24 March 2021
European RFSD Considers Policy Actions for People, Prosperity, and Planet
Cascais, Portugal / Photo credit: Alice Butenko
story highlights

The UN Economic Commission for Europe held the fifth annual meeting of the regional forum on sustainable development.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed provided suggestions for policymakers in Europe and Central Asia to make a “watershed moment” of the pandemic.

Roundtable events addressed three clusters of issues – People, Prosperity, Planet – as well as data and statistics on COVID-19, and digital transformation in the wake of COVID-19.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) held the fifth annual meeting of the regional forum on sustainable development. This year’s Forum featured a hybrid programme of peer learning roundtables, plenary sessions, and side events.

The Forum discussed ways to include local SDG efforts in national reports.

In a video message to the opening plenary session, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed provided policy suggestions for making a “watershed moment” of the pandemic. She said policymakers in Europe and Central Asia must make choices and trade-offs, such as:

  • Prioritizing specific investments to support regions that have been most affected by the crisis;
  • Strengthening social safety measures for youth, women, and disadvantaged groups;
  • Structural reforms to reduce carbon emissions and improve productivity through digitalization; and
  • Providing liquidity support and debt relief for countries that need it.

She said the same ambition shown in responding to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic must be shown for achieving the SDGs and addressing the climate crisis.

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova highlighted findings of the 2021 regional report on the SDGs, which concluded that: 23 of the 169 SDG targets are on track for achievement by 2030; progress must accelerate on 57 SDG targets; and on nine targets, trends are moving away from the desired outcomes. Progress will likely slow further as a result of the pandemic. Algayerova stressed the need “not only to meet the targets but also to improve data availability, including in countries with well-developed statistical systems.”

The roundtable events addressed three clusters of issues – People, Prosperity, Planet – as well as the cross-cutting issues of data and statistics on COVID-19, and digital transformation in the wake of COVID-19. In the People cluster, a session on food systems and healthy diets organized by the UN Issue-based Coalition on Sustainable Food Systems considered examples of policy actions from the UK, Sweden, Romania and Armenia. Other roundtable sessions on People addressed health and social protections, and road safety. The UN Coalition is composed of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNECE, the World Meterological Organization (WMO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

In the Prosperity cluster, a session on sustainable tourism organized by UNEP and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) highlighted policy actions in Austria, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Germany, UK, France, and Portugal. Sessions on centering humans in the future of work, and the impacts of COVID-19 on youth were also part of the Prosperity cluster.

The cluster on Planet featured a session on sustainable production and consumption (SCP) organized by UNECE’s Economic Cooperation and Trade Division. It highlighted three policy actions: strengthening policy coherence and prioritizing integrated and transversal implementation; redirecting financial flows towards SCP and strengthening incentives for behavioral change, regulation, and standards; and deploying innovation and multi-stakeholder partnerships to change production and consumption patterns. The cluster also included sessions on resilience and the forests of the Boreal region.

The messages from these roundtable discussions were reported back to plenary sessions during the final two days of the Forum. Plenary sessions also took up the experiences of UNECE countries that have presented or will present Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at annual sessions of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Discussions addressed the best ways to connect a country’s first and subsequent VNRs, and how to include local-level SDG implementation in national reports. UNECE notes that by the end of the 2021 HLPF session, 55 out of the 56 UNECE member States will have conducted a VNR.

A side event before the Forum highlighted local efforts to advance the SDGs, with speakers from: Bristol, UK, Milan, Italy, Pittsburgh, US, and Cascais, Portugal. Another side event addressed the impacts of COVID-19 on trade, innovation, and sustainable development in economies in transition. Approximately 25 side events took place in total, according to UNECE.

UNECE reports that an unprecedented 1,400 participants took place in the Forum, which convened from 10-18 March 2021. The forthcoming co-chair’s summary of the Forum will provide the UNECE region’s official input to the 2021 HLPF. 

The other regional groups of UN Member States also are holding sustainable development forums in March (Latin America and the Caribbean: 15-18 March; Asia-Pacific: 23-26 March; and Arab Region: 29-31 March). Africa’s regional forum on sustainable development took place from 1-4 March. [Europe RFSD webpage] [UNECE press release]

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