Each of the UN regional commissions are organizing regional fora on sustainable development (RFSDs) in preparation for the 2021 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The 2021 HLPF will convene from 6-15 July 2021, under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Its thematic focus is ‘Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, that promotes the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: Building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.’

The session will focus in particular on nine SDGs: Goal 1 (No poverty); Goal 2 (Zero hunger); Goal 3 (Good health and wellbeing); Goal 8 (Decent work and economic growth); Goal 10 (Reduced inequalities); Goal 12 (Responsible consumption and production); Goal 13 (Climate action); Goal 16 (Peace, justice, and strong institutions); and Goal 17 (Partnership for the Goals). The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) will organize expert group meetings in preparation for the thematic reviews.

The five RFSDs organized for each region will take place in March 2021, as follows:

  • UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) RFSD: 1-4 March in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in hybrid format;
  • UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) RFSD: 15-18 March in Costa Rica, in virtual format
  • UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) RFSD: 17-18 March in Geneva, Switzerland, in hybrid format;
  • UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) RFSD – the eighth Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD 8): 23-26 March 2021 in Bangkok, Thailand, in hybrid format; and
  • UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) RFSD: 29-31 March in Beirut, Lebanon, in hybrid format.

The 2021 HLPF will feature discussion of 44 countries’ voluntary national reviews (VNRs). VNRs are presented each year, and are intended to track progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs at the country level. Since 2016, 205 VNRs have been presented by 168 countries. The countries presenting VNRs in 2021 include ten first-time presenters, 25 presentations of second reports, and nine countries presenting a VNR for the third time. 

To support preparations for the VNR sessions, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued factsheets on each country’s participation in various human rights mechanisms and procedures, and groups at risk of being left behind, among other information, as well as guidance on data collection and linking the 2030 Agenda with human rights follow-up processes.

The UN issues guidance for countries on preparing their VNRs, and this has been updated for the 2021 HLPF. The latest edition recommends that

  • Countries include a section on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on SDG implementation, measures undertaken to ensure a sustainable, green recovery, and impacts on VNR preparations;
  • Countries preparing a VNR for the second or third time show progress made since their first VNR, and avoid repeating information presented in a previous VNR;
  • Countries address how they overcome challenges in SDG implementation and share lessons learned and good practices adopted; and
  • Governments submit their main messages – the principal findings of the review – by 2 May 2021. The final VNR report is due on 11 June 2021.

DESA is organizing a series of workshops for officials preparing the VNRs in each country. In addition, each RFSD in March will include a workshop on regional specificities and lessons learned by previous VNR countries. 

The HLPF is expected to conclude with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration, consultations on which are getting underway. A summary of discussions during the HLPF will be prepared by the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).