31 July 2018
ECOSOC High-Level Segment Urges Faster SDG Implementation
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
story highlights

The UN Economic and Social Council’s high-level segment discussed challenges in achieving the 2030 Agenda, with several countries calling for accelerated implementation of the SDGs.

A panel discussion on the global economy and trade recognized the need for transformative change to achieve the SDGs, pointing to scenarios that suggest some SDGs will not be achieved until mid-century.

Panelists also reflected on SDG financing and trade tensions.

19 July 2018: The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convened its high-level segment, held jointly with the ministerial meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). It adopted the joint ministerial declaration, held a general debate, and convened a panel discussion on the global economy and international trade in the context of sustainable development.

During the general debate, Member States welcomed proposed reforms to the UN development system, and called for accelerated implementation of the SDGs. Many speakers underscored the importance of a multilateral approach to development, and observed that significant challenges remain for efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Ethiopia emphasized that a lack of sufficient progress in meeting the SDGs “should be a collective concern,” and called for injecting a sense of urgency into the process, including through greater political commitment and multi-stakeholder collaboration. The US recommended enhanced relationship between the public and private sectors to address challenges such as affordable housing, investments in technology and support for local businesses. China voiced concerns over rising unilateralism and challenges in global trade matters, and said more work is needed to meet the Global Goals on schedule.

The NGO Major Group expressed concern about a missing sense of urgency to achieve the Agenda, observed that opportunities for meaningful accountability at all levels are “quickly dissipating,” and said the HLPF is proving “insufficient” in its role of monitoring and review. The NGO Major Group further expressed concern that the HLPF lacks a mandate for parallel or “shadow reports” on country SDG implementation, and that Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS) were only allocated two minutes to respond to VNR presentations. They called for considering the inclusion of such reports during the review of the HLPF modalities. The Group called for immediate action to reorient and restructure global systems towards equity, human rights and justice, and work toward the principle of leaving no one behind.

Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the 2018 HLPF raised awareness of gaps in SDG implementation, and underscored the need for increased attention on a number of issues, including technological change and population aging. He welcomed the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) intention to refocus ECOSOC’s high-level segment on long-term trends and scenarios, following negotiations on ECOSOC reform review.

The high-level segment also featured a dialogue on the global economy and international trade in the context of sustainable development. Liu warned that projections suggest the SDGs may not be met by mid-century, sharing scenarios that suggest water stress will increase, pollution will continue and cause an increase in pollution-related diseases, and a global middle class may emerge on islands “in a sea of abject poverty.” Within this context, he said incremental changes are not sufficient, and urged governments to take transformative actions and embrace innovation.

As the world economy grows, a lack of inclusive growth is fueling tensions and testing the multilateral system, said OECD.

Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), recalled traditional expectations that countries can trade themselves out of poverty by joining global value chains, and said this understanding is being challenged “as value chains get shorter.” He called for a renewed focus on sovereign debt workout mechanisms. UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena expressed concern that the need for trillions of dollars in financing to implement the SDGs is not being met. She said LAC countries are “caught in the middle-income trap” while facing additional financing challenges due to tax evasion and illicit financial flows.

Panelists further discussed how to address tensions related to trade rhetoric. Kituyi pointed to the fisheries subsidy agreement in the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying a lack of political will is preventing it from being signed. He said the international community should engage with the private sector. Bárcena recommended understanding the “tensions between the winners and losers of globalization.” Masamichi Kono, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the world economy is continuing to grow, and “its center of gravity is shifting to the developing world.” Despite this growth, he noted that a lack of inclusive growth is fueling tensions and testing the multilateral system. [UN Press Release] [UNCTAD Press Release] [IISD RS Coverage of HLPF 2018] [Liu Zhenmin Statement]

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