Agenda 2030: High-Level Forum Reviews Progress on Poverty Eradication Goal

28 July 2017

Ministers and top officials from UN member states signed off on a declaration last week aimed at advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with a particular focus on the theme of “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world.”

The declaration was approved after the annual meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The eight-day session, organised by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), involved reports from countries on their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), a high-level segment, and discussions on challenges related to seven out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We welcome efforts at all levels to implement the 2030 Agenda and recognise that after almost two years of implementation our individual and collective efforts have yielded encouraging results in many areas,” the ministerial declaration said.

However, it called for more to be done, stating that “the pace of implementation must be accelerated as the tasks facing us are urgent.”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted two years ago by UN member states, includesthe Sustainable Development Goals, which aim at shifting global players into more equal and sustainable frameworks for development. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 October 2015)

The goals that were reviewed in depth at the meeting this year included Goals 1 (ending poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 5 (gender equality), 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), and 14 (life below water).

The meeting was attended by 77 ministers, cabinet secretaries, and deputy ministers, along with over 2400 stakeholder representatives. 

Global environment, declaration debate

The ministerial declaration addressed a series of topics, ranging from food security and hunger to persistent gender inequality, the need for better access to health care and medicines, as well as infrastructure.

The document ties these to poverty eradication efforts, while warning that “nearly 35 percent of the population in least developed countries could remain in extreme poverty by 2030” and that hunger and undernourishment still affect hundreds of millions across the globe.

Continued extreme poverty, they said, could have especially damaging prospects for young people, and would require countries to take greater steps at the domestic levels to make sure their poverty eradication work is more impactful; involves better social protections; and addresses issues involving at-risk or remote populations. The declaration also advocates for taking environmental, biodiversity, and climate change into consideration, given their economic ramifications.

Ministers also refer to some of the challenges that are putting SDG implementation at a potential risk, calling for greater collaboration across stakeholders “to create the necessary enabling environment at all levels.”

“We are concerned about the significant impacts of the current challenging global environment on national efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda, including not only economic factors such as difficult macroeconomic conditions, low commodity prices, subdued trade growth and volatile capital flows, but also natural disasters, climate change, environmental degradation, humanitarian crises, and conflict,” they said.

The overall declaration, according to a UN press release summarising the events, noted that while the document itself was not subject to a vote, two paragraphs did see specific votes. While one of these was on the right to self-determination for those living under occupation, the other was specifically on trade.

The second paragraph in question – paragraph 21 – covers a range of topics. However, the language on trade, which states that they “will continue to promote a universal, rules-based, open, transparent, predictable, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, as well as meaningful trade liberalisation,” was raised in the voting process.

The final recorded vote, according to the UN summary, saw the United States vote against, with 112 in favour and over 40 abstaining. According to Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), a few members did raise questions over the language itself, with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand reportedly expressing interest in seeing topics such as resource sector mobilisation addressed further.

The UN report also indicated that the US had objected to addressing a non-UN organisation in this document, given that the 164-member WTO is not a UN body. Separately, the US also “dissociated itself” from sections within the seventh paragraph of the declaration, which includes references supporting the Paris Agreement on climate change.

US President Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw his country from the global climate accord earlier this year. (See Bridges Weekly, 8 June 2017)

Other topics that sparked debate was how to treat language on topics ranging from gender inequality to wealth distribution and migration. 

Civil society reactions

Action for Sustainable Development, an international platform dedicated to engaging civil society groups in the 2030 Agenda process, commended the conference for its “enthusiasm and determination.”

However, the group also expressed concern over certain key areas, such as the speed of the poverty eradication efforts, including at the domestic level.

“We remain concerned that what has been presented in Voluntary National Reviews this year demonstrates that the pace of change is still too slow, and the reality remains that the scale of inequality globally is rising,” said the group.

The 2017 conference also saw Voluntary National Review (VNRs) presentations from 43 countries, close to double those reviewed the year prior. These country-led reviews are meant to feed into the HLPF process, and the civil society coalition suggested that while improvements are needed, these could be a useful platform for supporting the Paris Agreement’s implementation and other climate action efforts.

Coming up

In 2018, the theme for at the HLPF conference will be the “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.” It will address the following specific goals: SDGs 6 (safe water and sanitation), 7(sustainable energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (sustainable consumption and production), and 15 (sustainable terrestrial ecosystems).

The following year, the high-level group will h review progress towards Goals 4 (equitable quality education), 8 (sustainable economic growth), 10 (reduce inequality), 13 (combat climate change), and 16(promote peaceful and inclusive societies), which all aim to promote empowerment, inclusiveness, and equality.

Like the 2017 HLPF, these meetings will also look at SDG17, which involves means of implementation and partnerships for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals overall.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the 2017 Meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: 10-19 July 2017,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 22 July 2017.

This article first appeared in Bridges Weekly, 27 July 2017.

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