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An expert group meeting to discuss the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 3-4 April 2013.

The meeting addressed seven topics in order to provide “thinking on the various aspects of the HLPF and its role in the wider institutional framework for sustainable development."

4 April 2013: An expert group meeting to discuss the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 3-4 April 2013. The meeting addressed seven topics in order to provide “thinking on the various aspects of the HLPF and its role in the wider institutional framework for sustainable development.”

Opening the meeting, Antonio Bernardini, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy, presented the draft “hybrid option” for the HLPF being considered by Member States in ongoing negotiations in the UN General Assembly (UNGA), co-facilitated by the Permanent Representatives of Brazil and Italy. Bernardini noted that the proposed design would create: a preparatory committee with universal participation to prepare a report; an annual Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) ministerial session to formally adopt the report and produce a President’s summary; and a meeting of Heads of State and Government every four years in the UNGA high-level segment. He emphasized that this proposal is based on inputs from delegations and that the process is just at the beginning stages of discussion.

Joao Alberto Dourado Quintaes, Advisor to UNGA President Vuk Jeremic on sustainable development, spoke of the “long road ahead” after the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). He highlighted the post-Rio processes that Jeremic has launched during UNGA 67, stating that “every institution has an important role to play” in the sustainable development discussion.

The first of the day’s seven panels focused on “Correcting shortcomings in international governance for sustainable development: positioning and role of the HLPF,” chaired by Quintaes. Panelist Steven Bernstein, University of Toronto, stressed that creating a HLPF with the same limitations as the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which it is supposed to replace, would undermine its legitimacy. He said the new institution should address CSD criticisms regarding agenda-setting, review capacity, integration, and implementation. Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network, said the HLPF should be placed directly under the UNGA to ensure universality. She stressed a need for an effective and well-supported HLPF secretariat, an accountability framework for public-private partnerships, and a Major Groups system that incorporates people marginalized from participation. Responding to the presentations, participants raised questions and points regarding: the problems of creating new UN bureaucracies; a need for more time dedicated for HLPF meetings; integration of issues in the development agenda; and the functions that the Forum will be tasked to fulfill.

Andrew Allimadi, UN Regional Commissions, New York Office, chaired the second panel, titled “From local to national, regional and global: towards more integrated governance.” He spoke of disconnection between the local and global levels for implementation of sustainable development. Brendan Gillespie, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), presented the OECD’s peer review model as one mechanism the HLPF could use for evaluating policies, noting that it emphasizes cooperative support between countries and a “learning by doing” process of implementation. Martin Khor, Director, South Center, called for a large, dedicated HLPF secretariat, more than two weeks of Forum preparatory meetings, and subcommittees dedicated to each pillar of sustainable development and their integration. The subsequent discussion addressed: the Forum’s relationship to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international bodies; the need to avoid weakening ECOSOC; and equal representation and integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Veerle Vandeweerd, UN Development Programme (UNDP), chaired the third panel on “Keeping the compass on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the Post‐2015 development agenda: what role for the HLPF.” Kate Higgins, North‐South Institute, outlined progress made in consultations on the post-2015 development agenda thus far, while calling for a set of global goals with country-specific targets. Jeff Huffines, CIVICUS, said all of the post-Rio+20 processes should to be considered together for an effective framework, governance, financing and monitoring of sustainable development. In regard to the participation of Major Groups and civil society, he called for enhancing stakeholder engagement mechanisms in both negotiations and implementation. Participants highlighted difficulties in narrowing the post-2015 development agenda to certain issue areas, and discussed prospects for a peer review process to evaluate implementation.

On the fourth topic, “Positioning the HLPF in relation to other Rio+20 follow-up processes,” Marion Barthelemy, UN Division for Sustainable Development (DSD), gave an overview of the Rio+20 follow-up processes that have begun preliminary work. Marianne Beisheim, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), Germany, described how ECOSOC’s Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) could serve as a model for review within the HLPF. Mohammed Messouli, University cadi Ayyad, Morocco, proposed mechanisms for strengthening the science-policy interface throughout the sustainable development agenda, and advocated for a comprehensive Global Sustainable Development Report. Discussion after these interventions centered on the HLPF’s placement within the UN and its relationships to other international bodies and scientific stakeholders.

