment, with seven countries presenting for the second time. This was seen by many as a commitment to both the SDGs and multilateralism, at a time when it is under increasing threat.
In advance of the upcoming review by the UN General Assembly, while many believe the HLPF has fulfilled its functions, there were also many useful suggestions for improvement, including making better use of regional institutions and fora; focusing on interlinkages between goals; and ministerial declarations that capture the discussions of the annual Forum and identify follow-up action.
The High-level Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) met on Friday to discuss visions and projections for the future of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and long-term trends and scenarios.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), presented mega-trends from the summary of the Sustainable Development Outlook 2019 which will be launched in September 2019, highlighting that:
Cristián Samper, Wildlife Conservation Society, called for 30% of ecosystems to be set aside by 2030 and for restoration of degraded areas. He said 30% of the solutions for climate change can be nature-based, but are overlooked in most national determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
In the panel discussion on visions and projections for the future, panelists highlighted: education and continuous learning as key to unlocking progress in the 2030 Agenda; peace, justice, and strong institutions as a cross-cutting goal; deep decarbonization and a digital revolution among focus areas for pathways to transformational change; healthy competition between countries to accelerate implementation; and the need for the 2019 September Summits to speak to one another.
In the session on long-term trends and scenarios, participants drew attention to decision-making and SDG implementation at a time of uncertainty regarding solutions, such as the transformational benefits or potential dangers of new technologies. Panelists discussed the key role of equality in unlocking the potential of the other Goals; the multi-dimensional nature of inequality; the role of diverging demographic trends in driving inequalities; the vicious cycle created by long entrenched inequalities and denial of human rights; the importance of transparency, predictability, and accountability, especially in national budgets; access to technology and capacity to all countries and all citizens; the potential of climate change to exacerbate inequalities, and the need for just transitions; and the need for all voices to be heard while drafting policies.
In closing remarks, Liu said progress towards the SDGs is slow; the lack of data hinders progress in reaching those furthest behind; and stakeholder participation is essential not to leave anyone behind. He noted that the high-level Summits in September 2019 will be an opportunity to share these messages.
ECOSOC President Inga Rhonda King said the efforts invested in HLPF’s first cycle will lead to the doubling of efforts for SDG implementation, and an integrated approach that includes people in decision-making is key to ensure no one is left behind. She summarized several emerging mega-trends discussed at the ECOSOC High-level Segment, and concluded that the ECOSOC and HLPF are providing a platform to nurture a discussion on these issues.
The meeting was gaveled to a close at 5:35 pm.
IISD Reporting Services, through its ENB Meeting Coverage, provided daily web coverage and daily reports from HLPF 2019. In addition, IISD Reporting Services has published a summary and analysis report from the meeting, which is now available in HTML and PDF.
Photos by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Ten countries presented their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) on Thursday: Cameroon, Tunisia, Congo, Nauru, Guyana, Mauritius, Oman, Liechtenstein, Mauritania, and Turkmenistan.
The General Debate continued in parallel in the afternoon, with 37 Heads of State and Government, ministers, and ambassadors making statements, which can be accessed here.
A session on lessons learned from the first cycle of HLPF in the evening started with an “intergenerational dialogue” between David Donoghue, co-facilitator of the intergovernmental negotiations on the 2030 Agenda, and Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. Wickramanayake called for the empowerment of youth, and fulfillment of the SDGs to ensure young people, constituting half the world’s population, have security, jobs, and opportunities to fulfil their potential. Donoghue said the intention to put “the infinite capacity of young people for activism” at the heart of the 2030 Agenda had not yet been realized, and worried that young people feel “betrayed” by their political institutions.
UN Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin listed the achievements of the HLPF so far, including: presentation of 142 VNRs; review of all of the SDGs; organization of regional fora; and stakeholder contributions. Presenting the preliminary and partial results of a survey conducted to inform the upcoming HLPF review process, Zhenmin said respondents believed the HLPF has fulfilled its functions; and the VNRs were useful to share lessons and challenges, advance implementation, and mobilize partners.
In a discussion on lessons learned from the first cycle of the HLPF, speakers called for more inclusivity, more time and space for interaction, better use of regional institutions and spaces, a Ministerial Declaration that reflects the outcomes of a session, and better follow-up after a session, among many others.
While discussing key messages for the SDG Summit, speakers highlighted the strong country ownership of the SDGs evidenced by national polices and actions; local-level reflection; and budgetary allocations for the SDGs. The challenges listed included difficulties in long-term planning, awareness building, and resource mobilization. Proposed focus areas included: a better understanding of interlinkages; the role of science, technology, and innovation in enabling co-benefits; governance, for integration and coordination; accurate and timely data for informed decision-making; gender equality and empowerment of women and girls; partnerships, including international cooperation; and regional forums that enable a space for peer learning and showcasing practical solutions.
