Monthly Forecast: March 2017
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In March, we will continue to see how focusing on one Goal draws attention to and action on others.

The 45th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, will highlight links between climate change (SDG 13) and the ocean (SDG 14), land (SDG 15), and food security (SDG 2), while a high-level “event for action” on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will emphasis cross-cutting benefits, especially regarding land use (SDG 15), energy (SDG 7) and the ocean (SDG 14).

Also in March, the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and the UN Statistical Commission will meet to advance work on tracking implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are interdependent by design. In March, we will continue to see how focusing on one Goal draws attention to, and spurs action on, others. The 45th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, will highlight links between climate change (SDG 13) and the ocean (SDG 14), land (SDG 15), and food security (SDG 2), while a high-level “event for action” on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will emphasis cross-cutting benefits, especially regarding land use (SDG 15), energy (SDG 7) and the ocean (SDG 14). The International Day of Forests (SDG 15) will highlight wood fuel as a source of renewable energy (SDG 7).

The interdependence of the Goals has lent to more inclusive implementation and consideration of the 2030 Agenda. We will see this trend reinforced when the Global Festival of Ideas convenes at the beginning of the month, and as the UN and Colombia foster the engagement of Major Groups and other stakeholders in the SDG review process at the national level. Further on review, the first of the regional meetings that will prepare for the upcoming session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) will convene, and the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and the UN Statistical Commission will meet to advance work on tracking implementation of the Agenda.

Climate Discussions to Highlight Linkages with Sustainable Development Issues

The High-Level Event for Action on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda will take place in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 23 March. After the post-Climate COP lull of the past few months, many will look to this event for some political momentum. The President of the 71st UNGA, Peter Thomson, and the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, are organizing the event, bringing together representatives from UN Member States, the UN System, and other stakeholders.

The event will highlight the linkages between climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with a special emphasis on cross-cutting benefits especially regarding land use, energy and the ocean. The event aims to increase common understanding among key actors regarding the urgent need to ramp up ambition and implementation, especially in light of the upcoming 2020 climate and SDG targets and milestones. Some have recalled that last year around the same time, 175 Parties to the UNFCCC signed the Paris Agreement (174 countries and the EU) during a special event at UN Headquarters. The 22 April 2016 event represented the largest number of first-day signatures to an international agreement, and set in motion the quick entry into force of that agreement. Many are hoping that the 2017 event will also generate additional momentum for climate action.

Preparations for Bonn Conference to Press Forward

March will also see the convening of meetings of various specialized bodies under the UNFCCC, which will seek to advance the technical work required to make the Paris Agreement operational, among other agenda items. These meetings will address a range of issues, namely: finance, with the meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance and that of the Adaptation Fund Board; adaptation and loss and damage, with the meeting of the Adaptation Committee, that of the Executive Committee (ExCom) of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and that of the Least Developed Country Expert Group (LEG); and technology development and transfer, with the meeting of the Technology Executive Committee. The outcomes of these technical meetings will feed into the negotiations scheduled to take place at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in May.

Another key event for March, which will also give a flavor of what to expect in May in Bonn, is the inter-sessional workshop of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) on agenda item 5 (Modalities, procedures and guidelines for the transparency framework for action and support referred to in Article 13 of the Paris Agreement). Given the complexity and breadth of the issues under this item, Parties’ discussions in Marrakech focused on the scope and nature of the issues and, in particular, on how to organize work. The workshop is one of the main outcomes of the COP on this matter.

March will close with the 45th session of the IPCC. The IPCC session will highlight linkages between climate change and a number of SDGs, in particular SDG 14 (Life below water) and SDG 15 (Life on land), as it is scheduled to discuss the outlines of two special reports, namely: climate change, oceans and the cryosphere; and climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

IPBES to Address Invasive Species, Forest Day to Focus on Energy

Another intergovernmental panel on scientific advice – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – will also meet in March to discuss special assessments, among other topics. IPBES, which has already released assessments on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production, and a Methodological Assessment on Scenarios and Models of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, will turn its attention to invasive alien species (IAS) and the sustainable use of biodiversity, at its fifth session (IPBES-5). The assessments are meant to make solid contributions to the body of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services, upon which sound decision making can be made.

In addition to IAS and sustainable use, March will raise awareness on forest-related issues. The International Day of Forests, held annually on 21 March, has an energy focus this year, and is drawing attention to the potential of wood fuel as a renewable energy source. The theme of the Day is chosen annually by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, which will meet about a week prior to the Day. Mediterranean Forest Week will draw additional attention to forests, as well as landscape restoration in the Mediterranean basin.

HLPF Preparations

While 43 countries prepare their reports for this year’s Voluntary National Review at the HLPF, several regional economic commissions are also holding preparatory meetings beginning March, in the form of their annual sustainable development fora. The regional preparatory meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • 26-28 March, Bangkok, Thailand: The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) will hold the annual Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD), to be preceded by a Asia-Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development.
  • 25 April, Geneva, Switzerland: The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is organizing the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development back-to-back with the UNECE Anniversary session. The event will contribute to regional follow-up and review through a discussion of reviews in UNECE Sectoral Committees and other UNECE inputs, reviews and inputs from regional UN systems, other regional and international organizations, and civil society and other stakeholders.
  • 26-27 April, Mexico City, Mexico: The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) will hold the annual Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development (LAC RFSD).
  • 3-5 May, location TBD: The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) will hold the Arab Regional Forum for Sustainable Development.
  • 16-19 May, location TBD: UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) will hold the annual Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD).

Meanwhile, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Government of Colombia are working to enhance the engagement of Major Groups and other stakeholders in the national-level reviews of the 2030 Agenda and the Voluntary National Reviews that take place each year during the HLPF. An Expert Group Meeting will take place in Bogota, on 26 March 2017.

Also in March, we will be watching a process that underpins the global-level follow-up and review element of the 2030 Agenda: indicators. The UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) will hold its 48th session, during which participants will also mark the Commission’s 70th anniversary. The session is expected to include discussions on a draft resolution on adopting the SDG indicators framework. A draft of the text is currently under consideration by UN Member States’ chief statisticians, while their political counterparts in New York await their turn to weigh in on the indicators and the proposed work plans for their future evolution.

Following the UNSC meeting, the IAEG-SDGs will hold its fifth meeting, this time in Ottawa, Canada, hosted by Statistics Canada. The IAEG’s discussions will take place over four days, with the first two closed to Group members and the second half open to a broader set of stakeholders. On the agenda are: a presentation of the latest “Tier” classification of indicators; a discussion on the role of custodian agencies, and the strategy to address indicators without a custodian agency or a work plan; a review of the work plans for indicators currently classified as “Tier III”; a presentation on the work plan for data disaggregation; and a presentation on the timeline for finalizing proposed additional indicators.

The Global Festival of Ideas, which will take place at the beginning of March, is part of a trend we have observed towards the organization of participatory, lab-type events. This change in organizational focus represents a natural progression, given that the international community, in setting the SDGs, has turned its focus to implementation rather than to negotiating further obligations under multilateral environmental agreements, although our highlights above indicate that such negotiations remain necessary as well. The new organization and format of events also reflects the diversity of actors, approaches and activities underway to implement the SDGs, and the need for new forms of interaction with and among these initiatives to generate new networks and possibilities. The SDG Knowledge Hub is pleased to be one of the projects that will be represented at the Global Festival of Ideas, and we are committed to helping the sustainable development community track the variety of efforts taking place globally to implement the SDGs.

Lauren Anderson, Alice Bisiaux, Faye Leone and Lynn Wagner

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