Guest Blog: Building on the energy: reflections on the UN High-Level Political Forum 2017

By Naiara Costa, Together 2030 International Secretariat: Naiara Costa currently leads the International Secretariat of Together 2030. She was the Beyond 2015 Advocacy Director, worked for the UK Mission in New York and has served the United Nations for more than a decade in Brazil. 
Now that the hectic days of July have passed, August is bringing a good ‘quiet’ time for a reflection on the achievements, challenges, limitations, and potential of the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. The HLPF met in New York from July 10 – 19, gathering more than 80 Ministries and an unprecedented number of stakeholders (2458 have registered according to UNDESA). However, is this global structure really delivering on its role of assessing progress and challenges and providing policy recommendations on the 2030 Agenda implementation?
Several colleagues have already shared their perspectives, including the host of this blog, who called for a refocus and reform of the HLPF. Kate Donald, from CESR, criticized, among other things, how the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) looked more like ‘previews’ than ‘reviews’ of commitments implementation. Jordan Street, from Saferworld, proposed to channel civil society frustrations into a collaborative push for a better process in 2018, bringing national civil society actors much more into the picture, whereas Andrew Griffiths, from Sightsavers, flagged the positive impact of organized national civil society in the VNRs process. Finally, the IISD Reporting Services report provides a detailed perspective of the HLPF discussions, and the analysis quoting Daft Punk brings a little bit of innovation to an old-fashioned meeting structure.
Together 2030 members were also very active during the HLPF and prepared a collective ‘Open Letter’ with concrete recommendations to ‘continue deepening and strengthening the HLPF as a process and as a space to review and guide the implementation of the SDGs’. Some of those recommendations are highlighted below. The full letter can be found here.

On Voluntary National Reviews:
  • VNRs are a core component of the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and a critical element of the HLPF Agenda. However, we were very concerned to see that some governments presented reports only on a limited set of SDGs. Member States agreed, as part of the 2030 Agenda, that review of the SDGs should respect “their universal, integrated and interrelated nature and the three dimensions of sustainable development” (para 74). Accordingly, VNRs should reflect on the implementation of all goals and their interlinkages. We are very concerned that the experiences of limited reporting in 2017 could create an unjustified precedent for “cherry-picked” reporting in the following years. To support countries and provide proper guidance Together recommended a further review of the VNR guidelines prepared by UNDESA to reflect this concern.
  • The Together 2030 open letter also highlighted the importance of stakeholder engagement in the VNR process before, during and after the HLPF. VNRs should be viewed as opportunities to build national and sub-national dialogues and mechanisms on implementation in each country and offer a learning space among all stakeholders.
  • Together 2030 called the Member States to express their intention of presenting a VNR by December of the previous year, presenting a clear timeline and procedural details, to facilitate stakeholder engagement at the national, regional and global level. Additionally, a recommendation was made for the ECOSOC President to strongly and consistently encourage countries presenting VNRs to share their final reports, in accessible formats, with national stakeholders, including national Parliaments, well in advance of the HLPF meeting and no later than mid-June.
  • Together 2030 strongly recommended the allocation of additional time for interventions from major groups and other stakeholders during VNR presentations, especially from national CSO platforms and alliances from reporting countries, and proposed the introduction of a segment to the HLPF program where stakeholders are able to reflect and provide feedback on the VNRs presented by their countries and share their own contributions to the SDGs implementation.
  • We also recommended for VNRs to be presented in parallel sessions, in different meeting rooms, allowing more time for deeper analysis and discussions, including with civil society and stakeholders. 

 On Civil Society and Stakeholder Participation at the HLPF
The Together 2030 Open letter recognized the improved environment for civil society participation at the official sessions of the HLPF and proposed a series of recommendations to strengthen participation opportunities, including:
  • For CSOs and stakeholders diversity to be reflected in the various panels organized to assess SDGs implementation and for greater efforts to be made to include children, adolescents, and young people representatives.
  • For the UN Member States and the President of ECOSOC to establish clear and meaningful mechanisms – beyond online platforms - to collect, publicize and analyze reports on the contribution of civil society and stakeholders on and to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at all levels.

A main call from the Together Open letter was for an urgent review and strengthening of the HLPF process and structure, in order to capitalize on the ideas and diversity currently mobilized at the global level. From the 2017 experience, it was clear that the current format and structure of the HLPF is not properly serving this new, ambitious, interlinked and universal Agenda 2030. The energy is still there, as the numbers of participants and VNR countries show, and proposals and recommendations are already being shared on how to make the HLPF relevant for the global follow up and review of the SDGs. The newly Elected ECOSOC President should use the 2018 HLPF as laboratory to test different approaches, formats and ways of engagement in order to bring additional options for the HLPF structure review, planned for 2019.


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