Chairing the fifth panel, on “Integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development in the HLPF,” Barthelemy cited several elements that could promote integration, including agenda setting, attracting the economic and financial community, getting greater support from the UN as a whole, engaging all actors, and having chairs representatives from the three sustainable development dimensions. Nick Manning, World Bank, stressed the need to embed sustainable development policy decisions into core planning systems of countries, including financial ones, and to ensure capacity to do so. He also noted the importance of public awareness to influence decisions and the usefulness of environmental-economic accounting systems. Noting the ongoing negotiations on, inter alia, ECOSOC strengthening and the SDGs, Tania Raguz, Rapporteur, Rio+20, raised the question of who will set the Forum’s agenda and how, and called for a bottom-up approach to agenda-setting. She also highlighted the importance of: ambitious agenda-setting for effective decision-making; regional specificities and barriers to sustainable development implementation; and greater engagement of all actors, including from the economic and financial sectors. Following these interventions, participants discussed the need for: a more robust multi-level review and agenda-setting that includes regional, national, sub-national, local and global issues; recognizing the limitations of mainstreaming and ensuring implementation of actions once mainstreaming is done; a steering committee rather than a Bureau; and a mechanism for enhanced collaboration with financial and economic institutions.

On topic six, “Spurring implementation of policy decisions: what have we learned from CSD,” chair Juwang Zhu, Office of the Under-Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), stressed the need to continue building on the CSD’s strengths while avoiding its weaknesses. Felix Dodds, Tellus, highlighted HLPF elements specifically related to the UN system, to national reviews and to partnerships. He suggested: a new body on sustainable development under the UN System Chief Executives Board (CEB) and an annual report from this body that should go to governing bodies of UN agencies and programmes; national reviews that are country driven and participatory; robust accountability mechanisms; and successful partnerships. Marianella Feoli, Partners in South‐South Cooperation, outlined lessons learned from successful partnerships that could be considered by the HLPF, including: being based on reciprocity, equality and participation; greater autonomy and responsibility among partners; the need to learn from equals and to understand differences such as cultural, religious and geographical ones; providing adequate funding and means of implementation; and ensuring follow up and accountability. Participants discussed the importance of mechanisms to promote partnerships, with one proposing to map what currently exist in UN institutions in order to clarify gaps that could be addressed by the HLPF. Some participants expressed concern about the “lack of speed” in negotiations, and about the proposed hybrid option for the Forum, noting that it does not reflect a “stronger CSD.” Others proposed ensuring a strong secretariat, providing enough time for non Member States to comment on reports and outputs, ensuring accountability for financing, and reinvigorating political will to engage and invest in the Forum.

Finally, on “How to increase the role of major groups and other non-state actors in the HLPF,” chair Zak Bleicher, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), observed that non-state participation is now a given, which is different from 20 years ago, and asked how to “update our modalities of engagement to meet our current needs in a larger and more diverse development landscape.” Brice Lalonde, UN Global Compact, outlined the importance of aligning poverty reduction and sustainability, and said the HLPF should focus on implementation, including of the SDGs. He advocated for accountability and review, and for a multi-stakeholder approach such as an advisory committee to not only involve governments but also other stakeholders, such as civil society, finance and development banks, business and local governments. Jan‐Gustav Strandenaes, Stakeholder Forum, expressed concern regarding Major Group participation under the auspices of ECOSOC and the UNGA, noting that these entities do not allow for easy interaction. He said a subsidiary body will not be prioritized by Major Groups. Noting the rights to information and participation in decision-making acquired in the CSD, he advocated for the full participation of Major Groups in planning processes, agenda-setting, policy-making, implementation and evaluation. In the ensuing discussion, participants questioned how HLPF negotiations could end by May 2013, considering the numerous modalities and functionalities that still need to be agreed upon, with one suggesting that States could agree on general elements by the end of May and address details later on. Others stressed the importance of mobilizing and providing appropriate funding, strengthening regional voices at the global level including marginalized groups, and taking into account the opportunities provided by internet and other information technology tools.

The panel chairs provided a verbal summary of key elements and proposals discussed during the two-day meeting. Jose Raphael Lopes Mendes de Azeredo, Permanent Mission of Brazil, said paragraph 84 of the Rio+20 outcome document, on the establishment of a high-level political forum, should be taken very seriously, and highlighted that its implementation should build on the CSD but “be more than” the CSD. He also emphasized the need for effective participation and engagement of civil society, the private sector and the UN system.

Closing the session, Barthelemy highlighted some characteristics of the HLPF identified by many during the meeting, including being innovative, ambitious and having its own identity, and added that the Forum should be designed “not for failure” but “for the future.” An official summary and presentations made during the meeting will be shared on the HLPF website. [Meeting Website] [Publication: Expert group meeting on the high-level political forum: Summary] [Event Concept Note] [Event Programme] [IISD RS Sources]

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