Frances Zainoeddin, SI UN Representative, New York reviews the HLPF 2018

A blog by Frances Zainoeddin, SI UN Representative, New York

“The 2018 High Level Political Forum, tasked with follow-up and review of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Development, was held from 9 to 18 July 2018.  The first week was filled with panel discussions, addressing the theme “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies” and implementation of Sustainable Development Goals 6 (water), 7 (energy), 11 (cities), 12 (sustainable consumption and production),  15 (terrestrial ecosystems) and 17 (means of implementation).

Photo: Frances Zainoeddin, SI UN Representative, New York

There was no discussion on any of the 19 documents that were made available to it, including the Secretary-General’s annual progress report, which pointed out that the pace of implementation had been slow. The data shows that the world is not on track to reach the sustainable development goals by 2030.  Inequalities within and between countries persist.  Far too many people die prematurely and preventable diseases still take many people’s lives. The actual number of people living in slums has increased.  91 percent of the world urban population still breathed air that did not meet the WHO air quality guidelines. World hunger is on the rise again.  Disparities in education along the lines of gender, urban/rural location and other dimensions continue to be problematic. Gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities. Too many people still lack access to safely managed water and sanitation facilities. Too many are still being left behind.  While some of the panel discussions drew attention to achievements as well as challenges, the outcomes of the discussions, in terms of concrete recommendations for action, were not at all apparent.

46 countries presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).  Some reported that the SDGs have widespread support at the highest levels of governments and mechanisms were established to monitor implementation of the SDGs, including for broad stakeholder participation (which many NGOs disputed). Some countries highlighted much progress as well as some challenges, pointing to the pressing need for adequate financing; better statistical capacity for the collection of disaggregated data; mitigating climate change impacts on water, energy, agriculture, biodiversity and coastal resources.  The Q&A sessions after each presentation, which included questions from NGOs, were limited due to time constraints.  Many NGOs and even some Member States felt that the VNRs were akin to a “beauty contest” or a tourist campaign, with glowing assessments of what is happening at the national level as opposed to reality.

The Major Groups and Other Stakeholders’ panel drew attention to the need for accountability of governments in implementing the SDGs. It was stressed that stakeholder involvement needed to be given more serious attention.  It was pointed out that non-governmental organizations were familiar with those left furthest behind and can offer much to ensure that they are no longer left vulnerable, marginalized or invisible.  Many non-governmental organizations expressed disappointment that the HLPF did not provide “political leadership, guidance and recommendations”, in accordance with its mandate.

Again, the HLPF was mostly talk and no action.  The Ministerial Declaration that was adopted mainly reiterated and reaffirmed past agreements and findings, and did not shed any light on “bold actions” for governments to take.  Hopefully, the review of the HLPF by the General Assembly at its 74th session will provide an opportunity for Major Groups and Other Stakeholders to contribute to the efforts to make the HLPF more effective and more action-oriented”.

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