UN Officials Review Sustainable Development Goal Implementation, Call for Faster Progress

26 July 2018

Officials meeting for the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) last week at UN headquarters in New York called for an escalation in progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their respective targets, while conducting reviews of specific SDGs and discussing Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) from 46 countries. 

In a ministerial declaration adopted at the meeting’s close, the HLPF acknowledged that while progress had been made with some goals and targets, it is not advancing fast enough to achieve the SDGs. It further noted that progress has been “uneven across countries and regions,” emphasising the need to “urgently accelerate progress toward all targets, in particular those with a timeframe of 2020.” 

The HLPF is the central body that provides guidance and recommendations on sustainable development to UN member states, as well as overseeing the voluntary, state-led national review process. 

The annual Forum is convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and includes a ministerial segment. Every four years, the Forum includes meetings at the heads of state level under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, which next takes place in 2019, and also features the issuing of a Global Sustainable Development Report. 

This year’s Forum focused on the theme, “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies,” with a detailed review of six of the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The SDGs reviewed were SDG 6, water and sanitation; SDG 7, energy; SDG 11, sustainable cities; SDG 12, sustainable consumption and production; SDG 15, terrestrial ecosystems; and SDG 17, means of implementation. Each year’s meeting reviews a different set of SDGs, though SDG 17 is reviewed annually. 

Evaluating SDG-specific progress 

At the close of the Forum, UN member state representatives adopted the ministerial declaration, following negotiations on the text’s various components. 

Broadly, the ministerial declaration affirmed member states’ commitment to effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including “ensuring that no one is left behind.” It stressed the interlinkages between the 17 SDGs and the need for balancing the different facets of sustainability. 

The declaration noted that the Forum’s theme of building “sustainable and resilient societies” requires engagement with all stakeholders, emphasising a need for policy coherence and an enabling environment for sustainable development. It highlighted the value of private sector involvement, including in job creation and technological evolution. 

In the context of SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production, the declaration acknowledged the challenge of “decoupling economic growth from resource use.” It emphasised the need for countries to devote additional efforts to this area, including through corporate social responsibility, and urged that countries take a “life cycle approach” to consumption and production patterns. 

The statement also called for the adoption of more sustainable and inclusive food systems, a reduction in plastics waste, and a greater focus on providing consumers with information about sustainability in order to encourage sustainable lifestyles. 

Trade was referred to specifically in a paragraph regarding SDG 17 on the means of implementation and global partnerships for sustainable development. 

The declaration pledged to “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.” 

According to reporting by Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), the US had unsuccessfully suggested an amendment that would remove a reference to the WTO in a paragraph on SDG 17 covering means of implementation, on the grounds that the global trade club lies outside the ambit of UN-related documents. 

The ministerial declaration also noted positive trends in sustainable development investment and finance, calling on the private sector to continue to increase “long-term quality investment in sustainable development.” 

The declaration also noted the importance of “adequate and predictable financial resources” from private and public sources in the context of climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. It noted the “synergies” between the 2030 Agenda and the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change, urging for the latter accord’s full implementation. 

Guterres: Countries must avoid backtracking, support multilateral approaches 

In a keynote address that closed the HLPF, UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the progress achieved so far, but acknowledged that efforts are “lagging or even backtracking in other areas.” He called on stakeholders to “embed the essence of the 2030 Agenda into everything that we do.” 

Guterres noted that due primarily to conflicts and climate-related natural disasters, the number of undernourished people has increased, rather than abated. He also cited persistent gender inequality and a lack of investment in sustainable infrastructure as areas of concern. 

The Secretary-General laid out five points to map the way forward. Guterres called for greater support of and engagement with young people, noting that education is key to advancing gender equality and fostering more sustainable production and consumption patterns. 

Second, Guterres highlighted climate change. He praised the Paris Agreement, but also said that the landmark climate accord is “not enough” to prevent the devastating impacts of climate change. Meeting the Paris target of a well below two-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures relative to pre-industrial levels “requires nothing short of an industrial and energy revolution and we are not yet there,” he said. 

The Secretary-General thus reaffirmed his plans to convene a Climate Summit in September 2019 in order to “galvanise greater climate ambition.” Other areas where more ambition will be key, he said, would be in boosting financing for meeting sustainable development objectives, and he confirmed plans to convene a High-level Meeting on Financing the 2030 Agenda in September of this year, along with calling for better use of technological advances and for strengthening institutions. 

On the latter, he said this was borne out by both the SDG reviews conducted at the Forum and the 46 VNRs presented at the ministerial meetings. He also stressed that multilateralism “is the only way to tackle the complex, inter-connected and long-term challenges we are facing.” 

Taking stock of national, sub-national efforts 

Forty-six VNRs were presented at the ministerial segment of the Forum, with the vast bulk of these from Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, which contributed 15 and 13 submissions, respectively. Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America followed suit with nine, eight, and one submission each. Some of these reviews were second or third submissions from individual countries. 

In a synthesis of main messages from the reviews, the Forum noted common issues and trends, as countries examined their progress made to date, along with the hurdles they were facing and the steps they plan to take next. 

Many referred to their work on “harmonising” existing national development plans and other long-range policies with the 2030 Agenda, along with making sure that SDG considerations also make their way into sector-specific and investment-focused policies. 

The reviews also highlighted the need to strengthen monitoring and evaluation and the role of data in policymaking and SDG efforts. This need was also reflected in the ministerial declaration, which emphasised that “high quality, accessible, timely, and reliable data and statistics are central to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.” 

To that end, the declaration called for additional collaboration to improve data collection and analysis. It called for data to be “disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographical location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts,” in order to track SDG progress in a more effective way. 

The next meeting of the HLPF will be in 2019 with the theme of “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality,” covering SDGs 4, 8, 10, 13, and 16. These SDGs involve inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning; sustainable, inclusive economic growth and decent work; tackling inequality both within and across national borders; climate action; and peaceful and inclusive societies. 

ICTSD reporting; Summary of the 2018 Meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN/IISD REPORTING SERVICES, 21 July 2018.

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