The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) published a note consolidating inputs to the 2020 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) from the five UN regional commissions. Only one of the 2020 regional forums on sustainable development was held as scheduled. Three were postponed, and one was scaled down and held virtually due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The note (E/HLPF/2020/3) states that the regional commissions have convened regional forums on sustainable development since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “discuss follow-up and review of the Agenda at the regional level and to prepare for the reviews of the high-level political forum.”

The sixth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development was held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, from 24-27 February 2020. The forum convened on the theme, ‘2020-2030: A Decade to Deliver a Transformed and Prosperous Africa through the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063,’ bringing together more than 3,000 participants, including ministers and government representatives from 52 UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) member States, intergovernmental organizations, UN bodies and specialized agencies, major groups, and other stakeholders.

According to the input document (E/HLPF/2020/3/Add. 1), the forum provided an opportunity to translate into action the proclamation of the 2020s as a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, endorsed by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in resolution 74/4. The principal activities carried out during the forum included: regional follow-up and review of progress made in implementing the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063; peer learning through sharing approaches, experiences, and lessons learned in conducting voluntary national and local reviews; and identifying and articulating priorities, policy options, and recommendations of Africa in the form of key messages.

Key messages emanated from:

  • the high-level panel on accelerators to deliver a transformed and prosperous Africa through the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 within the decade 2020-2030;
  • discussions of the progress report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 at the regional and subregional levels;
  • plenary round tables on: voluntary national reviews (VNRs) on implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063; VNRs and peer learning on implementation, follow-up, and review of the two agendas; the sub-theme of people; and the sub-theme of partnerships;
  • parallel meetings on the sub-themes of prosperity, the planet, and peace;
  • the 2020 session of the Africa Science, Technology and Innovation Forum;
  • major groups and other stakeholders;
  • deliberations on support from the UN development system to implement the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063; and
  • a youth forum.

In the outcome document from the forum, ‘Victoria Falls Declaration on the United Nations Decade of Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development in Africa,’ forum participants call upon all African countries to “urgently revisit frameworks for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063” and to “align their national development plans with the principles of the two agendas.” They call upon the UN development system and partners to scale up support of African countries’ capacity development in “transformational” areas such as climate action, youth, education, entrepreneurship and innovation, empowerment of women and persons with disabilities, food systems, health, data and statistics, and trade, among others. [ENB coverage of ARFSD]

The fourth session of the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the Economic Commission for Europe Region took place virtually on 19 March 2020. Participants from UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) member States, UN entities and other international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia, the private sector, and other organizations discussed: accelerating action and delivery for sustainable development in the region; accelerating SDG progress through VNRs; actions for green and inclusive change; and economic transformation, finance, and technology for SDG acceleration. Additional segments held as webinars addressed SDG challenges and leveraging data and statistics for SDG progress.

The Chair’s summary of the discussions, annexed to the input document (E/HLPF/2020/3/Add.2), highlights that, despite good progress in many areas of sustainable development, in Europe, no country is on track to achieving the SDGs, citing “considerable challenges” with SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water), and SDG 15 (life on land).

Discussions sought to identify the main lessons learned from the VNR process and ways to improve reviews in the next HLPF cycle. Participants shared experiences from Azerbaijan, Romania, Switzerland, the Russian Federation, and civil society.

Originally scheduled from 25-27 March, the seventh session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), was held virtually on 20 May 2020, with more than 730 registered participants from governments, intergovernmental organizations, the UN, international organizations, civil society, and other entities. The forum focused on the theme, ‘Accelerating Action for and Delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.’

Participants discussed actions supporting the global decade of action for the SDGs in the region, focusing on the transformative processes needed to face socioeconomic, cultural, and institutional barriers to change, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The forum also provided an opportunity to share examples of successful strategic policies in the region and national and regional perspectives on strengthening the follow-up to and review of the 2030 Agenda.

The Chair’s summary of the discussions, annexed to the input document (E/HLPF/2020/3/Add.3), identifies six transformative entry points to accelerate progress, derived from the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: human well-being and capabilities; sustainable and just economies; food systems and nutrition patterns; affordable and clean energy; urban and peri-urban development; and global environmental commons. It notes that stronger follow-up to and review of the 2030 Agenda need to be part of the solution, and cites a call for stronger links between the regional and global processes for reviewing the 2030 Agenda.

The fourth meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, originally scheduled to be held in Havana, Cuba, from 28-31 March 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 11 and 12 May, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) organized two virtual meetings of the community of practice of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries submitting VNRs to the HLPF in 2020.

The input document (E/HLPF/2020/3/Add.4) highlights ‘Sustainable Development Goal Gateway’ – an inter-agency regional knowledge platform that serves as an entry point to all the information on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in the region, and a document titled, ‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the New Global and Regional Context: Scenarios and Projections in the Current Crisis,’ which gives an overview of the main economic, social, and environmental trends that influence the achievement of the SDGs in LAC and offers analysis of progress on the basis of 72 statistical series of SDG indicators in the region.

In light of the “weak and uneven progress” towards the SDGs and the response to the pandemic, ECLAC puts forward the following recommendations:

  • Coordinate a powerful fiscal stimulus at the international level to support health services and to protect jobs and the income of people in general;
  • Keep international supply chains open, in particular those for medicine and medical equipment, food and energy;
  • Bolster mechanisms to guarantee companies’ liquidity, payment chains and the stability of the financial system;
  • Defer external debt servicing for highly indebted countries to increase their fiscal space; and
  • Develop new financial instruments to directly support countries with little to no fiscal space.

The input document also summarizes discussions held during virtual meetings of ECLAC subsidiary bodies and regional dialogue platforms to advance the 2030 Agenda amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The input document (E/HLPF/2020/3/Add.5) from the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development notes that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting of the forum, due to be held from 7-9 April 2020, was postponed until a later date that “has yet to be decided.” The document indicates that the forum’s programme of work will be updated to “include consideration of the challenges arising from the pandemic and its implications for health care, its socioeconomic consequences and its impact on progress towards sustainable development in the Arab region.”

The input document contains key messages to the HLPF, drawn from consultations with representatives of the Arab States during two regional workshops on VNRs, organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the League of Arab States. The messages address the following themes:

  • Government approaches and national development plans;
  • Principles of the 2030 Agenda: disaggregated data, gender equality, and leaving no one behind;
  • Accelerating implementation, monitoring, assessment, and gap identification; and
  • Crisis preparedness and response and looking ahead.