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In preparation for the 2017 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 generated main messages for the HLPF and highlighted common challenges and opportunities in SDG implementation from around the world.

Key messages to the HLPF on the six SDGs that will be reviewed in 2017 suggest gender equality as one of the highest priorities in each region.

In preparation for the 2017 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 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 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 2017 session of the HLPF.

This policy brief reflects on discussions held in the Asia-Pacific region, the UN Economic for Europe (UNECE) 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 2017 HLPF, which will take place in New York, US, from 10-19 July.

Africa and the Asia-Pacific region provided the most focused input to the HLPF on the six SDGs to be reviewed in 2017, with detailed reviews of progress and comprehensive key messages. Gender equality (SDG 5) emerged as a discussion item at all five RFSDs, while SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) was a focus of only the Africa and the Asia-Pacific Discussions.

Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

APFSD 2017 took place in Bangkok, Thailand, from 29-31 March 2017. The event included a number of preparatory events, including a regional preparatory workshop for Voluntary National Review (VNR) countries from the Asia-Pacific and ESCWA regions, organized by ESCAP and DESA.

The 2017 Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development adopted a draft road map for regional cooperation on implementing the 2030 Agenda, which includes priority areas, implementation arrangements and a process to track SDG progress. The road map aims to: facilitate regional-level cooperation, with a focus on the SDGs’ means of implementation (MOI) and the themes of social development, disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change, management of natural resources, connectivity and energy; emphasize implementation by developing countries, the least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), small island developing States (SIDS) and other countries with “special needs;” enhance women’s leadership and decision-making; and emphasize the need to underpin sustainable development with peaceful and inclusive societies, equality and good governance. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which endorsed the draft road map at its 73rd session, will support the road map’s implementation.

The Asia-Pacific RFSD featured a high-level panel on the role of gender equality and women’s empowerment in advancing the SDGs in the region. Speakers called for greater effort by governments to prioritize women’s rights. They highlighted that reducing gender gaps in health, education and labor markets can lower poverty, raise economic growth and productivity, and foster more resilient communities.

European Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

The UNECE RFSD convened on 25 April 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland. Two meetings preceded the Forum: a civil society preparatory meeting and a preparatory workshop for countries that will present their VNRs at the 2017 HLPF.

This RFSD focused on the key themes of prosperity, health and wellbeing and gender. Forum participants highlighted that, inter alia: leadership is key to achieving the Goals; many companies are making the SDGs their core business strategy; the Goals are pushing the UN to work together in new and effective ways; and civil society organizations (CSOs) are playing a key role in SDG implementation. Participants identified multiple fragilities in the region, including looming challenges posed by climate change and large migration movements as well as inequality and limited economic expansion.

The RFSD’s peer learning segment developed a set of key messages as input for the HLPF. Messages addressed national and local adaptation of SDGs, subregional cooperation for SDG implementation and data and monitoring. On national and local adaptation, participants shared challenges in setting national policies and planning to deliver on the SDGs, underscoring the complexity of the processes that need to be synchronized, aligned and adapted to implement the SDGs. Participants identified reviewing and adjusting national strategies, plans and instruments as a major first step taken by UNECE governments to start SDG implementation. Participants highlighted the need for subregional cooperation, including with regard to: ocean issues; regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs); migration; road infrastructure; malnutrition; and health. On data and monitoring, participants observed that countries currently are only able to produce about one-third of the indicators and supported building up statistical systems through financial resources and by training future generations on statistical literacy, among other actions. They noted that the use of alternative data sources is an opportunity to address data gaps, as well as a challenge, given that quality and sustainability of the data can be an issue.

A Chair’s Summary highlights the importance of key actions to implement the SDGs, including new mechanisms of coordination, adaptation of domestic and foreign policy strategies, policy coherence between domestic and international actions, and efforts to break down silos and bring together diverse stakeholders. In addition to developing new bodies and mechanisms for SDG implementation, the Chair’s Summary urges continued efforts to mainstream the SDGs within existing policy frameworks.

The Summary further highlights, inter alia: the role of financing, including both upholding official development assistance (ODA) commitments and going beyond ODA, such as with blended finance and green finance; health and wellbeing as outcomes, determinants and enablers for the SDGs; and gender equality as a means to achieve all other goals.

Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development

The Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, which convened in Mexico City, Mexico, from 26-28 April 2017, heard presentations of reports by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), discussed VNRs, analyzed the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development, and held special sessions on artificial intelligence and MOI.

