The 2022 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) opened with expressions of concern over the setbacks the global community has faced since the last HLPF in-person session in 2019. Challenges that were unforeseen when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015, such as the global pandemic, set-backs in education, conflicts and the resulting food crisis, were highlighted as reasons we are losing ground on SDG implementation. As they focused on the challenges brought by COVID-19, speaker after speaker noted the disparities in vaccine access, as well as the growing socio-economic divides in education, gender, health and lingering poverty. “What’s left for the poor is only crumbs,” one speaker lamented.
The conflict in Ukraine was not left behind either, with delegates making the links between the continued conflict, the anguish of the people at the heart of the conflict, and the rising costs of food globally. During some technology hiccups in the afternoon, a speaker quipped that, “Nothing in this world is working very smoothly right now.”
Speakers expressed optimism, nonetheless, that we can improve the resilience of our socio-economic and health systems. Collen Vixen Kelapile, Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President, noted the pandemic has served as a “wake-up call” to tackle fundamental problems facing societies, and highlighted the opportunity to build back better using the 2030 Agenda as a blueprint for recovery.
Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, summarized main messages from the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), noting this year’s VNRs highlight significant global setbacks in SDG achievement, many exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including: poverty, unemployment, unsustainable debt and rising inflation; conflict; food insecurity and climate change; dramatic increases in gender-based violence; and youth unemployment. She also noted many countries have begun to introduce innovative policies to build back better, including through debt moratoria, national resilience plans, strengthened social protection measures, and expansion of the digital economy, emphasizing the need for “deep transitions” to get back on track.
Additional statements during the opening session sought to set the tone for the eight-day event. Noting than an additional USD 3.5 trillion is required for climate action in emerging and developing country economies by 2030, Nicholas Stern, London School of Economics, prioritized strong policies to incentivize investment, official development assistance, and private sector financing, as well as tripling financing from multilateral development banks.
Stressing the importance of coordination, Suriya Chindawongse, Vice President of ECOSOC, called for equity and empowerment, sustainability and synergy, a balance between people and planet, and a harmonized UN architecture to achieve the mutually reinforcing SDGs.
In the afternoon, the HLPF featured a lightening round of statements focused on SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). Yongyi Min, Statistics Division, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), previewed the SDGs progress report that will be launched on 7 July, noting that the pandemic has added to the debt burdens of low- and middle-income countries, who are experiencing rising inflation and many competing spending priorities.
HLPF delegates were also serenaded by performers from South Korea and Mali. Introducing their music video of the song “Next Level,” band members of the K-pop band aespa highlighted the need to prioritize SDG implementation to ensure both reality and virtual reality are sustainable and just. Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré closed the morning session with his song titled “Fafa” about the need for global togetherness.