15 July 2021
HLPF Reviews Progress Towards Nine SDGs
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During the first week of the 2021 HLPF session, governments and stakeholders discussed global progress towards nine of the 17 SDGs, and how to accelerate their achievement by 2030.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports that, like in 2020, the impact of COVID-19 on the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, once again, loomed large,” and every session has sounded the “alarm of growing inequality”.

During the first week of the 2021 HLPF session, governments and stakeholders discussed global progress towards a sub-set of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and how to accelerate their achievement by 2030. The Forum is taking place both virtually and in-person at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 6-15 July 2021.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports that, like in 2020, “the impact of COVID-19 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs, once again, loomed large,” and every session throughout the week sounded the “alarm of growing inequality.” One speaker said COVID-19 response and the SDGs are essentially the same agenda.

On 7 July, a session was dedicated to SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 17 (partnerships for the Goals). The 2021 SDGs Report produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) found that:

  • The global poverty rate is projected to be 7% by 2030, missing the SDG target of 3%;
  • Between 83 and 132 million people experienced hunger in 2020; and
  • 255 million people lost full-time jobs, four times the number lost during the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

During the discussion, UN and government officials called for universal social protection, formalizing informal workers, and accounting for localized needs in creating social protection systems. One said climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss are compounding challenges to ending poverty and hunger. Another official reported that achieving SDG 2 will require USD 39 billion.

An Africa expert pointed to inadequate contributions to COVAX and predicted a widening gap in vaccination rates between the Global North and Global South. Another speaker highlighted the concept of “pharmaceutical poverty” introduced by Pope Francis, referring to the lack of vaccine access. The speaker noted the need for multilateralism to close the vaccine gap.

Countries highlighted their initiatives and commitments in the area of Goals 1, 2, and 8. Indonesia committed to strengthen food security as a national priority, including through food waste management, increased agricultural productivity, and cultivation of underutilized land. Thailand said it has established a national multidimensional poverty reduction index that includes education, quality of life, and financial security. Finland described a coalition to support school nutrition, which will be launched at the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021, and invited others to join.

Several speakers underscored the role of the private sector in tackling inequalities and poverty. One said the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated poverty and hunger for Indigenous Peoples, compounding the exploitation of their land and resources.

In a session dedicated to SDGs 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), and 17 (partnerships for the Goals), which also took place on 7 July, participants heard that:

  • 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are thrown away each year, and the global material footprint increased by 70% between 2000 and 2017;
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations reached record highs in 2020; and
  • Foreign direct investment has dropped by up to 40%, and is below USD 1 trillion for the first time since 2005.

The moderator called for more recovery funding that can be classified as low carbon and nature positive. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) told participants that agriculture and forestry contribute GHG emissions and cause 80% of biodiversity loss. He said IUCN is asking all authorities to reserve 10% of COVID-19 response funding to support nature.

Other speakers pointed to the need for a circular economy to curb the extraction of raw materials, use of single-use plastics, and food waste. One government called for launching negotiations on plastics pollution. Several stakeholder groups supported: the need to educate young people about sustainable consumption and production practices; the importance of engaging local authorities to achieve greener economies; and the value of local actors’ knowledge as means to achieve stability.

China called on developed countries to honor their commitment to mobilize USD 100 billion per year to fight climate change.

On 8 July, the HLPF reviewed the other SDGs in the 2021 in-depth review: SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), while also including SDG 17 (partnerships) again. DESA informed participants that:

  • Before COVID-19, many areas such as maternal health were improving, but the pandemic has halted or reversed progress in health; and
  • Worsening trends for peace and stability; mid-2020 saw the highest absolute number on record of people fleeing war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations, and other disruptions.

Speakers echoed several messages from the previous day, including: ending the COVID-19 pandemic will require freedom from the “pharmaceutical monopoly” over vaccines, and Africa is lagging behind on vaccinations; the need for universal health care and social protection; and the role of inequalities. One expert said unequal societies have a higher percentage of infection rates.

One country reported on the Group of Friends of SDG 10, which is discussing equitable distribution of vaccines, policies to address inequalities, and the expansion of development cooperation. A stakeholder group called for the UN General Assembly to negotiate an international tax treaty.

Several speakers expressed support for the One Health approach to policies. One added that diversion of healthcare funds is a key area of corruption, making the pandemic a corruption crisis in addition to a health one.

On SDG 16, an official said children and youth were more vulnerable to violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in poorer and marginalized societies. A group of 180 civil society organizations supported the Rome Civil Society Declaration on SDG16+, which calls for stronger action and commitments related to SDG 16 and relevant targets across the 2030 Agenda.

The ENB reported that throughout the HLPF session, participants have expressed discontent with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which mirrors existing inequalities, noting that unequal societies lead to more COVID-19 infections. Still, SDG targets related to vulnerability—such as maternal well-being, early childhood mortality, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and pollution—received little attention during the discussion, according to the ENB.

The second week of the HLPF featured the presentations of voluntary national reviews (VNRs) by 42 governments, reflecting on their implementation of the SDGs. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin meeting coverage] [UN meeting summary, 8 July] [HLPF programme]

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