In the Forum’s outcome document, ministers and high-level representatives: call on the UN, in consultation with international financial institutions, to develop transparent measurements of progress on sustainable development that go beyond per capita income; recommend that the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), through the Statistical Coordination Group for the 2030 Agenda in LAC, help produce regionally relevant indicators and strengthen national statistical capacities; recommend further streamlining a gender approach into national sustainable development policies and strategies; recommend an increase in regional cooperation, including in the development of endogenous science and technology; emphasized the importance of official development assistance (ODA), climate financing and South-South cooperation; recommend that ECLAC produce a concept note on potential impacts of exponential technological change and automation in the region; recommend the development of policies and strengthening of regulatory frameworks to better align private sector incentives with public goals; and recommend redoubling efforts to reduce illicit financial flows by 2030.

The Forum identified several challenges facing the region in developing a global development framework, namely: overcoming policy fragmentation; achieving timely, accurate and open information and indicators; dealing with the implications of exponential technological change; directing financial and non-financial resources to the SDGs; and ending inequality.

Arab Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) RFSD, which convened from 3-5 May 2017, in Rabat, Morocco, focused on ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing Arab region,’ in line with the 2017 HLPF theme. This RFSD focused on challenges to and opportunities for tackling poverty and achieving prosperity through the lens of economic growth and decent work, equality, justice and distribution as enablers for sustainable development. Participants further considered how conflict, instability and fragility in the region affect SDG implementation and achievement.

The Forum emphasized eradicating poverty and achieving justice and good governance as priorities as well as preconditions for sustainability and stability and called for taking into account linkages between poverty and inequality to address their underlying causes. The final report identifies the following as regional priorities: gender equality and empowerment of women; the environment and sustainability; population; food security; health; disability; the family; and human rights.

On gender equality, the report supports, inter alia: ensuring women’s rights and empowerment and formulating gender equality policies in sustainable development plans. On the environment, the final reports calls for: integrating the environmental dimension into all areas of development work; integrating sustainable development concepts into all stages of education to help build an environmentally responsible generation and practice sustainable behaviors; and recognizing the role of sustainable use in combating poverty, achieving prosperity and contributing to peace and stability. On population, the report recommends, inter alia: integration of international migration issues into national and regional development policies; addressing urbanization; investing in youth’s health, education, skills development and employment; and supporting the New Urban Agenda.

On food security, the report recommends reducing dependence on food imports, prioritizing agriculture development that supports the economy, promotes food security and reduces poverty, reducing food waste; and developing integrated development approaches through cooperation across ministries. The report further emphasizes integrated approaches to health, including by integrating gender equality into implementation of SDG 3 (good health and well-being) to address major regional challenges such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and violence against women, and adopting a holistic approach to inclusion of disability issues in national development plans and programs and adopting social protection policies that reduce inequality and discrimination and ensure access for persons with disabilities. The report further recommends forming a specialized, regional working group to monitor the extent to which disabilities are incorporated within policies and mechanisms relating to SDG implementation, follow-up and review.

Africa Regional Forum for Sustainable Development

The Africa RFSD convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 17-19 May 2017 under the theme, ‘Ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth and prosperity for all. Several pre-Forum events took place on 17 May, including the VNR Workshop to strengthen the region’s preparations for the 2017 VNR through a regional exchange of experience and lessons learnt among African volunteering countries. This Africa RFSD examined early results of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including the SDGs, and Agenda 2063, and undertook an in-depth review of the implementation of the set of SDGs that will be discussed at HLPF 2017.

The Africa Forum’s outcome document identifies Africa’s desire to stimulate sustainable growth on the continent, create employment and eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions, among other priorities. Other key messages from the Forum include that: economic growth is necessary, but insufficient, to eradicate poverty; hunger should be considered as a national and regional security issue; governments should ensure fair and mandatory public financing to build universal and equitable health coverage; gender issues should be reflected in national integrated plans for Agenda 2030 and the African Union Commission’s (AUC) Agenda 2063; green industrialization provides an opportunity for Africa to leapfrog and be competitive in global value chains; and, that sustainable development and poverty alleviation in Africa will depend on sustainable and optimal management of natural capital, including oceans, seas, and marine resources.

Looking Ahead to the HLPF

As the primary regional mechanism for reviewing progress on the SDGs, the annual RFSDs offer a unique opportunity to identify key themes and priorities emerging from each region and to explore similarities and differences among the regions approaches to implementing the SDGs. An examination of the 2017 RFSDs highlights differences in regional outcomes, significant regional and national attention on the VNR process, and varying emphasis on the cluster of SDGs to be reviewed by the 2017 HLPF.

Significant Regional Preparation for VNRs: The RFSDs underscore regional and national attention on preparing for VNR presentations. Each regional Forum offered opportunities for countries to present and discuss their VNRs. Most regions also organized a preparatory workshop in advance of the Forum, with ESCAP and ESCWA jointly organizing their preparatory workshop.

