Guest blog: TO A DIFFERENT KIND OF HLPF – from a Youthful Soul

Youth with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Change Summit, Luis Alfonso de Alba 
Maria Auma is from Uganda and runs BLI Global that focuses on fundraising into development projects. She is an active YOUNGO BLT member and IUCN CEC member. You can meet her at the upcoming SG summit with a salted caramel mocha in tow. 
The High Level Political Forum known publicly as HLPF is one of those UN sessions that you have to attend to appreciate. With the hundreds of side events spewing out your ears, you cannot fail to find one way or other to have your days and evenings fully occupied.
I suppose like every other event, it always pays to be prepared. So knowing beforehand (and here I mean, before you travel to NYC), which events and sessions will be most beneficial to you will help make your time at the UN more worthwhile, and avoid that sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are generally done.
A friend once told me that the UN system is designed to be bureaucratic for a reason. I feel that in a way (and perhaps as a young person coming of age), we need to rethink about what this means for sustainable development and whether the status quo needs to change. We owe it to future generations, especially since some of the issues we are working to curb are now emergencies and not just a thing one talks about over a couple drinks in a bar and forgets about the next day. It is the kind of thing that when you talk about it on a rainy day, chances of you literally being swept off your dining table by a flash flood are not too uncommon.
Youth with Ms. Carolina Schmidt, Minister of the Environment in Chile, to serve as the President of COP 25.
But back to the crux of the matter. Being my first time at the HLPF (but not the first at a UN international event) I really came into it with an open heart and an open mind. Our team was more intent on understanding how countries report their VNRs and how we could incorporate policy into some of our country level projects. I do understand that for some people it can be very confusing, trying to navigate through side events and high level segments. What worked best for me was maintaining a balance between the two. Meeting one of the brains behind the HLPF helped give some insight to the process, and in fact shared some of my radical youth views herein displayed.
Perhaps, what really took me a little aback was the way in which we were all so hell bent (myself included) on “showcasing” our performances and running to the next bilateral or side event, but rarely took time to sit and reflect on what this means to the folks we represent, whether it is a constituency, or simply your organization. Are we really making an impact with our engagements, are we choosing our time wisely, are we keeping their opinions at the front and center of our interactions? Because most often than not, we get so caught up with the “thrill of it all” that we fail to see the apparent disconnect to communities that deal with the real impacts of social injustices like poverty, inequality and climate change.
I for one was part of co-moderating bilaterals with young people and other stakeholders, drafting statements and facilitating high level sessions, and as much as I am grateful for the numerous opportunities (being an African female), looking back, I would do it differently. And I think, objectively, that we all need to give more substantively towards the HLPF, than simply biding our time. For example, instead of scrambling for speaking slots, a better alternative would be to accord equal opportunities to everyone in your constituency (something children and youth have a good grasp of). Instead of focusing on the beautification of VNR reports, or the technicalities of coalitions in the climate space, how about a little storytelling and reflection exercise? And maybe (and this is of course a contentious issue), instead of talking about the need to curb plastic pollution to save our oceans, but still hosting dinners and lunches that serve out of plastic cups, we take the initiative to ban plastics completely at the UN.
I also truly believe that the HLPF should not be a place where politicking shapes the nature of engagements, instigated by competitiveness among leaders, but a place that unites everyone irrespective of country or demographics, to work towards achievement of the SDGs. It should be a place where we learn from each other and where stakeholders are treated with an equal footing, trusting that their views will be respected and acknowledged. Because we only have 10 years, if that, to make things right, and if we spend lots of energy picking the wrong fights, we are truly headed for chaos. And for this I do thank the Women’s Major Group that stood in solidarity with all major groups that showcased demonstrations during the HLPF, showing us that we can fight the world’s emergencies better together.
Perhaps, we should have more side events that delve into identifying and strengthening the connections between the elite group of delegates that represent whole constituents and those that cannot afford to be there yet are entrusting us to be their steadfast voice. And yes, the HLPF is not a place for negotiating text, but it can be a place where stakeholders choose to pursue collaborations and dialogues that will overtime change policy, change lives and eventually change the world.


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