27 April 2017
ECE Regional Forum Exchanges Ideas on Indicators, SDG Implementation Challenges
Photo by IISD/ENB
story highlights

The first Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD) included a policy segment and round tables focused on: National and local adaptation of SDGs; Subregional cooperation for SDG implementation; and Data and monitoring.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said she would be supporting the Secretary-General in repositioning the UN development system.

Scott Vaughn, IISD President and CEO, said the SDGs “demand by their definition a comprehensive and holistic way to measure progress” that goes beyond gross domestic product (GDP).

Speakers discussed a number of projects and regional collaborations, including the recently launched SDG Lab and the regional road map on indicators.

25 April 2017: The first Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD) for the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region was opened by UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach, who noted that the region already has seen many examples of SDG implementation.

The RFSD convened on 25 April 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland. Through it, the UNECE region seeks to follow up on and review implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region. The RFSD also provides an opportunity for countries to share lessons learned, best practices and challenges in implementing the SDGs. The forum opened with a policy segment. During the afternoon, three round tables convened, focusing on: National and local adaptation of SDGs; Subregional cooperation for SDG implementation; and Data and monitoring.

The RFSD was preceded by two meetings on 24 April. Representatives from civil society organizations took part in a preparatory meeting, while countries from the UNECE region that will be presenting their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at the July 2017 session of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) took part in a preparatory workshop. The RFSD was immediately followed by the 70th session of the UNECE, from 26-27 April 2017.

In his opening statement, UNECE Executive Secretary Bach highlighted that many companies are making the SDGs their core business strategy and the Goals are pushing the UN to work together in new ways. Laurence Monnoyer-Smith, Commissaire générale au développement durable, France, chaired the meeting. She called attention to the various actions taken at each level in implementing the SDGs, with the HLPF helping with the global review of implementation, implementation taking place at the national and local levels, and the regional level providing a place for information sharing about challenges and solutions.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed commended the UNECE region for its level of participation in the VNR process at the HLPF, noting that almost half of the countries in the region have participated or announced their participation. She said she would be supporting the Secretary-General in repositioning the UN development system, which will include a comprehensive review of the system in line with the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) mandate. She noted that the Secretary-General would deliver a comprehensive proposal to UN Member States, and that three broad principles would underpin the effort: strengthening leadership for stronger coordination and integration; addressing the trust deficit through an accountability system; and focusing on results at the country level.

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed the importance of coherence, given the interconnected nature of the SDGs. He suggested it could be facilitated by creating budgetary coherence, and noted that some VNRs from last year suggested that countries had developed cross-ministerial mechanisms. Wu said horizontal coherence is not sufficient; vertical coherence is also important, and countries should pay attention to “how the agenda cascades to the local level” to ensure that there is ownership among local authorities. Wu also highlighted collaboration, noting the need to create a conducive environment to build partnerships, and communication about the SDGs.

Cihan Sultanoğlu, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, UN Development Programme (UNDP), highlighted, inter alia: the need to reverse growing inequalities; gender equality and human rights as the underpinning for our work; the need to document lessons learned and share experiences along the way; and the need to build support for achievement of the SDGs.

Policy Segment

Scott Vaughn, President and CEO, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), highlighted the need for leadership, noting that “there is no better way to lead than by demonstrating through implementation the tangible, concrete benefits of the SDG agenda.” He said the SDGs “demand by their definition a comprehensive and holistic way to measure progress” that goes beyond gross domestic product (GDP), and noted IISD’s recent evaluation of the comprehensive wealth of Canada, based on four pillars: human capital, natural capital, produced capital and social capital. Vaughn also highlighted that IISD is partnering with the UN Office in Geneva and supporting the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem and the SDG Lab, which are platforms to help organizations in Geneva to innovate together.

Edmond Panariti, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Albania, noted that animal and agriculturally transmitted diseases can cross the Mediterranean and therefore must be addressed among countries. He also noted that small-scale farming is more adaptive to climate change.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Tlapa, Czech Republic, stressed the importance of trust-building, delivery, and leadership if the SDGs are to be implemented.

Monnoyer-Smith discussed the French experience in preparing to implement the SDGs, noting work with a platform comprising stakeholders, and efforts to develop priorities for France in implementing its objectives.

