TWN Info Service on Finance and Development (Aug16/02)
11 August 2016
Third World Network

High-Level Political Forum on the 2030 Agenda and SDGs
(Part 1)

Member States adopt Ministerial Declaration and discuss follow-up and review processes

A report by Bhumika Muchhala (Third World Network)

Lack of content on Means of Implementation and accountability, while technology, capacity building and some principles are highlighted

The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the central platform at the United Nations New York headquarters for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda on the Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals met on 11 to 20 July 2016.

It included a three-day ministerial segment, preceded by five days of roundtables where panelists and Member States spoke on the various economic, social and environmental themes of sustainable development.

The Forum, which adopted a Ministerial Declaration and included the voluntary reviews of 22 countries, has been established to play a central role in overseeing a network of follow-up and review processes of the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), spur coherent policies informed by evidence, science and country experiences, as well as address new and emerging issues.

It will share experiences and best practices, promote system-wide coherence and coordination of sustainable development policies taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting each country’s policy space.

This year’s Forum session was preceded by several weeks of informal discussions by Member States in the Second Committee of the UN in New York. The Forum is supported by reviews of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) functional commissions and other inter-governmental bodies and forums.

The 22 countries that presented national reviews were: China, Colombia, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Madagascar, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, Uganda and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of).  Their reports are accessible at:

The ministerial declaration of 23 paragraphs encapsulates the themes of “Ensuring that no one is left behind,” and “Implementing the post-2015 development agenda: moving from commitments to results.” The first paragraph in the Ministerial Declaration reaffirms all the principles recognized in the sustainable development agenda, and highlights poverty eradication as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. The third paragraph takes note of revitalizing and enhancing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, increasing system-wide coherence and integration across the UN agencies and commissions, addressing existing and emerging challenges, enhancing national capacities for evidence-based and data-driven decision-making and facilitating participatory, cooperative and enabling environments at all levels.

A palpable absence in the declaration is the meaningful incorporation of accountability mechanisms in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda on SDGs. Paragraph 15 highlights the central role of national governments and the importance of participation and inclusion from parliaments, subnational governments and other stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, academia and philanthropic organizations. The singular mention of accountability is that the participation of these stakeholders “supports accountability to our citizens and enhances the effectiveness of our action …”

The absence of accountability is a complex issue in the UN. It reflects the lack of trust among developing countries to agree on global accountability mechanisms after many adverse experiences on disproportionate and unfair accountability requirements imposed on developing countries in the context of trade and climate change negotiations. The SDGs are universal and for the first time the accountability of developed countries with regard to their commitments (including legally binding Means of Implementation commitments in the climate change, biodiversity and desertification treaties) could have been pinned down. However, it is also a result of the lack of political will among all Member States as a whole, particularly within the non-binding context of UN conferences and their outcomes.

As a result, the emphasis is entirely on “voluntary” national reviews, efforts and initiatives. Paragraph 17 commends the 22 countries on the presentation of voluntary national reviews, welcomes voluntary reviews at the regional and global levels and upholds the integration of Agenda 2030 into their national development strategies and plans. Guidance and methodologies to address interlinkages among the SDGs, that may be proposed by UN agencies, are nuanced as voluntary. Other countries are encouraged to volunteer their national reviews in the coming years.

The meaningful address of Goal 17 on Means of Implementation (MoI) was also missing in action, as civil society networks and the Major Groups repeatedly pointed out during the 8 days of HLPF proceedings. The Ministerial Declaration only mentions it in paragraph 13 in reference to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) serving as a supporting tool for MoI.

The declaration includes due mention of the full range of themes and issues covered in the SDGs. This includes: inclusive economic growth, environmental protection, social inclusion, gender equality, women’s and girl’s empowerment, inequality between and within countries, reforms towards an equitable global economic system, human rights including the right to development, enabling decent work and productive livelihoods for all, universal access to healthcare, social protection and quality education at all levels, peaceful, inclusive and just societies, effective rule of law and good governance, safe drinking water and sanitation, food security, sustainable agriculture and so on.

Factors which give rise to violence, insecurity and injustice, such as inequality, corruption, poor governance and illicit financial and arms flows are highlighted. The provision of MoI is affirmed, “particularly as outlined under Goal 17 and under each SDG supported by the concrete policies and actions outlined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, which is an integral part of the 2030 Agenda.”

Operationalizing the three components of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, science, technology and innovation, is emphasized. The inaugural multi stakeholder forum on the SDGs, which took place in June 2016, is also highlighted for the facilitation of the development, transfer and dissemination of relevant technologies for the Goals.

The Declaration also includes the important role that regional and subregional forums can have in supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including by promoting peer learning and cooperation, including South-South and triangular cooperation as appropriate, and helping to link the national and global levels of implementation.

The most vulnerable countries, such as African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States, countries in conflict and post-conflict situations and many middle-income countries are highlighted as needing special attention. Support is reaffirmed for the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries 2011-2020, the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA Pathway) and the Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries 2014-2024 and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Proposals of developing countries show nature of compromise in HLPF discussions

The Group of 77 (G77) and China, represented by the Ambassador of Thailand, Virachai Plasai, delivered a statement reflecting developing countries’ key positions and issues.

