The 2021 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) has concluded, and the international community is beginning to look ahead to upcoming milestone events. On the last day of the HLPF ministers adopted a declaration that reflects a conservative level of political will. However, discussions throughout the eight-day session sent strong messages of commitment, urgency, and confidence in available solutions.
During the first week of the 2021 HLPF (6-9 July), governments and stakeholders discussed global progress towards nine of the 17 SDGs and how to accelerate their achievement by 2030.
The second week of the HLPF (12-15 July) opened with a panel on the need to scale up public and private financing to achieve the 2030 Agenda. As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin notes, lack of fiscal space and the risk of sovereign debt distress have emerged as key stumbling blocks to achieving the 2030 Agenda in many countries.
The second week also featured the presentation of voluntary national reviews (VNRs) from 42 countries. Introducing the VNR sessions, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed highlighted how VNRs have increased transparency while strengthening institutions and ministerial cooperation. The presenting countries included ten first-timers, 24 second-timers, and ten third-timers. Messages from the VNR presentations underscored that governments “have not given up” on the SDGs even amid the setbacks to every country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many said the 2030 Agenda is serving as their guide to recovery. The 2021 HLPF also revealed growing support for voluntary local reviews (VLRs).
On 13 July, the HLPF ministerial segment began. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told participants that the HLPF is intended to assess progress, but “rather than progress we are moving away from our goals.” The ENB reports that youth delegates made powerful interventions during the opening, “seamlessly inserting the voice of the future into a major global forum,” and sending a clear signal that youth are changemakers.
According to the brief analysis of the 2021 HLPF session by the ENB, participants paid particular attention to three issues:
- Pandemic recovery, with many participants from civil society and the Global South stressing the overarching priority of “vaccine equity,” and many calling for increased social protections and universal health coverage;
- The digital divide, particularly with regard to education, as only those with internet access were able to continue their schooling during pandemic-related school closures. Speakers said many students, particularly girls, may never return to school, contributing to a surge in child marriage and an increase in child labor; and
- Financial reform to advance recovery. Small island developing States (SIDS), in particular, stressed the need for a multidimensional vulnerability index that would more adequately reflect their situation than the traditional GDP measure, and enable them to receive concessionary loans. Speakers welcomed the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) announcement of a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights, but warned of an increasing debt burden for many countries and called for reforming the international financing architecture.
The ENB also suggests that, based on the 2021 HLPF’s panel discussions and VNRs, governments, international organizations, local authorities, civil society, and the private sector “know what needs to be done” to emerge from the interlocking crises we now face. Such actions include reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combatting climate change, including by phasing out coal production, increasing the use of renewable energy, and becoming energy self-sufficient; and debt relief, boosting liquidity, social, green and sustainability bonds, South-South cooperation, and scaling up private sector funding.
However, political momentum may still be lacking to translate the knowledge and available solutions into action. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Forum took up the draft Ministerial Declaration and adopted it through a vote.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said pandemic recovery policies can be the foundation to achieving the SDGs, and expressed hope that decisions at upcoming summits would “get us back on track.” The ENB analysis provides a grain of hope, arguing that the pandemic has provided stronger evidence for the need for equity and equality, which should give the SDGs more gravitas than ever before. [ENB meeting coverage 12 July] [ENB meeting coverage 13 July] [ENB meeting coverage 14 July] [ENB coverage 15 July, summary and analysis of 2021 session]