Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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In preparation for HLPF 2018, five Regional Forums on Sustainable Development reviewed progress on the 2030 Agenda and the sub-set of SDGs under review in 2018: SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17.

Regional input highlights increasing discussion of the potential synergies and tradeoffs among the SDGs to promote policy coherence, as well as the continued importance of tackling data gaps and collecting disaggregated data and increasing financing for targeted interventions.

In preparation for the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF), five Regional Forums on Sustainable Development (RFSD) convened to follow up on and review progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The RFSDs offered an opportunity for countries to share lessons learned, best practices and challenges in implementing the SDGs, and to identify conclusions and recommendations, providing regional-level input to discussions at the 2018 session of the HLPF.

The 2018 HLPF will review implementation of SDGs 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 15 (life on land) and 17 (partnerships for the Goals). As noted in a Linkages Update editor’s note, in reviewing this set of Goals, participants will be able to reflect on over two years of efforts to implement the Goals, which could yield deeper insights and more concrete experiences and lessons than at the 2017 HLPF.

This policy brief reflects on discussions held in the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region, the Asia-Pacific region, the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, the Arab region and the Africa region. The brief concludes by identifying a few key differences and similarities among the regions’ agendas and key messages for the HLPF 2018, which will take place in New York, US, from 9-13 July 2018, followed by its ministerial meeting from 16-18 July, which is held jointly with ECOSOC as part of its high-level segment. The theme of the session will be ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.’

Substantive Preparation

In advance of the regional Forums, two regional commissions released publications assessing progress on the SDGs under in-depth review.

  • UNECE released a compilation of case studies that feature concrete policy measures taken by governments, proposals by governments and other stakeholders to address identified challenges, and suggestions on how peers can adopt best practices.
  • The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released the second annual report on regional progress and challenges on implementation of the 2030 Agenda in LAC. The publication outlines assesses each country’s trends, advances and gaps, and identifies critical links for realizing the 2030 Agenda.

In addition, civil society pre-meetings took place for all regional Forums.

Convening Five Regional Preparatory Meetings

The UNECE RFSD convened from 1-2 March 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland. Peer learning roundtables focused on implementation of the SDGs under in-depth review at the 2018 HLPF, with country representatives sharing case studies from their national experience and proposed solutions to identified problems. The Forum resulted in a Chair’s Summary. IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of the meeting is here.

The Fifth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) took place in Bangkok, Thailand, from 28-30 March 2018. Member States presented their SDG progress in parallel roundtables and reviewed implementation of the Regional Roadmap for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda, with participants stressing the need to enhance the speed and scale of implementing the Roadmap. IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of the meeting is here.

The second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development took place from 18-20 April 2018, in Santiago, Chile, under the auspices of ECLAC. IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of the meeting is here.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) RFSD took place in Beirut, Lebanon, from 24-26 April 2018. The Arab Regional Forum on Sustainable Development meeting focused on the theme, ‘Natural Resources, Future Generations and the Common Good.’ The Arab Forum agreed on a set of key messages on SDG 6, SDG 7 and SDG 15 as the region’s input to the 2018 HLPF. IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of the meeting is here.

The fourth Africa RFSD convened in Dakar, Senegal, from 3-4 May 2018, with pre-event workshops meeting on 2 May. The Forum included an all-day workshop focused on strengthening voluntary national reviews (VNRs) and reporting on the 2030 Agenda and Africa’s Agenda 2063. The RFSD meeting report contains over 50 recommendations for the HLPF. IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of the meeting is here.

SDGs under Review in 2018

Key regional messages for the six SDGs under review offer insights into the different approaches to each SDG that will be presented at the HLPF.

  • SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation)
    • Africa: The ARFSD calls on governments to: improve access to appropriate technologies; enhance capacity in the water sector; and create an enabling environment through better water governance regimes, with institutional arrangements that recognize the interdependence of water usage among competing sectors and that make use of cross-sectoral planning. The ARFSD makes additional recommendations related to government investment in clean water and sanitation, including potable water access points in rural communities and improved sanitation facilities to eliminate open defecation and ensure appropriate waste management; and both soft and hard climate-proofed water infrastructure to ensure sustained water supply, enhance adaptation to seasonal variability in precipitation and build resilience to climate change-induced impacts.
    • Asia-Pacific: Safe drinking water, pollution and unsustainable water use are specific challenges for addressing SDG 6 within the Asia-Pacific region. The Forum also highlighted the need to enhance implementation of existing policies and laws in the water sector through monitoring and accountability schemes and to improve the management of recycled water and other forms of water.
    • Europe: Roundtables on sustainable water focused on: making universal access to water and sanitation a reality within the UNECE region, noting that challenges are particularly acute in rural areas; and sharing water: balancing competing needs in a context of declining resource, including allocating water across shared borders and addressing water scarcity at a transboundary level.
  • SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy)
    • Africa: The ARFSD called for: developing in-country human and institutional capacities for energy planning and management and greater private sector engagement; ensuring that climate resilience is fully integrated into the planning and implementation of energy infrastructure and investment, especially for hydropower systems; and systematically prioritizing energy efficiency in all sectors and capitalizing on quick wins in energy efficiency, recognizing that energy efficiency gains enhance access. The ARFSD also recommended promoting an enabling environment to leverage resources in support of SDG 7.
    • Asia-Pacific: The Forum focused on innovation, means of implementation and interlinkages between SDG 7 and other Goals. Key interlinkage action points focus on enhancing energy access, including in rural and remote areas; improving energy efficiency in industry and households; strengthening regional infrastructure connectivity to foster economies of scale and enable wider dissemination of renewable energy; reforming the energy sector to encourage decentralized production; and ensuring that energy policies primarily respond to the needs of local communities and stimulate small renewable energy projects that are resource efficient, environmentally sustainable and promote job creation.
    • Europe: Roundtables addressed: improving the efficiency of the energy system to meet climate objectives, ensure energy security, enhance the quality of life and improve economic performance; and transforming energy in support of the 2030 Agenda.
  • SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities)
    • Africa: The ARFSD recognizes the linkages between urbanization, inclusive growth, water and sanitation and climate change. The region recommends strategic investments in urban infrastructure and services, including energy, transport, water, sanitation and waste management, to enhance the potential of cities to facilitate sustainable development in Africa and calls for considering climate change in policy frameworks and land-use and spatial planning policies.
    • Asia-Pacific: The Forum noted the slow pace of slum reduction in urban areas and challenges related to clean air in megacities. Participants also highlighted elements of progress on SDG 11, including policies on local housing; empowerment of sub-national governments; decentralization of fiscal decisions; and greater attention to the root causes of rural migration.
    • Europe: A roundtable discussed financing the transition to sustainable cities and communities, including the role of regional and local authorities in financing urban renewals and adequate housing; and promoting resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. Participants underscored the importance of overcoming gaps in availability of reliable data for urban planning and disaster risk reduction (DRR) and developing inter-sectoral cooperation between different authorities.
  • SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production)
    • Africa: The ARFSD calls for: implementing sustainable consumption strategies, particularly in sustainable lifestyles, strategic investment in resource-efficient cities, sustainable public procurement and sustainable tourism; safeguarding Africa’s natural resources, including through shifting to sustainable public procurement by reducing waste in production and consumption patterns; reducing inefficiencies in food supply chains; strengthening scientific capacity regarding the hazardous potential of wastes and materials that are transferred or exchanged within their jurisdictions; accelerating the implementation of the Bamako Convention; and implementing an integrated approach in shifting to sustainable consumption and production (SCP) by involving non-traditional actors such the ministries of planning, economy and finance.
    • Asia-Pacific: The Forum observed the region’s progress on national action plans and public procurement; environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste; and corporate sustainability reporting. Participants highlighted areas requiring increased attention: material footprint and resource use; waste reduction and management; consumer information and education; sustainable tourism and fossil fuel subsidies.
    • Europe: The roundtable on successful approaches to delivering on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) by 2030 stressed the importance of changing consumer behavior to make more educated choices, seek sustainable products and choose “to repair rather than replace.” Participants recognized the role of sustainable public procurement, eco-labelling, certification schemes and life-cycle cost calculators in informed decisions and also considered the role of innovation for sustainable value chains and a circular economy.
  • SDG 15 (life on land)
    • Africa: The ARFSD calls for, inter alia: increasing investment to combat land degradation, support large-scale ecosystem restoration, and end poaching and the illicit trafficking of wildlife; prioritize national actions and on-the-ground outcomes through landscape-level and cross-sectoral approaches such as Africa’s Great Green Wall initiative and regional programmes on biodiversity and economic development; and scaling up funding, capacity development and technology support to achieve National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, land degradation neutrality targets, ecosystem restoration, sustainable forest management programs and other ecosystem management plans. Additional recommendations focus on: strengthening rights and access to land resources and participative approaches for the management of land, freshwater, forests, and biodiversity, particularly by enhancing access and participation by indigenous people, local communities, women, and youth; developing a post-2020 global biodiversity framework that includes harmonized indicators, capacity building, and communication strategies to update SDG 15 targets; and enhancing high-level political commitment by convening a global summit with heads of state to raise the political and economic relevance of biodiversity and ecosystem services for their importance in achieving the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
    • Asia-Pacific: The Forum highlighted interlinkages with other SDGs, including the need to clarify land tenure arrangements, integrate information from diverse sources, including local, indigenous and traditional knowledge to support ecosystem-based management and achieve land degradation neutrality.
    • Europe: A roundtable on sustainable forest management (SFM) shared examples of wood value chains in Austria, forest products and the bio-economy in Finland, sustainable forest management in Kazakhstan and the role of carbon forests in enhancing climate change mitigation in Poland, among others. A second roundtable focused on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems
  • SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals):
    • Africa: Key messages focus on: financing for development; science, technology and innovation (STI); capacity building and systemic issues; and trade. Africa reaffirmed that the 2030 Agenda recognizes the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), and called for ensuring that developed countries honor their historic obligations and responsibilities in this regard. They also called to: address illicit financial flows; ensure adequate funding allocation to programmes for vulnerable groups; and pursue the mainstreaming of innovative mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), to strengthen partnerships in sustainable land, forest, and biodiversity management.
    • Asia-Pacific: Keynote speakers underscored the need for partnerships to achieve the SDGs and supported strengthening both the quantity and quality of indicators to support progress. Countries shared progress on domestic indicators and efforts to mobilize stakeholders to implement the SDGs, among other national reflections.

