15 May 2019: Governments exchanged initial views on the outcome document to be adopted at the SDG Summit in September 2019. The political declaration is being negotiated through a series of consultations taking place in May and June 2019, convened by the co-facilitators for the document.

The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) held at the level of Heads of State and Government and convened under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) – also known as the SDG Summit – is mandated to take place every four years and to conduct a high-level review of the 2030 Agenda. The first SDG Summit will take place from 24-25 September 2019, in New York, US.

The co-facilitators for negotiations on the SDG Summit outcome document, the Permanent Representatives of Bahamas (Sheila Carey) and Sweden (Olof Skoog), were appointed on 30 October 2018. They have held bilateral and group consultations, including a meeting on 12 April 2019 with Major Groups and other Stakeholders. In addition, at the co-facilitators’ request the UN Secretariat has created a virtual platform through which stakeholders can give input on both the Summit itself and the political declaration, and the Secretariat will provide the co-facilitators with a summary of the views submitted through the platform.

Opening the first informal consultation meeting on 15 May 2019, in New York, US, Carey welcomed input on both the scope and the substance of the outcome document. She said the Summit is an opportunity to identify the courses of action needed to achieve the world envisioned in the 2030 Agenda. She said that through the conversations the co-facilitators have conducted so far, the they have heard “broad acceptance” that the political declaration will differ from the ministerial declarations adopted in previous years during the HLPF when it takes place under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The co-facilitators said they have also heard that:

  • The declaration’s “voice” should be that of the heads of state and government assembled in New York, and therefore the document must have a focused political message;
  • The declaration should be a document for “the people,” and not include too much detail;
  • The document should reassure the world about leaders’ commitment to fulfilling the SDGs, provide a sense of “how far we have come” and inspire action from all stakeholders; and
  • The 2030 Agenda is universal, the SDGs are integrated and indivisible, the balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development must be preserved, and the declaration should be evidence-based, forward-looking and action-oriented. The co-facilitators said this message was heard consistently in all of their consultations.

Skoog added that in the co-facilitators’ view, the declaration should capture the messages of the other high-level meetings taking place at UN Headquarters during the same week, which are all relevant to the SDGs. Skoog then presented a proposal for three main elements that the political declaration would include. They are:

  1. A concise political message reaffirming commitments from the 2030 Agenda and emphasizing the need for concerted action and deep transformation;
  2. An evidence-based part paying tribute to implementation efforts in the 2030 Agenda’s first “cycle,” and reflecting how far have we come, based on both the 2019 SDG Progress Report of the UN Secretary-General and the forthcoming 2019 edition of the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR); and
  3. A call for accelerated action and political guidance. This section would be guided by experiences with SDG implementation and best practices that have been identified, and highlight concrete commitments. Skoog noted that in the 2019 SDG Progress Report, which was released in advance form on 13 May, the Secretary-General says the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020 will mark the start of a “decisive decade for action and delivery,” and thus Member States should make commitments toward “gearing up” for this decade. Skoog said this section of the political declaration also would address ways to “remedy specific gaps” in 2030 Agenda implementation, such as tools for adapting the SDGs to national circumstances and mainstreaming them into national planning process. He suggested that these messages could comprise part of the “political guidance” called for as part of the UNGA’s mandated review of the HLPF, which will take place during the 74th session.

In the ensuing discussion, many countries and groupings said the declaration should provide an overview of the progress on SDG implementation and identify gaps, as well as a direction for moving forward.

Palestine, for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/ China), pointed to the need to resolve how the six SDGs to be reviewed by the July 2019 HLPF will be reflected in the political declaration, since no outcome document will be adopted in July. She highlighted that poverty eradication remains the greatest global challenge and the overarching goal of the 2030 Agenda, and said the political declaration should recognize the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respect national policies and priorities. She further underscored the need to recognize the needs of countries in special situations, and of middle-income countries (MICs) as well, calling for developed countries to respect their official development assistance (ODA) commitments and provide support with technology transfer. She added that the outcome should highlight the importance of multilateralism.

The EU, Mexico, Morocco, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Israel, and New Zealand for Canada, Australia and New Zealand (CANZ) said the declaration should be concise and inspirational, written in a simple language that can be understood both by political leaders and the general public. The EU said the text should underscore the need to accelerate progress on the Goals. With Mexico, he noted that the document should not reopen the 2030 Agenda, and emphasized the need to resist the “temptation” to reopen what was agreed on implementation in 2015, or to elevate certain Goals over others. He suggested using the four-year cycle review to identify actions that can step up SDG implementation.

