As UN Opens “Special” HLPF, Speakers Dive Into Deep-Rooted Inequalities
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The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development opened its 2019 session, beginning the eight-day proceedings with a discussion of where the world stands in its progress towards the 2030 Agenda, especially with regard to the principle of leaving no one behind.

The session is the last in the four-year cycle, and it will mark the completion of all 17 SDGs’ in-depth reviews and the presentation of 142 voluntary national reviews.

Yolanda Joab, Founder and Executive Director of Island PRIDE, and One Young World Ambassador, Micronesia, called on leaders to show courage to speed up action and progress on climate change, saying, “No one keeps Member States more accountable than a young person with a future to look forward to".

9 July 2019: The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) opened its 2019 session, beginning the eight-day event with a discussion of where the world stands in its progress towards the 2030 Agenda, especially with regard to the principle of leaving no one behind.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President Inga Rhonda King said the July 2019 session is “special” because it is the last in the four-year cycle, and it will mark the completion of all 17 SDGs’ in-depth reviews and the presentation of 142 voluntary national reviews (VNRs). This meeting is also special in that its main messages will be conveyed to the first-ever SDG Summit in September 2019, and it will initiate intergovernmental discussions on “how the HLPF did” in the past four years.

King also highlighted that this year, instead of a ministerial declaration, the two HLPFs will result in a single outcome document, the political declaration to be adopted at the SDG Summit in September. She praised the consensual outcome of negotiations on this text, which were concluded in early July, and she expressed hope that all countries will announce SDG actions and commitments, noting that an online registry is now open for this purpose.

Valentin Rybokov, Belarus, ECOSOC Vice-President, presented key messages from ECOSOC’s Integration Segment, which had taken place the day before. He said participants had stressed the usefulness of the VNR process. They also called for a focus on deep-rooted inequalities and vulnerabilities, including by addressing the “mechanisms that lead to the concentration of wealth and power at the top.” He said the discussion stressed the need to ensure no one is pushed even further behind, and to review macroeconomic policies to ensure that they do not push people further behind.

Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), echoed the invitation for everyone to register SDG commitments ahead of the Summit in September. He also announced that DESA is conducting a survey to gather views on how HLPF and VNRs have worked in the past 4 years. Results will provide inputs to review of HLPF during UNGA 74.

Extreme inequality is at the heart of unsustainable development patterns.

Keynote speaker Najat Maalla M’jid, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence Against Children, said violence has a direct impact on every aspect of the SDGs, so 2030 agenda treats it as a cross cutting issue. In another keynote address, Yolanda Joab, Founder and Executive Director of Island PRIDE, and One Young World Ambassador, Micronesia, outlined the main views expressed by youth on each SDG during the ECOSOC Youth Forum in April 2019. She called on leaders to show courage to speed up action and progress on climate change, saying, “No one keeps Member States more accountable than a young person with a future to look forward to.”

In a discussion on ‘Where do we stand?,’ Liu presented the report of the UN Secretary-General on progress towards the SDGs, an advance version of which was released in May. Moderator Minh-Thu Pham, UN Foundation, asked speakers to identify “the courageous act that each country can take” to accelerate SDG progress in the coming year, building on Joab’s remarks.

Julio Santaella, Mexico’s chief statistician (INEGI), said the most courageous step is to invest in the measurement of indicators to identify vulnerable people: “leaving no one behind” means we have to count everybody, he stressed, cautioning that without good data and statistics “the implementation of the SDGs will be random.”

Marta Acosta, Auditor General of Costa Rica, presented findings from Supreme Audit Institutions regarding achievements and challenges in implementing the SDGs. She said the audits show that some countries are still at the initial starting phase of aligning their processes with the 2030 Agenda, and there is a lack of alignment between national plans and the actual costs entailed in delivering the SDGs. Acosta stressed the need for clear oversight within each government to ensure there is someone who knows what is going on with the whole Agenda.

Robin Ogilvy, Special Representative and Permanent Observer of OECD to the UN, said the economic backdrop for the HLPF meeting is “worrying,” and that on realizing the 2030 Agenda, “only a handful of countries are walking the talk.” He stressed the need to: put a meaningful price on carbon, making it more expensive to pollute; phase out fossil fuels and stop burning coal; and support leadership from cities, noting that two-thirds of the SDG targets will not be met without sub-national governments’ leadership.

Thomas Brooks, chief scientist of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told participants that nature is in crisis. He called for “continuity” of the 2020 targets that will not be achieved in time by adjusting their level of ambition to 2030. Brooks added that a science-based targets approach allows for all actors to contribute and see how actions add up to the needed outcome.

The session also featured a discussion on ‘Who is at risk of being left behind?’ Moderator Nikhil Seth, Executive Director of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), reflected that the phrases used to assess the 2030 Agenda, such as “leaving no one behind,” and “we endeavor to reach the furthest behind first” – were hammered out painstakingly in the process of forging the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

“Extreme inequality is at the heart of unsustainable development patterns,” said keynote speaker Lucas Chancel, professor and co-director of the World Inequality Lab and of the World Inequality Database at the Paris School of Economics, France, and coordinator of the World Inequality Report 2018. Sarah Charles, International Rescue Committee (IRC), observed that refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are “all but invisible” in the SDGs, and when they are mentioned, they are often mentioned as a burden. She called on Member States to pledge to include refugees and IDPs in national development plans and VNRs going forward.

Charles also announced that the Business Refugee Action Network (founded by Virgin, Ben and Jerry’s, IRC, the B Team, and the Tent Partnership for Refugees) will host a CEO meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 2019 to release the Refugee Business Statement. It will address the role of businesses in supporting refugees, and call on governments to accelerate progress for these groups. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [IISD Meeting Coverage] [DESA News] [UN News]


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