As the details above suggest, regions placed varying emphasis on recommendations for the SDGs under in-depth review. The Africa region produced the most detailed recommendations, with specific recommendations for governments for each SDG under in-depth review. The UNECE and Asia-Pacific region addressed each SDG through roundtables, keynote addresses or presentations but did not generate specific recommendations. According to ESCWA, the Arab region agreed on key messages for SDG 6, 7 and 15, but the Chair’s Summary is not yet publically available. The LAC conclusions and recommendations reference the ECLAC second annual progress review but did not include any in-depth discussions on specific SDGs or recommendations.

Synergies and Trade-offs

A few regions addressed synergies and tradeoffs among the SDGs. The APFSD assessed interlinkages across the SDGs, with participants sharing reflections from roundtables on the SDGs under review and recommendations for ensuring policy coherence and inter-sectoral coordination to enhance synergies and minimize trade-offs between sectors and SDGs. As an illustration, on SDG 6, the APFSD recommended safeguarding good access to water and sanitation for all with a particular focus on women, children and the poor, and promoting water-related innovations and green jobs across countries, among other actions.

ECLAC recognized that degradation of forests, soils and water is a “vicious circle” heightening inequality, income and job losses, and disaster risk.

ECLAC’s second annual report discusses relationships among and opportunities created by SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12 and 15, observing that potential synergies can allow for progress towards a Goal while reinforcing others and contributing to coherence in the 2030 Agenda. For example, on SDG 15, the report recognizes that degradation of forests, soils and water is a “vicious circle” that leads to income and job losses and increased poverty, vulnerability to disaster risks and inequality in the medium and short term. The report further recognizes that farmers may use greater quantities of fertilizers or pesticides to maintain or increase crop productivity, which pose threats to public health, the environment and ecosystem services. Conversely, the report underscores the potential of protected areas to both safeguard land and biodiversity but also serve as instruments for economic and social development.

Common but Differentiated Messages

Common themes among regional messages include the need to accelerate implementation of the SDGs to shift towards resilient and sustainable societies, and the importance of continuing to share challenges and best practices to accelerate implementation of the SDGs, including through regional fora and VNRs.

On financing, the Africa RFSD underscored the need for increased investment to support progress on the respective SDGs. The LAC RFSD conclusions and recommendations stress the importance of mobilizing financial and non-financial resources, and building capacities for the development, transfer, disclosure and dissemination of environmentally friendly technologies; and the need to increase international and regional cooperation for more scientific and endogenous technologies development.

On participation and partnerships, the UNECE roundtables underscored the need for reliable, disaggregated data and the importance of cross-sectoral partnerships. The LAC Forum recognized that achieving the SDGs depends on public and private sector participation; reaffirmed the importance of South-South cooperation and called on all countries to sign onto and ratify the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters (Principle 10), noting it is an important step toward meeting the 2030 Agenda. In addition, the LAC Forum identified active participation of civil society as indispensable for achieving the SDGs and targets.

Regions stressed the need to ensure ensuring that no one is left behind, with the Arab, Asia-Pacific and LAC regions highlighting the importance of progress on SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) to achieve all SDGs. The Arab Forum identified factors that contribute to groups or individuals being left behind in development efforts, including: conflict, occupation and wars; urban-rural divides; and exclusionary political and social practices in the region. The Forum also considered opportunities to include youth, which make up approximately 30% of the Arab region’s population, in decision-making processes as well as to address SDG 5 (gender equality) simultaneously with other SDGs.

Although each RFSD focuses on regional messages for the HLPF, the regions approached their messages in various ways. The Africa region focused the most on specific recommendations in comparison to other regions, which tended to discuss the SDGs under review without providing concrete recommendations. The Africa meeting report includes more than 50 key messages on the SDGs under in-depth review, with significant attention to SDG 17. The Arab, Asia-Pacific, and UNECE RFSDs resulted in a Chair’s Summary, although the Arab summary is not available on the UNESCWA website or Forum webpage.

The LAC RFSD’s intergovernmentally agreed conclusions and recommendations are perhaps the most formal conclusions among the RFSDs and reaffirm the region’s commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda. Although the conclusions and recommendations take note of ECLAC’s second annual progress report on regional progress and challenges, the document does not provide any additional reflections or conclusions on the SDGs under review.

Overall, regional input to the HLPF highlights increasing discussion of the potential synergies and tradeoffs among the SDGs to promote policy coherence, as well as the continued importance of tackling data gaps and collecting disaggregated data and increasing financing for targeted interventions.


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