An on-line briefing provided an overview of the main expectations for the 2024 UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), discussed the main themes, issues, and messages circling around the event, and explored its links with the Summit of the Future (SoF) in September.

The webinar took place on 2 July 2024, ahead of the HLPF session convening under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York, US, from 8-18 July. It was hosted by Cepei and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

Philipp Schönrock, Cepei Director, moderated the discussion. He said HLPF 2024 is convening on the theme, ‘Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and eradicating poverty in times of multiple crises: The effective delivery of sustainable, resilient and innovative solutions.’ Thirty-seven countries will be presenting their voluntary national reviews (VNRs).

Paula Narváez Ojeda, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said the HLPF is a testament to our joint commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as we navigate global challenges. It is at a time of adversity that the transformative power of the SDGs can come through, she stated.

On expectations, Narváez Ojeda said Member States are engaged in negotiations to formulate a concise, action-oriented ministerial declaration, seeking to provide a comprehensive review of achievements and challenges and to develop a series of actionable measures, based on the outcomes of the 2023 SDG Summit.

The ECOSOC President underscored that the SDGs under review this year – SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals) – are interconnected and mutually reinforcing, with progress on one Goal contributing to progress on others. She said the 2030 Agenda is not just a set of targets and indicators but a framework for improving the lives of people in countries and communities and of current and future generations.

Narváez Ojeda said the VNRs will showcase innovative solutions to challenges countries face that all stakeholders can engage on and benefit from, with the HLPF providing a distinctive, participatory space for dialogue and action.

Friedrich Soltau, Senior Sustainable Development Officer, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), stressed that:

  • The SDGs are in peril and we need to make the best use of the HLPF to bring together a broad constituency of stakeholders.
  • Finance emerged as a breakthrough moment from the SDG Summit, and there is a need to integrate it into implementation.
  • While all SDGs are integrated and “are like family members,” SDG 16 is critical for the success of the 2030 Agenda.

Lynn Wagner, Senior Director, Tracking Progress, IISD, said the five Goals under review at HLPF 2024 are “interconnected in many ways.” She highlighted findings from the UN Secretary-General’s 2024 SDG progress report, including that 23 million more people were living in extreme poverty in 2022 compared to 2019, and 123 million more experienced hunger. 

Noting that food insecurity is the result of multiple drivers, including the public health (SDG 3) and economic crises (SDG 8), Wagner called attention to the SDGs’ indivisibility and said reports from the 2024 regional forums on sustainable development (RFSDs) reveal the UN Regional Commissions discussed the need to take an integrated approach to the Goals.

While Wagner acknowledged challenges, she ended “on a hopeful note,” citing progress on reducing the global infant mortality rate, the incidence of HIV infections, and the cost of remittances, as well as on increasing access to water and sanitation, energy, and mobile broadband. She invited participants to consider how we can use these achievements to accelerate progress in other sectors.

On the role of civil society in accelerating progress ahead of the Summit of the Future, Narváez Ojeda stressed the need for a common narrative and common actions across UN processes that civil society can hold Member States accountable for implementing. Emphasizing the need to rebuild trust in the multilateral system, in addition to new commitments, Member States should formulate concrete actions to implement the 2030 Agenda, she urged.

Among her priorities heading into the Summit of the Future, Narváez Ojeda listed improving the situation of women and girls, least developed countries (LDCs), and marginalized groups, including persons with disability, youth, and Indigenous Peoples. Without implementing the 2030 Agenda, she said “there is no way to prevent conflict.”

Florence Syevuo, Executive Director, SDG Kenya Forum, and Co-Chair, Coalition for the UN We Need, highlighted the HLPF as a space for civil society to collaborate, hold governments to account, push for more ambitious targets and actions, give marginalized groups a voice, and carry out advocacy and global and regional influencing.

Rather than painting “a rosy picture,” Syevuo stressed the need for VNRs to reflect realities on the ground. She said civil society organizations (CSO) prepare “shadow reports” that showcase local-level, people-driven solutions. She emphasized the importance of collaboration, partnerships, networks, and multi-stakeholder approaches to advance advocacy efforts at the country and regional level.

On ways to improve the VNR process, Soltau emphasized moving to realistic reviews of progress. He stressed the need to: invest in data; improve inclusivity; enable “real” transformation to reach the SDGs; review progress from VNR to VNR; and use the HLPF to share lessons learned. He hoped countries that have not yet presented a VNR will do so in the near future.

Syevuo pointed to the need to focus on what happens after the VNR, including country-level capacity building, inclusivity in bringing all stakeholders together, and budgeting for VNR-related data and research.

On synergies between the SDGs and the climate agenda, Wagner highlighted the HLPF as “the space to have these conversations” and noted a special event on climate and SDG synergies. She cited the 2024 reports on climate and SDG synergies identify four key entry points: policy frameworks, financial systems, cities, and knowledge and data. The reports have been prepared by experts convened by DESA and the UNFCCC ahead of the Fifth Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference in September. Wagner said HLPF deliberations on cross-linkages and intersections can also prime the discussions during the 2024 Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the three Rio Conventions and in other processes, and should be used to bring in different ministries.

On linkages with the Summit of the Future, Syevuo drew attention to the UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where civil society voiced priorities and concerns and offered recommendations for the Summit. She said the co-facilitators for the Pact for the Future, the Declaration on Future Generations, and the Global Digital Compact were in attendance to listen to their voices. She said the ImPact Coalitions announced at the Conference seek to ensure civil society priorities are reflected and that the outcomes of the Summit of the Future can be effectively implemented. She urged more CSOs to “plug into” the ImPact Coalitions to advocate at country level with partners already involved in these processes.

Noting that the Summit of the Future has a broad agenda on system changes we need to deliver, Soltau called for: multi-stakeholder engagement at the HLPF to help identify SDG priorities beyond 2030; accelerating real transformations while ensuring we do not “regress back into silos”; and partnerships and cooperation on finance so the HLPF can make “a step forward” on dealing with debt and financial architecture reform. Soltau informed participants that the draft ministerial declaration is expected to be made available this week.

Noting that if the SDGs are the ‘what,’ the Summit of the Future is the ‘how,’ Wagner said IISD is looking at a “beyond GDP measure of comprehensive wealth” to help policymakers use information about natural and social capital to bring the SDGs into decision making at all levels. [What to Expect at HLPF 2024] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]