In the closing session, ECOSOC President King introduced the draft procedural report of the 2019 HLPF (E/HLPF/2019/L.1), which was adopted without amendments. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed highlighted three main areas: “the inclusion imperative”; democratic and effective institutions; and political commitment.
The meeting was gaveled to a close at 6:04 pm.
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At the HLPF on Wednesday, 16 countries presented voluntary national reviews (VNRs) during two sessions, in the morning and afternoon. VNR presentations were made by Central African Republic, eSwatini, Iraq, Saint Lucia, Serbia, Tonga, South Africa, Rwanda, Kuwait, New Zealand, Chad, Ghana, Israel, Timor-Leste, Tanzania, and Vanuatu.
Meanwhile, the General Debate continued in parallel throughout the day, with 73 Heads of State, Heads of Government, ministers, and ambassadors making statements, which can be accessed here.
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The High-level Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Ministerial Segment of HLPF opened with several high-level statements on Tuesday morning. UN Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres called for “dramatically scaling up” private and public investments in SDGs and called on governments to “kickstart a decade of delivery and action”. María Fernanda Espinosa, President, UN General Assembly, said the five summit-level meetings at UN Headquarters in September 2019 will be a key opportunity to show that multilateralism works.
Mary Robinson, Chair, The Elders, said the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement can no longer be considered voluntary, after the alarming findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Richard Curtis, Screenwriter, Producer, and Film Director, UK, called on governments to seize the “unique opportunity” presented by the SDGs before the window of opportunity begins to close, and an acceptance of failure sets in. Hoesung Lee, IPCC Chair, said achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be made more challenging by the impacts of global warming, but the impacts will be considerably less if global average temperature rise is limited to 1.5°C, instead of 2°C.
This opening of the High-level Segment was followed by the presentation of voluntary national reviews (VNRs) by 14 countries through the day: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Pakistan, Palau, UK, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Fiji, and Mongolia.
In the afternoon, as part of the High-level Segment, a session took place on "What are regions telling us about implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs?". Chairs of the regional forums on sustainable development, held annually, presented their outcomes. Inequality was a key challenge for most of the regions. A respondent to the presentations, Sarah Zaman from Women’s Action Forum, pointed to the under-utilized potential of regional level-bodies, which she said could address issues such as illicit financial flows, tax avoidance, and trade. She also proposed that interim VNRs should be presented at the regional level, before they are presented at the HLPF.
In the session on messages to the HLPF, representatives of the UN Environment Assembly, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Forum on Forests, ECOSOC Youth Forum, and International Labour Organisation presented messages to HLPF, highlighting synergies with the SDGs and 2030 Agenda.
The General Debate started with a presentation of key messages from the UNSG’s reports on long term trends and scenarios and on the theme of ECOSOC 2019 session; and from the Committee on Development Policy (CDP) report. Statements by Member States followed.
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HLPF participants discussed “moving from words to action” on financing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Monday morning. Reporting on progress, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) said official development assistance (ODA) totaled USD149 billion in 2018, down by 2.7% in real terms from 2017; and humanitarian aid fell by 8%. She noted a reduction in aid to least developed countries and African countries, saying donor countries are not living up to the pledge to scale up ODA.
Homi Kharas, Brookings Institution, noted that while more than USD20-30 trillion has been spent on the SDGs so far, this investment has taken place mainly in high- and middle-income economies. He presented research showing that while minimum spending of around USD340 per capita annually is needed in the various sectors to implement the SDGs in low-income economies, with needs rising with country income levels, there is a big gap between this and current spending levels. Delegates discussed, among other things, the importance of implementing the shared vision of the 2030 Agenda through meeting aid commitments; reducing illicit financial flows; improving tax collection; reducing the cost of remittances; ensuring funds are available at the local level; and leveraging the private sector.
Seven countries then presented their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) for the second time, in two panel discussions: Azerbaijan, Chile, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Turkey. They described progress in nationalizing SDG targets, implementation of priority SDGs, and efforts to engage multistakeholders.
In the afternoon, participants discussed lessons from four years of VNRs. Speakers highlighted challenges related to, among other things: data accuracy, collection, and disaggregation; lack of meaningful stakeholder involvement, and of “civil spaces”; lack of adequate attention to root causes of inequality in VNRs; institutional fragmentation; lack of adequate country ownership; and lack of follow-up, after presentations at HLPF. The role of VNRs in fostering coordination on SDGs and clarifying roles and responsibilities for implementation were also recognized.
This was followed by a wrap-up session of the first five days of HLPF 2019. UN DESA summarized messages from the five days, saying that while governments are on the right track, the level of ambition is not enough to achieve the SDGs by 2030. UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President Inga Rhonda King highlighted, among other things, the importance of investing in data capacity, and the role of science in shaping policies. She urged governments to speed up implementation and kickstart transformative action.