The LAC countries presented their VNRs during a Forum session. In addition, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela shared their experiences from presenting their VNRs at the 2016 HLPF. The Arab region and Asia-Pacific region shared national perspectives from countries participating in the VNRs and exchanged views on how countries were overcoming challenges, including through alignment of national development plans. Overall, this focus suggests that the regions are prioritizing time for countries to share their experiences with national implementation to foster peer learning in national SDG implementation efforts.

SDGs under Review: The 2017 HLPF will review implementation of SDG 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and wellbeing), 5 (gender equality), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), and 14 (life below water). Key messages from each region for these SDGs offers insights into the different approaches to each SDG that will be presented at the HLPF:

  • SDG 1 (no poverty):
    • Africa: Eradicating poverty will require accelerated and inclusive structural transformation through economic diversification and accelerated industrialization. Growth must create decent jobs and be inclusive to create livelihood opportunities for all.
    • Arab: Adopt a broad conceptual approach to social and poverty eradication policies within the framework of comprehensive development plans, taking into account linkages between poverty and inequality and a multi-dimensional concept of poverty.
    • AsiaPacific: Ending poverty in all its forms will be dependent on effective targeting of social protection policies, job creation, political commitment, and effective governance mechanisms to support inclusion of vulnerable and marginalized groups, among other actions.
    • LAC: Combating poverty will require addressing inequality and making growth inclusive.
  • SDG 2 (zero hunger)
    • Africa: Tackling food insecurity requires addressing productivity, purchasing power and production through a comprehensive, integrated approach that involves all stakeholders and tackles root causes of conflict and food and nutrition security, including degradation of land and water resources, low or declining agricultural productivity or incomes and challenges related to drought, floods and access to land and water resources. Achieving SDG 2 will require promotion of rural transformation and improvement of urban-rural linkages.
    • Arab: Develop agriculture to boost the economy, promote food security, reduce poverty, reduce pressure on natural resources, and ensure sustainability of food production. Reduce reliance on food imports and curb food waste to reduce the food security gap.
    • AsiaPacific: The region has achieved positive results in reducing hunger and doubling agricultural and food production. Remaining challenges include “hidden hunger”, increased obesity, loss of arable land, decreased water availability, and high use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing)
    • Africa: Key challenges include avoiding fragmentation in funding and interventions, ensuring effective multi-sectoral responses, addressing unequal access to effective services, and providing adequate financing.
    • Arab: Formulate an inclusive health policy that takes into account the needs of marginalized groups and the weakest in society and introduce gender equality dimensions into SDG 3 to address regional challenges of child marriage, female genital mutilation and violence against women. Adopt a holistic approach to disability and include disability issues in national development plans and programmes.
    • AsiaPacific: Universal health care remains a challenge in the region, particularly in terms of inequity among education, gender and income lines. Progress in the region will depend on building on previous gains while taking a more integrated and multi-sectoral approach, supported by sustained political support and public spending.
    • UNECE: Health and well-being are outcomes, determinants and enablers for the SDGs.
  • SDG 5 (gender equality)
    • Africa: Growth that overlooks or worsens gender inequality cannot be inclusive of sustainable. Gender issues should be reflected in national integrated plans for Agenda 2030 and the African Union Commission’s (AUC) Agenda 2063. Special attention should be given to women’s economic empowerment.
    • Arab: Review legal frameworks to uphold women’s rights and empowerment and formulate integrated, inclusive gender equality policies as part of the sustainable development agenda at national and regional levels. Take action to reduce gaps in women’s economic and political participation and end violence and harmful practices against women.
    • Asia-Pacific: Persistent discrimination against women and girls exists throughout the region alongside challenges such as persistent occupational segregation, early and forced marriages, violence against women and girls, and unequally distributed burdens of unpaid care and domestic work, among other challenges. Recommendations focus on strengthening enabling environments, institutions and regulatory frameworks, strengthening coordination and achieving synergies across ministries to achieve commitments on gender equality, mainstreaming gender perspectives in all legislation, policy and programmes, and implementing gender-responsive budgeting, among others.
    • UNECE: Gender equality is a means to achieve all other Goals, which cannot be met without an end to gender discrimination and empowerment of all women and girls. Progress on gender equality will influence success in implementing other Goals.
  • SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure)
    • Africa: Infrastructure, industrialization and innovation are among Africa’s top priorities and are central to poverty eradication and higher economic growth. Green industrialization that transforms Africa’s natural resources and is powered by clean energy resources offers an opportunity to leapfrpg and create inclusive job opportunities.
    • Asia-Pacific: The region has made progress in expanding infrastructure services in energy, information and communications technology (ICT) and mobile communications, transport, water and sanitation, but this progress has been uneven between countries and has brought both environmental and social challenges. Recommendations address how to ensure more sustainable and inclusive industrialization, develop sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and enhance innovation and technological capacities.
  • SDG 14 (life below water)
    • Africa: Achieving long-term sustainable development and poverty alleviation in Africa will depend on the sustainable and optimal management of its natural capital, including oceans, seas and marine resources. Effective governance and integrated approaches to Africa’s ocean and marine resources are critical to achieve SDG 14 targets and other goals of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
    • Arab: Incorporate the environmental dimensions in all areas of development and place the environment at the heart of economic and social development, recognizing sustainable use as key to combatting poverty, achieving prosperity and promoting peace and stability.
    • Asia-Pacific: Oceans, seas and coasts are of social and economic importance to the region. Participants highlighted the importance of effective conservation and sustainability of marine and coastal ecosystems while maintaining the social and economic value to humans’ livelihoods and regional prosperity. Identified challenges include: climate change and ocean acidification; overfishing; pollution; invasive species introduction; and habitat losses. The region emphasized partnerships as critical to the achievement of SDG 14.
    • UNECE: International cooperation initiatives, such as the Mediterranean Action Plan, can play a role in achieving SDG 14. Participants also highlighted examples of cross-sectoral cooperation on oceans, seas and marine resources through regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and the Regional Seas Conventions and their Action Plans.

