31 July 2018
HLPF Concludes with Vote on Ministerial Declaration, Concerns about “Power of Mandate” and Those Left Behind
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

The HLPF 2018 concluded its discussions with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration, which was approved by a vote of 164 Member States in favor and two Member States against.

HLPF 2018 featured thematic discussions, a review of SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17 as well as a special discussion on the principle of leave no one behind.

The ENB reports that participants highlighted constraints to the HLPF's role as a platform for discussion, including resources, "power of mandate," and capacity.

18 July 2018: The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) concluded its 2018 meeting by voting to adopt a Ministerial Declaration on the theme, ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.’ The eight-day session also: heard 46 countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), highlighting plans and efforts to implement the SDGs; reviewed six of the 17 SDGs; conducted thematic reviews; held a discussion on progress in “leaving no one behind;” and convened a High-Level General Debate.

On 18 July, the final day of the HLPF session, the Forum adopted the Ministerial Declaration (document E/HLPF/2018/L.2) via a vote, as 164 Member States voted in favor and two Member States (Israel and US) opposed. Prior to the adoption of the Declaration, the US submitted an amendment to replace the words “mutually beneficial” with “international cooperation,” with 107 Member States voting against the proposal, 50 in favor and three abstentions (Norway, Republic of Moldova, and Seychelles). Member States also rejected a second US-proposed amendment to replace language on the promotion of a “universal, rules-based, open, transparent, predictable, inclusive, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization (WTO)” with language reaffirming that “trade can contribute to the promotion of sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty.” The HLPF also voted to retain two paragraphs relating to: peace and security; and gender equality.

Following the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration, Egypt for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) highlighted the need to end hunger and address food insecurity, and stressed the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respect for the territorial integrity of states. Austria for the EU expressed “deep regret” that the Ministerial Declaration had been subjected to a vote, especially regarding references to human rights, rule of law and justice at all levels. He called for negotiations on the 2019 Ministerial Declaration to begin earlier than they did this year, expressed regret that the declaration lacks adequate references to environmental challenges, while referring to an “outdated” vision of economic growth and industrialization, and noted that references to renewable energy are weak, while there is no call to reform fossil fuel subsidies.

Taking up the issue of ‘leaving no one behind’ during the HLPF, a discussion on 13 July featured keynote speaker Andrew Gilmour, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Gilmour said the world is not on track with the 2030 Agenda as many people are pushed further behind by the forces of globalization, with risks and burdens borne by the poorest and marginalized. Lead discussant Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Committee on Development Policy (CDP), said only 14 VNRs presented detailed action plans to leave no one behind. Participants called for: understanding who is being left behind; ensuring inclusion of disabled, marginalized and vulnerable persons in data collection and disaggregation; and increasing attention to critical linkages across the SDGs, among other areas. Several noted the relationship between access to land, water and energy, and poverty and inequality.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also focused on leaving no one behind in his closing address on 18 July. He recognized progress towards the 2030 Agenda but emphasized that the world has “backtracked” in areas that are fundamental to the principle of leave no one behind. As an illustration, he observed that persistent pockets of poverty remain, the number of undernourished people has increased, gender inequality persists, investment in sustainable infrastructure remains “entirely inadequate,” and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be brought under control. Guterres said he will: launch a strategy to engage young people in SDG implementation; convene a Climate Summit in September 2019 to galvanize greater ambition on climate action; and host a High-level Meeting on Financing the 2030 Agenda in September 2018.

Implementation of the 2030 Agenda was reviewed from a thematic perspective with reviews on: transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies – building resilience; advancing science, technology and innovation (STI) for the SDGs; small island developing States’ (SIDS) perspective; perspectives of least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and middle-income countries (MICs); lessons from the regions on SDG implementation; and perspectives of society. In addition, six SDGs were the subject of “in-depth review”: SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy); SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities); SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production); SDG 15 (life on land); and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals), which is reviewed annually.

At the national level, 46 governments provided snapshots of their 2030 Agenda implementation. Reflecting on the session’s record number of VNR presentations (46), UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President Marie Chatardova noted countries’ progress in incorporating the SDGs into their national development plans. She highlighted several recommendations emerging from the Forum, including: capturing the true value of ecosystems and biodiversity; establishing a “blue fund” to support the design and implementation of transboundary water management; tripling investments in clean and renewable energies; scaling up pilot projects for sustainable consumption and production (SCP); leveraging new technologies while protecting the most vulnerable; and enhancing partnerships at the local, regional and national levels.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin’s (ENB) brief analysis of the Forum, the UN system provides “vision” through the 2030 Agenda, but a critical factor for action is “enabling and empowering regional, national, and local governments and other stakeholders, who shared in the co-authorship of this vision.” The ENB reports that participants highlighted constraints to the HLPF’s role as a platform for discussion, including resources, “power of mandate,” and capacity.

In addition, the ENB highlights a critique of the HLPF’s “fragmented” approach to SDG review, by focusing on a subset of SDGs at each session, rather than on the linkages among them. One observer said that the individual treatment of SDGs in the in-depth review process obscures structural analysis and interlinkages. The thematic reviews, meanwhile, focus on general trends and fail to illuminate underlying causes. The ENB cites the upcoming HLPF review process as having the potential to “fine-tune” the HLPF and make it fit for purpose, and notes that a challenge for the review will be to align all opportunities and make them coherent, including through better aligning ECOSOC and the HLPF.

HLPF 2018 convened under the auspices of ECOSOC from 9-18 July, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. [UN Press Release on HLPF closing] [UN meeting coverage of HLPF closing] [IISD ENB Coverage of HLPF 2018] [IISD ENB HLPF summary] [SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of HLPF 2018]

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