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As the first week of HLPF 2019 drew to a close, two sessions reviewed the implementation and interrelations among Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), on SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions).
In the discussion on SDG 13, Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Action Summit, pleaded with governments to bring ambitious plans to the Summit, to deliver a 45% reduction of emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. Carolina Schmidt, Minister of Environment, Chile, and President-designate of the 2019 Climate Conference identified seven priorities for the Conference: ambition in implementation; rules for the carbon market mechanisms; climate finance; science for climate solutions; adaptation and loss and damage; forests and food security; and oceans and climate change. Gender will be a crosscutting theme for all the issues, she said.
In the discussion on SDG 16, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) reported no substantial progress on SDG 16 targets in recent years, with thousands at greater risk of intentional murder, aggression, and sexual violence. Women comprise 70% of the victims of violence, and murders of human rights defenders increased by 2 victims per week in 2018 compared to 2017. Speakers called for involving women, youth, and children in policy-making related to SDG 16; promoting non-discriminatory policies; instituting and enacting policies to protect human right defenders; and putting technology at the center of enhancing institutional capacity.
A brief session in the morning also discussed the 2019 report of the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum, which called for strengthened capacity and policies for development of STI roadmaps, and for tackling the fragmented nature of official development assistance for STI. Speakers said the UN General Assembly should be requested to report on progress of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM); member states should include STI in their voluntary national reviews (VNRs); and indigenous knowledge and citizen science should be considered as part of STI.
+ Visit the web coverage for Friday, 12 July 2019
HLPF 2019 continued into its third day with a thematic review on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality, focused on the perspectives of society. Interventions by women and stakeholders were noticeably predominant in this session, which addressed four issues:
There were calls for further inclusivity and space for civil society involvement; moving away from tokenism and “tick-boxing”; and honest assessments of global and national processes, moving away from “rose tinted” messages to a more critical review of progress, with space for civil society to present alternative reports. The potential of using regional spaces for better civil society engagement was also recognized.
A session on the science-policy interface followed, with a briefing from the independent group of scientists on the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR). Peter Messerli, GSDR Co-Chair, noted uneven progress in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and called for integrated approaches in implementation. The value of science in achieving the Goals, and identifying challenges beyond the Goals; the importance of making science accessible; and the need for scientific institutions to be involved in policy making and resource planning were emphasized.
In the afternoon, a review of implementation and interrelations among SDGs focused on SDG 10 (reduced inequalities). A statistical snapshot of SDG 10 showed that income and other forms of inequality are on the rise. Globally, the bottom 40% receive less than 25% of overall income, and an increasing share of income going to the top 1% in many countries. Meanwhile, 50% of those affected by extreme poverty are children below 14 years. The principles of “leaving no one behind” and “nothing for us, without us” were evoked as essential for achieving SDG 10.
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HLPF 2019 continued on Wednesday at UN Headquarters in New York. A thematic review on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality in the morning included two sessions, on the perspectives of small island developing states (SIDS), and of least developed countries (LDCs) and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs). Speakers highlighted innovations, such as a peer review system for voluntary national reviews (VNRs); and challenges, such as high vulnerability and capacity needs, in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They emphasized mutually reinforcing synergies between achieving the SDGs and the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway; the Vienna Programme of Action (VPoA) for LLDCs; and the Istanbul Programme of Action for LDCs.
In the afternoon, a review of implementation and interrelations among SDGs focused on SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth). Progress on achieving this Goal was reported as being slow, and somewhat mixed: despite an increase in gross domestic product growth globally, the LDCs are falling short of their 7% target; 22% of the young people around the world are not in education, employment, or training; and the increase in labor productivity shows a high variation across regions.
Several speakers discussed the impacts of the digital economy, describing it as a "double edged sword" that empowers people but can also have disruptive implications for the future of work. The need to reform educational curricula to ensure that skills match future needs was emphasized, as was the critical need to increase women’s participation in the labor market in general, and in the digital economy in particular.
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Four years after implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) started, the 2019 meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) opened to take stock of progress, gaps, and obstacles. Inga Rhonda King, President, UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), highlighted why this HLPF session is particularly important in her opening address:
Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the UN Secretary-General’s SDG progress report, which notes that while there is progress, the global response has not been sufficient thus far. Speakers highlighted the need for more empowerment, courage, inclusivity, and equality.
In the afternoon the HLPF reviewed SDG implementation and interrelations among goals, focusing on SDG 4 (quality education). A presentation on the progress made revealed a “global learning crisis”, with a low proficiency rate amongst school children in reading and mathematics despite increased enrollment rates, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Solutions proposed by speakers included not only reforms of the education sector, but a transformation of mindsets to make educational systems more inclusive; integration of the vision of SDGs, including global citizenship and sustainability, in curricula; and “dramatically” improving working conditions for teachers.
+ Visit the web coverage for Tuesday, 9 July 2019