The one issue that has historically stalled Member State discussions is the G77’s call for“removing the obstacles to the full realization of the right of self-determination of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation,” and for “further effective measures and actions to be taken, in conformity with international law.” The G77 stressed that this is a vital part of ensuring the central theme of Agenda 2030, that of “no one will be left behind.” After weeks of deliberation where developed countries refused to consider this language, it was finally included in the concluding lines of paragraph 7 of the HLPF Ministerial Declaration with the support of the HLPF Co-Facilitators (Ambassadors of Belize and Denmark).

The G77 also called for the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) to be reflected in the text of the HLPF Ministerial Declaration. However, this did not succeed, despite the argument that the universality of the 2030 Agenda applying to all countries can only function equitably if CBDR is integrated into the universality. In other words, universality does not work without differentiation. Another key argument is that if the original context of CBDR in the 1992 Rio Principles applies to the environment and ecology related policy, it should be mainstreamed into the SDGs given that that the environmental dimension is indivisible from and interdependent on the economic and social dimensions.

On national sovereignty, the G77 asked for the following language, “We also reaffirm that every State has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activity.” While this language was also denied, the second paragraph of the Ministerial Declaration mentions the importance of “taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting each country’s policy space, and to be implemented consistent with the sovereign rights and obligations of States under international law and with the Charter of the United Nations.”

While CBDR is excluded, policy space, another historically contentious principle for developed countries, is included. And while “full permanent sovereignty” over national “wealth, natural resources and economic activity” is not mentioned, the sovereign rights and obligations of States under international law and the UN Charter are mentioned. These compromises demonstrate the ways in which the implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda will be shaped.

It must also be noted that the mere mention of the two words, “policy space,” is not quite enough. Developing countries in the G77 proposed language to “eliminate obstacles to development, including through the elimination of coercive economic, financial or trade measures against developing countries” as essential to the achievement of the SDGs, but this was not welcomed.

The phrase“obstacles to development” resonates with the central concern of many civil society organizations that have persistently advocated that the structural obstacles to development in trade, economic and financial policy must be addressed in order for national implementation in developing countries to fully function.

The Declaration includes the long-standing G77 language on technology transfer in the context of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the multi stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation.  However, clarifying language that technology should be made available on “favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms as mutually agreed,” which would address patents and other intellectual property that restrict access to technology, is not included.

While the Declaration emphasizes access to justice, quality education, safe and sustainable transportation and energy, paragraph 12 only mentions that infrastructure should be safe, accessible and people-centered. The G77 made a push for language that specified that infrastructure development should focus on “affordable and equitable access for all.”

While the G77 recalled the commitment from the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the FfD conference in July 2015 for enhanced support, including financial and capacity building, the Declaration refers to the FfD outcome document in paragraph 13 as a supporting tool for Goal 17 on MoI in the 2030 Agenda. During the weeks of informal discussions preceding the HLPF, developing countries asserted that Goal 17 must be discussed annually, particularly since some targets require global concerted action. This is not reflected in the Ministerial Declaration.

The vague and weak emphasis on MoI throughout Member State discussions and the Ministerial Declaration demonstrates the unwillingness of many developed countries to address MoI in a specific, deliberate and strong manner.

With regard to economic growth, the words inclusive and sustainable have now become the status quo. However, further mention of developing broader measures of progress to complement Gross Domestic Product, which developing countries called for during the informal discussions, failed to receive airplay.

Many in civil society and UN agencies were concerned at the voluntary nature of reviews of the 2030 Agenda at both regional and global levels. While the stress on voluntary reviews has been incorporated into the Ministerial Declaration, global civil society continually alerts Member States to ensure that national and sub-national reviews are carried out with the full and meaningful participation of civil society and social movements, and that civil society representatives at HLPF and similar forums both in New York and regionally are provided the opportunity to speak after the national representative speaks on the national reviews.

Informal Member State discussions also recognized that the entire UN system, including the UN Secretariat, will have to be restructured for the genuine implementation of the 2030 Agenda. All Member States more or less agreed that it will be important to strengthen support to the UN system, which will require intensive effort for existing mechanisms and significantly scaled up access by the UN system to financial, technical and programmatic resources to support Member States.

At a separate meeting during the High Level Political Forum the G77 noted some of the specific gaps that remain in financing for development. Concern was expressed that rich countries are failing to meet their commitments to deliver Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries.
A new report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) during the UNCTAD-14 conference held in Nairobi in July revealed that the gap or shortfall between pledged and delivered ODA since 2002 is equivalent to just over US $2 trillion. The ODA gap in 2014 alone amounted to more than US $192 million.

The narrative on the central 2030 Agenda theme of “leaving no one behind” includes varying emphases. Many UN agencies and civil society organizations highlight groups of people in society, such as women, the extreme poor in society, indigenous peoples, the disabled and so on. Collecting separate data about how these groups fare is considered one way for governments to help achieve SDG Goal 10 on decreasing inequality within and between countries.

Meanwhile, developing countries highlight countries in special circumstances, in particular African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, as well as countries in conflict and post-conflict situations. The G77 also notes that while the world’s poorest and most fragile countries have specific challenges, many middle income countries also have challenges too, as they have the largest number of people living in poverty. +