The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) convened a regional forum on sustainable development (RFSD) in preparation for the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July. The meeting discussed solutions to address poverty, food insecurity, and climate change. It also explored ways to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, expand access to information technology, and develop partnerships to achieve the Goals.

The Forum’s key messages will feed into HLPF 2024, which will conduct in-depth review of progress towards SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 13 (climate action), 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), and 17 (partnerships for the Goals).

In her opening remarks, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed acknowledged that conflicts and fragility are affecting 182 million people in nine of the region’s countries, stressing “there can be no sustainable development without peace.”

Among other challenges impacting the Arab region, Mohammed highlighted inequality, economic stagnation, poverty, hunger, and limited institutional accountability to support development. She noted that extreme poverty has more than doubled since 2015, exceeding 20% in 2023, and unemployment reached 10.7% – the highest among the world’s regions. She called attention to a growing financing gap, and climate and environmental challenges that are “constraining economies and threatening societies.”

To address these problems, Mohammed called for policies and investments that can drive transformative change. She described examples of actions in the region “showing what is possible” and highlighted five transitions that need to accelerate:

  • Inclusive and sustainable energy coupled with climate action;
  • Food security and sustainable food systems;
  • Decent jobs and social protection;
  • Education; and
  • Digital connectivity and literacy. 

Mohammed underscored the Summit of the Future in September as “an opportunity to strengthen the role of global cooperation in supporting sustainable development, peace and human rights for all.”

The Forum’s Chair Said bin Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Saqri, Minister of Economy of Oman, outlined the repercussions of the war on Gaza on development in the Arab region as a whole, highlighting the widening gap between countries. “It is high time that we unify our efforts towards improving the quality of people’s lives to realize all SDG pillars,” he said.

Caretaker Prime Minister of Lebanon Najib Mikati called for financing for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to boost the private sector. This, he said, “would enhance sustainable and inclusive development and contribute to the provision of much-needed job opportunities.”

On 6 March, ESCWA, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), launched the Second Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report, which discusses the impacts on poverty of the multiple crises affecting the region. The report makes policy recommendations, including linking development policies and programmes to the poverty indices for better targeted initiatives “that reach the poor and address the severity and complexity of poverty.” The report’s first edition was published in 2018.

The 2024 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development (AFSD) convened in Beirut, Lebanon, from 5-7 March on the theme, ‘Delivering for Sustainability and Peace.’ The AFSD serves as the primary regional mechanism for the annual follow-up and review of progress towards the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. It is one of five regional forums to convene ahead of the July session of the HLPF. [ESCWA Press Release on AFSD Opening] [ESCWA Press Release on AFSD Closing] [Publication: Second Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report] [Policy Brief] [Publication Landing Page] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on ESCWA SDG Progress Report 2024]