26 July 2023
HLPF Debrief Discusses Main Takeaways, Draws Linkages with “Twin Summits”
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The custodians of SDGs 6 and 7 sought to ensure continuity by capitalizing on progress made since the UN 2023 Water Conference and the 2021 High-level Dialogue on Energy that both resulted in a slew of voluntary commitments.

“Remarkable” HLPF moments such as Science Day, the first-ever session on middle-income countries, and youth representation in each panel will only deliver meaningful contributions to SDG implementation if there is continuity.

The SDG Summit and the Summit of the Future offer an opportunity for a package deal for accelerated implementation, more effective methods of follow-up and review, and enabling a multilateral environment for countries to achieve the SDGs.

The SDG Lab, Cepei, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) convened a panel discussion to provide a snapshot of the proceedings at the July session of the 2023 UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and their linkages to the SDG Summit in September and the Summit of the Future in 2024. Experts discussed challenges to advancing SDG implementation and themes that emerged from the HLPF for moving the Goals forward.

Lynn Wagner, Senior Director, Tracking Progress, IISD, moderated the discussion. She opened the event noting that every four years the HLPF convenes under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July and at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September. The latter, she explained, is known as the SDG Summit, which is where leaders adopt a negotiated political declaration.

Spotlighting HLPF 2023 “by the numbers,” Wagner said the Forum:

  • Met for eight days, from 10-19 July;
  • Reviewed five SDGs – SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals);
  • Featured 130+ speakers, including experts, high-level government officials, and 20 youth speakers;
  • Gathered 800+ representatives from major groups and non-governmental organizations (NGO);
  • Included 204 in-person and virtual side events, 21 exhibitions, and twelve high-level special events; and
  • Conducted 16 VNR Labs and heard from 38 countries that presented their voluntary national reviews (VNRs), as well as the EU, which presented the first supranational review.

While SDG 17 is reviewed each year, Wanger said SDGs 6, 7, 9, and 11 underwent their second in-depth review. She informed the audience that the custodians of SDG 6 and SDG 7 indicators had prepared detailed reviews in an effort to identify opportunities to push progress forward and ensure continuity by capitalizing on progress made since the UN 2023 Water Conference and the 2021 High-level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE), both of which resulted in hundreds of voluntary commitments. She noted that Energy Compacts have been identified as a high-impact initiative that will be showcased on the side of the SDG Summit to help accelerate SDG action beyond SDG 7.

On SDG 7, Wagner highlighted the finding that, at current rates of implementation, by 2030, 1.8 billion people will still lack access to clean cooking and only 92% of the global population will have energy access. She noted that the Energy Progress Report indicates that, to achieve universal energy access by 2030, we need to double the pace from this year on.

On SDG 6, she emphasized that only 24 countries of the 153 countries that share rivers, lakes, and aquifers have their shared water covered by transboundary cooperation agreements, which are essential for the effective management of those water sources. In that context, she drew attention to the Gambia’s accession to the two UN water conventions during an SDG 6 special event.

Among other highlights, Wagner noted:

  • The Fourth Global Climate and SDG Synergy Conference, which called for integrated action, enhanced evidence base and political work on synergies and trade-offs, and strengthened multistakeholder dialogue; and
  • The first-ever Science Day that reflected on the importance of knowledge brokers in bringing scientific knowledge to policymakers who need to understand it to make informed decisions.

Javier Surasky, Research Director, Cepei, introduced a civil society perspective. He said HLPF 2023 “worked in the shadow of the SDG Summit,” revealing the need to rethink the logic of having two HLPFs in the same year.

Surasky warned that “remarkable moments” such as Science Day, the first-ever HLPF session on middle-income countries (MICs), and youth representation in each panel will only deliver meaningful contributions to SDG implementation if there is continuity.

Surasky commended the HLPF’s focus on local action but pointed to “a clear contradiction between discussions and facts” as no voluntary local reviews (VLRs) were presented. He also lamented that the HLPF “continues to leave regional forums behind,” wishing for more space to discuss regional progress.

Regarding specific SDGs, Surasky suggested that SDG 7 in-depth review would have been more useful in 2025 or 2026, and SDG 9 discussions should have paid more attention to artificial intelligence (AI). He said addressing “cultural issues” can help solve many problems, including gender-based violence, and improve our relationship with nature.

Surasky further highlighted that the HLPF:

  • lost a unique opportunity to go further on integration and policy coherence;
  • failed to make the linkages between SDG implementation and monitoring, and human rights and peace; and
  • should work to provide more concrete, action-oriented solutions to help countries and stakeholders accelerate the SDGs amid multiple crises.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Chair of the UN Committee for Development Policy and Professor of International Affairs at The New School, expressed concern over a disconnect between the UN Secretary-General’s message about “the sorry state of progress” and the need for transformative change, on the one hand, and countries’ failure to reflect in their VNRs the need for a game changing plan for the SDGs on the other. She said the VNRs lack analytical content and therefore do not provide a good basis for national governments and stakeholders to reflect on experiences, lessons, gaps, and failures. Fukuda-Parr stressed the need to push for a new approach to VNRs that would take “macroanalysis” of the state of progress to the national level.

Marianne Beisheim, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), discussed the implications of the July session of the HLPF for the SDG Summit and the 2024 Summit of the Future. Paraphrasing the UNGA President, she said the good news is we’re still in the game but we need to change the game to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Identifying the need for capacity, knowledge, and skills to manage transformation so “we can master it or we’ll have to endure it,” she said the HLPF sought to build momentum towards the SDG Summit.

With regard to the political declaration the SDG Summit is expected to adopt, Beisheim said the co-facilitators of consultations put the document under silence procedure on 19 July. On 21 July, they informed Member States that silence was broken by a number of delegations, but they still think the draft constitutes the best basis for consensus. Beisheim said the draft declaration consists of three parts that focus on: our shared commitment; progress and remaining gaps and challenges; and a call to action to turn our world towards 2030.

As per the Summit’s programme, Beisheim reported, Heads of State and Government will hold six Leaders’ Dialogues to bring forward concrete national commitments to SDG transformation relating to: key transitions; leaving no one behind; science, technology, innovation, and data; strengthening integrated policies; strengthening the multilateral system; and finance. She also stated that the UN system seeks to rally actors behind twelve high-impact initiatives, some of which will be taken up in the process towards the Summit of the Future.

Beisheim concluded by saying the “twin summits” offer an opportunity for a package deal for accelerated implementation, more effective methods of follow-up and review, and enabling a multilateral environment for countries to achieve the SDGs. She noted that in light of next year’s review of the HLPF as a forum, Member States could mandate VNRs to review accelerated actions mentioned in the political declaration.

During discussion, the panelists addressed linkages between the SDG Summit and the UN climate process, particularly with respect to loss and damage, which, they assessed, is “far from having a multilateral solution.” They also considered what would happen to the SDGs after 2030. Speakers agreed that it is too early for these discussions as it distracts from accelerating action on the Goals and compromises their ambition. [High-Level Political Forum 2023 Debrief] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]


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