Common Messages: Addressing Data Gaps, Strengthening Policy Coherence: Common themes among regional messages include the need to address data gaps and build national and regional statistical capacities, which each region addressed in their input to the HLPF. Africa noted that weak data systems and data gaps pose challenges for effective monitoring and evaluation of progress, including for SDG 1 and SDG 3. Asia-Pacific observed that regional data is only available for half of the defined indicators of the global monitoring framework. Similarly, the UNECE region identified struggles with data availability and reliability and highlighted efforts to develop missing indicators. LAC called for producing regionally relevant indicators. The Arab region supported identifying regional goal and target-related indicators and building a database for monitoring them.

Common challenges identified by the regions include: inequality (Africa, Arab, Asia-Pacific, UNECE, and LAC); climate change (Africa, Asia-Pacific and UNECE); and migration. On migration, Asia-Pacific recommended strengthening the linkages between international migration and development. The Arab region called for incorporating issues of international migration into development policies as drivers of economic and social development and recommended focusing on internal migration to address urbanization. UNECE stressed regional and subregional cooperation as important to address international migration and called for better data on migration. During its special session on artificial intelligence, LAC stressed that technology, not migration, has been the “greatest factor behind job losses in developed countries.” The Arab region identified conflict, instability and fragility as a particular challenge.

Every region addressed the importance of MOI and financial assistance in implementing and achieving the SDGs. Africa emphasized the need to expand domestic resource mobilization (DRM) and tackle illicit financial flows and also welcomed assistance via concessional external financing, ODA and capacity building. The UNECE supported meeting ODA commitments and developing additional sources of finance, pointing to the rapid growth of green finance, including green bonds, as an “auspicious trend.”

Many of the RFSDs emphasized the importance of effective delivery to generate momentum and ensure progress on the SDGs. RFSDs also highlighted ways in which the 2030 Agenda has led to new mechanisms of coordination that aim to balance and address tradeoffs and synergies among the Goals and ensure balance among the three pillars of sustainable development, with government sharing examples of how their countries have developed and adopted new strategic frameworks and development plans to facilitate coordination and steer SDG implementation.

Overall, regional input to the HLPF highlights global attention on common challenges such as tackling poverty and inequality as priorities, identifying and tackling data gaps to facilitate effective follow-up and review, and promoting policy coherence to ensure synergies among SDG action. Key messages to the HLPF on the cluster of SDGs to be reviewed suggest gender equality as one of the highest priorities in each region, with regions also recognizing the cross-cutting nature of SDG 1, SDG 3 and SDG 5 in particular.

IISD’s ENB team will be reporting on the HLPF 2017 proceedings with daily reports and tweets, a nightly webpage with highlights and photos, and a summary and analysis at the conclusion. We will also report on events on the sidelines of the Forum through the SDG Knowledge Hub. We look forward to helping you follow progress and challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda, as revealed by the discussions to take place at HLPF 2017.

This policy brief draws on the reporting, analysis and insights of Faye Leone, Nathalie Risse, Lynn Wagner, Catherine Wahlén and Delia Paul.


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