UN officials stressed the need to bring specific commitments for action to the SDG Summit in September 2019, as they opened the last HLPF meeting in the first four-year phase of the 2030 Agenda.
Saying we owe it to children to realize “the future they want,” ECOSOC President Inga Rhonda King called for using the three-day ministerial segment of the HLPF to understand ways to do better.
In one of three keynote speeches, Mary Robinson said the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement can no longer be considered voluntary,
16 July 2019: UN officials stressed the need to bring specific commitments for action to the SDG Summit in September 2019, as they opened the last HLPF meeting in the first four-year phase of the 2030 Agenda.
The 2019 high-level segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which includes the ministerial segment of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), opened on 16 July 2019. Five young people spoke on how specific Goals are relevant to life in their countries. A student illuminated how educational curricula could either embolden racism or empower young people to solve world problems (SDG 4). Another said that even in a “rising star” economy like the Philippines, growth is not “shared by many” (SDG 8). On SDG 13 (climate action), a young Mongolian said that her parents are “only in their 40s, but the way they talk about the world when they were younger, it sounds like a fairy tale.” Now rivers are dry, clean air is gone, children no longer play outside.
Saying we owe it to children to realize “the future they want,” ECOSOC President Inga Rhonda King called for using the three-day ministerial segment of the HLPF to understand ways to do better. On the SDG Summit, she said the political declaration to be adopted there has already been agreed, that key messages from the HLPF will be compiled for the SDG Summit by the delegations of Colombia and Liechtenstein, and a “rich and accurate” President’s summary of the HLPF will be prepared. She expressed hope that heads of state and government will arrive at the Summit ready to announce “ambitious acceleration actions.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered reflections on “the inclusion imperative,” saying development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive, and if equality does not result from economic growth. He said we need dramatically increased public and private investment for the SDGs, fulfillment of development financing commitments, robust mechanisms to finance global health, and massive investments in teaching people how to learn, for lifelong learning. He added that climate change is “moving faster than we are” and he asks leaders to come to the series of high-level meetings in September 2019 with concrete action plans and commitment to accelerate implementation of both the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces said reaching the SDGs is the best way to bolster the credibility of the multilateral system. She noted the approach of a “decade of action” to ensure visible achievements in reducing extreme poverty, child mortality and access to childhood education. She called for policies to account for the multidimensional nature of poverty, for avoiding devastating impacts of climate change, which also “makes business sense,” and for empowering women and girls – “the closest thing we have to a magic formula.” She urged a focus on the most transformative next steps, and echoed the need for leaders to announce specific steps at the high-level week in September.
In the first of three keynote speeches, Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders, said that in October 2018, the IPCC report “altered our understanding of the situation that we’re in,” making it clear that a 1.5-degree Celsius rise is the upper limit of safety for the world. Along with the IPBES report in May 2019 on species extinctions, these findings made clear that the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change can no longer be considered voluntary, Robinson said. She depicted a possible world in which a privileged few live in comfort, surrounded by barbed wire fences, beyond which everyone else faces climate chaos, persecution and violence. To avoid this future, she noted the need for a focus on justice, which she said is the thread that runs through each of the 17 SDGs.
Richard Curtis, Screenwriter, Producer and Film Director, and SDG Advocate, said the Goals have primed people for action, amounting to a unique opportunity. Governments should ask themselves, “who could make this happen faster,” every time they face a challenge in national implementation. To avoid a creeping acceptance that the Goals may not be achieved, Curtis called for returning to New York in 2020 with “new vision, new partners, and increased energy to go for gold.” He informed participants that a global campaign will begin in 2020 to accelerate the Goals, and called on the UNGA to hold an annual meeting every September, inspired and informed by the HLPF, to ensure radical progress on the SDGs every year.
Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gave the final keynote speech. He explained that global warming is already impeding progress towards some SDGs, for example driving outmigration in agriculturally dependent countries. He said that the 1.5 degree warming limit would help achieve most SDGs, but it also creates some trade-offs that must be balanced. For example, all pathways to a 1.5 degree limit require removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and this entails planting trees and various forms of carbon capture and storage, all of which will have a large land and water footprint. CO2 removal, therefore, will compete with other uses for land and water, and have impacts on agricultural systems and biodiversity. He said reaping the potential benefits is contingent on international cooperation, with social justice and equity as core elements. Lee said the solution is “very obvious,” which is to pursue a world of high-efficiency energy and materials consumption, along with low GHG-intensive food consumption. He concluded that the 1.5 limit has been found unfeasible in a world characterized by inequality, poverty and lack of international cooperation.