Deputy Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Douglas Frantz called participants’ attention to an OECD report on how far seven countries have to go to fully implement the SDGs. He noted that all countries have a long way to go, and stressed the need to measure baselines so countries can see what their challenges are. He also noted the need to focus on blended finance as an opportunity to bring in more private sector funding.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, Director of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe, discussed health challenges in the ECE region, noting mental health, increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and road traffic deaths as areas needing effort. She also said that the ECE region has the highest alcohol consumption of the UN regions. She called for investments in youth and universal health coverage.

John Danilovich, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce, said the return to nationalistic policies raises concerns about the ability to deliver on the SDGs. He stressed that the SDGs are Business Development Goals, and vital to core business activities.

On behalf of the more than 80 representatives attending the civil society organization (CSO) meeting on 24 April, Nurgul Dzhanaeva, Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan (Central Asia & Europe), suggested, inter alia: creating adequate fiscal space to support social policies, especially to prevent and navigate crises, through redistributive tax systems; ensuring women’s participation at local, national, regional and global levels; securing proper coverage of sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality, and guaranteeing that women’s rights are mainstreamed across all SDGs; and ensuring that public-private partnerships and blended finance mechanisms comply with development effectiveness principles and include CSOs across the project cycle.

Peer Learning Segment

Three round tables met during the afternoon, following which the RFSD reconvened for a final plenary session and heard reports from rapporteurs on each of the round tables. The following summaries are based on the rapporteurs’ reports.

National and local adaptation of SDGs: Many of the participants in this round table reported on challenges in setting national policies and planning to deliver on the SDGs. Speakers stressed the challenges due to the complexity of the processes that need to be synchronized, aligned and adapted to implement the SDGs. Speakers highlighted the need for strong involvement of parliamentarians and to translate the SDGs into a “different language” that is easier to communicate. The round table also discussed: the value of data for decision making; the need to involve a wide range of stakeholders, including youth and civil society; and the need to make smart budgeting choices.

Subregional cooperation for SDG implementation: Speakers in this round table highlighted the need for subregional cooperation, including with regard to: ocean issues; regional fisheries management organizations; migration; road infrastructure; malnutrition; and health. This round table noted that joint expert meetings allow the sharing of experiences, and the regional consultative process of the International Organization for Migration is an example of a successful process. Speakers said the lack of information sharing among countries and need to have priorities aligned create barriers to enhanced subregional cooperation.

Data and monitoring: This round table noted that the 2030 Agenda underscores the value of quality data and the need to close data gaps to implement the SDGs, but also highlighted that countries currently are only able to produce about one-third of the indicators. Speakers stressed the need to build up statistical systems through financial resources and by training future generations on statistical literacy, among other actions. They noted that the use of alternative data sources is an opportunity to address data gaps, as well as a challenge, given that quality and sustainability of the data can be an issue. Speakers also suggested trying to streamline reporting frameworks. Related UNECE efforts, such as the development of a road map, were highlighted.

Closing Remarks

CSOs emphasized CSO participation in SDG implementation, including through attention to gender equality. She also called for ensuring youth participation in decision making and eradicating extreme poverty. She stressed the need for enabling environments, which she said requires democracy and full recognition of human rights, although she noted that civil society space is shrinking globally.

UNECE Executive Secretary Bach recalled the process that led to the decision to negotiate the SDGs in the first place, noting that, during an initial discussion of the idea, many concluded that they would never be agreed and would be much too complicated. He emphasized the role of CSOs in the negotiation of the SDGs, and now in their implementation.

Director General of the UN Office of Geneva (UNOG) Michael Moller said the RFSD demonstrates the vital role of regional collaboration and has provided a laboratory for the exchange of ideas. He noted the need to break down bureaucratic barriers to implement the SDGs and to exchange best practices with partners, and said the SDG Lab in UNOG seeks to leverage the potential of the UN system in regard to both of these objectives.

Chair Monnoyer-Smith said a Chair’s summary of the RFSD would be presented to the HLPF in July, and a draft will be circulated the second week of May. She closed the first RFSD at 5:56 pm. [IISD Sources] [RFSD documents] [UN Press Release, 25 April 2017] [Deputy Secretary-General’s Statement] [IISD President and CEO’s Statement] [CSO Statement] [Webcast, Opening Session] [Webcast, Policy Segment] [Webcast, Round Table on Data and monitoring] [Webcast, Closing Session][SDG Knowledge Hub story about 67th session of UNECE]

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