Belize for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) highlighted that the political declaration should be coherent with the outcomes of the other high-level events taking place during the September 2019 UNGA high-level week, and send a strong message on small island developing States (SIDS). Paraguay, for the land-locked developing countries (LLDCs), said the declaration should build synergies between the Vienna Programme of Action for the LLDCs and the 2030 Agenda.

CANZ said the SDG Summit outcome should be high-level, progressive, ambitious and, with Mexico, Israel, Republic of Korea and others, action-oriented. He noted that in many areas of the 2030 Agenda “the world has gone backwards,” including on climate change and human and women’s rights, emphasizing that “back-tracking on the 2030 Agenda is out of scope of the political declaration.” He said the document should be grounded in human rights and freedoms, and focus on reaching the poorest and most left behind including LGBTQ and non-binary people.

CANZ identified five priority areas to be covered by the text: advancing gender equality (supported also by Colombia, Israel and Mexico); recognizing climate change as a fundamental threat to reaching sustainable development (supported also by Colombia, Morocco, the Pacific SIDS and Mexico); responding to the needs of countries in special situations; respecting diversity and inclusive governance; and means of implementation (MOI), with a focus on the local transition to sustainable development. He expressed concerned that the timetable proposed by the co-facilitators might not give governments the needed time to negotiate.

China said the political declaration should highlight that the UNGA is the principal UN organ when it comes to policy guidance. He called for the text to: give impetus to developing countries on implementing the 2030 Agenda; support multilateralism; address environmental conservation in a comprehensive manner; support countries in choosing their own path of development; and scale up support for the most vulnerable. With regard to MOI, he said the outcome should recognize North-South cooperation as the main channel for development, with South-South and triangular cooperation as complementary channels, and call on developed countries to honor their ODA commitments and support developing countries with technology transfer.

Liechtenstein said the political declaration should preserve the integration of the 2030 Agenda. She emphasized the need to avoid lengthy negotiations. Colombia said that the text should recognize “the undeniable link” between peace and development.

Mexico, supported by Morocco, highlighted as priority themes for the political declaration: migration and the impact of rapid technological change. He said the document should include a vision for the future, and steps that governments will take in the next few years to fulfill the 2030 Agenda. He added the text should note efforts being articulated at the Climate Action Summit in September and, supported by Israel, reflect science, technology and innovation (STI) as an accelerator for reaching the SDGs.

The EU, Mexico, Switzerland and the Republic of Korea, among others, said the document should be evidence-based, with the main input in that regard being the forthcoming GSDR. The G-77/China also looked forward to the GSDR.

The US said the declaration should encourage the highest standards for transparency and accountability by all, and focus on the true drivers of development: rule of law, human rights, women’s economic empowerment, and the participation of civil society and the private sector. He called for excluding “national language” or the concepts of any particular Member State, cautioning that the political context today is different that when the 2030 Agenda was agreed four years ago, and thus delegations should avoid controversial topics that have resulted in votes in the past.

Representatives of Major Groups and other Stakeholders proposed that the SDG Summit outcome include a dedicated section on accelerated action and political guidance, to chart an ambitious path forward. One representative said the document should highlight linkages between the SDGs and the human rights framework, and also reflect on the dilemmas and trade-offs between the different targets. The text should provide an honest reflection on why progress is not advancing, it was noted, and call for stakeholders’ more direct involvement in SDG implementation and monitoring.

Responding to comments and questions, Carey said the ECOSOC President will produce a report on the July 2019 HLPF session, and Member States must decide how or whether to incorporate it in the political declaration. She also invited reflection on whether to give prominence to the six SDGs to be reviewed during the July 2019 HLPF, or take a synergetic approach on all the SDGs. Skoog mentioned that the co-facilitators will “keep the pen,” and they do not believe the text should be negotiated in plenary.

Following this meeting, the co-facilitators will prepare a “zero draft” of the declaration to be shared before the next meeting on 22 May. Consultations will then shift to “informal-informal” mode. The consultation will remain open to Major Groups and Other Stakeholders “in line with the tradition of transparency of the HLPF and the spirit of inclusiveness of the 2030 Agenda,” Skoog explained.

The informal-informal meetings are scheduled for 7 and 12 June. The gap between the 22 May and 7 June meetings is intended to allow delegations to consult with their capitals on the zero draft and to study the SDG Progress Report and the GSDR. The co-facilitators stressed the need to conclude negotiations on the outcome document “well in advance” of the July meeting of the HLPF. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]

This article draws on reporting by Faye Leone.