UN meet targets Sustainable Development Goal implementation

29 July 2016

UN member states meeting in New York from 11-20 July for the fourth annual meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) participated in national voluntary reviews on the implementation of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with these reviews covering 22 countries.

The gathering also adopted a ministerial declaration providing recommendations on the theme that “no one is left behind” as work on the SDGs moves ahead. The document commits, among other things, to focusing development efforts where challenges are the greatest. This includes empowering and protecting the most vulnerable parts of the population, such as youth, indigenous peoples, refugees, migrants, and peoples living in areas affected by complex humanitarian emergencies.

The declaration emphasises commitments toward ensuring that all countries enjoy strong, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all, with corresponding sustainable consumption and production patterns. UN member states will significantly increase investments to close the “gender gap,” and improve infrastructure in order to reduce inequalities within and among countries, amid a range of other pledges.

Trade, while raised by some officials, did not feature extensively during this year’s HLPF, despite being incorporated throughout the SDGs as a means of implementation, both in a cross-cutting manner aimed at driving growth, along with helping address specific challenges such as clean energy access. Prior to the meet, the WTO submitted a document outlining recent developments at the global trade body and how these may relate to the SDGs. 

Roadmap pending on follow-up, review

Countries have assigned the HLPF a central role in overseeing a network of follow-up and review processes to the 2030 Agenda and its SDG to-do list. The new global sustainable development vision was hammered out over a nearly three-year period and ceremoniously endorsed by world leaders last September.

However, UN member states have yet to agree on the formal roadmap for global follow-up and review activities, with consultations by UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft ongoing as of press time. Talks to outline this process have been underway since the start of the year but hit a snag when a “final draft resolution” struggled to gain consensus.

Draft versions of the resolution would have outlined HLPF themes for the next three years in relation to overseeing the 2030 Agenda. They also would have allocated different SDGs to be reviewed in depth during these sessions. Goal 17, which focuses on systemic means to achieve the goals as a whole and includes several references to the role of trade and investment, would be discussed annually.

Many stakeholders have commented on the importance of getting oversight settings right for the 2030 Agenda in order to make sure its ambitious pledges are being fulfilled. The use of voluntary national reviews last week was welcomed by some as an important collective learning exercise, while others reportedly remained sceptical on their effectiveness and representation of grassroots perspectives.

Given that this is the first year of the review process, many VNRs focused on presenting plans for future implementation.

Executing a follow-up and review process that simultaneously captures global direction and local priorities will likely remain a challenge for the HLPF, according to several experts. Policymakers also met last week against the recent backdrop of high-profile security incidents and threats, alongside a growing public backlash around global integration and distrust in political elites. These events and others have signalled that significant challenges lie ahead for international governance efforts.

For some, the 2030 Agenda represents a middle ground between assigning responsibility to individual nations to pursue sustainable development efforts, while harnessing benefits from common global frameworks and collective action. 

“We live in a turbulent world with growing uncertainties about the road ahead. There are polarising, inward looking trends. At the same time, the world is a world of promises and opportunity with many, many working to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of our peoples,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told HLPF delegates last week.

Other analysts have warned that a slow global growth outlook combined with a climate of economic and geopolitical uncertainty could curb foreign investment appetite, limiting a key potential resource for implementing the SDGs. 

Measuring progress

The latest HLPF session also launched the first progress report on the SDGs, including the latest data on urgent challenges such as extreme poverty, environmental degradation, and health. Due to be released each year, the report should serve as a benchmark throughout the 15-year implementation period of the 2030 Agenda.

“It provides an accurate evaluation of where the world stands on the 17 Goals, using data currently available to highlight the most significant gaps and challenges,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the report’s launch last week.

According to the report, nearly 800 million people continue to live in extreme poverty around the world, 5.9 million children die each year before reaching the age of five, and almost half of the global urban population is exposed to air pollution levels at least 2.5 times the maximum recommended level.

Data from the SDG progress report is provided by analysis of select indicators from a set of 2030 global indicators for the SDGs endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission in March. UN member states are due to approve the set later this year, with the indicators subject to refinements as methods and data availability improve. (See BioRes, 18 March 2016)

A Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) was also released last week with a specific goal of tracking the science-policy interfaces around the SDGs. The HLPF ministerial declaration provides instructions on the scope and modalities for future GSDRs – which will be issued on a quadrennial basis – along with explaining their complementary nature with the SDG progress report. 

Climate ratification

Ban also confirmed last week that he will convene an event on 21 September for all countries to deposit their instruments of ratification on the Paris Agreement on climate change, a new multilateral accord adopted last December in the French capital.

As of last month, 178 states have signed the Paris Agreement, with 19 of these having also deposited their instruments of ratification representing approximately 0.18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The deal will come into effect 30 days after 55 member states representing 55 percent of global emissions have signed and ratified. (See BioRes, 26 April 2016)

Expectations are building for this to occur by the end of the year, a record pace in international policy circles, following strong statements of intent by key players such as China, the US, India, and others.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the 2016 Meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: 11-20 July 2016,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 23 July 2016.

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