COVID-19 | The importance of the UN HLPF meeting in times of the pandemic

June 16, 2020

Javier Surasky

June 16th, 2020 

Occasionally presented as the center of the global monitoring and review process for the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is also in quarantine.

Established as a result of the Summit on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (Rio + 20), the adoption of the 2030 Agenda gave this annual meeting forum a leading role in the task of promoting joint learning, sharing experiences and provide policy guidance to the implementation of the SDGs worldwide. It is also where countries present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on the implementation process of the global sustainable development agenda.

Resolution 67/290 had established in 2013 that the HLPF would meet annually at ministerial level under the ECOSOC, and an SDGs Summit would take place under the auspices of the UN General Assembly once every four years. Given that 2016 was the year in which the first meeting of this forum was held, its first summit was celebrated on 2019. During that period, the HLPF gained in participation and relevance, and became a stage in which innovations such as the unplanned presentations of Local Voluntary Reviews drafted by cities to inform their own efforts to implement the Agenda took place. The participation of multiple stakeholders in its official sessions and multiple side events both in and around the United Nations building in New York were regular.

Of course, the Forum faced difficulties in accomplishing its task. We can point out, for example, the fact that each ministerial session ends with the adoption of a ministerial declaration that was expected to be adopted by consensus, which has never been possible; Its approval must be made by vote.

The 2019 HLPF Summit adopted a political declaration, highlighting the call to turn the 2020-2030 decade into a “Decade for Action and Delivery” in the field of sustainable development. The idea was to accelerate and strengthen progress towards the SDGs. That, added to the more than 50 countries that had originally volunteered to present their VNRs and the possibility of discussing changes in the functioning of the Forum to make it more effective, suggested that its 2020 session would be crucial. And then COVID-19 appeared. The United Nations closed its doors, the massive events were suspended one after the other, the airports were shut down. It was soon clear that the HLPF could not meet in July as planned.

Due to this, the decision was to keep the process running and carry out the meeting in the way that the context allowed: almost all the regional preparatory meetings had to be suspended. Finally, the option to move the entire HLPF into virtual sessions was the most feasible. The 2020 Forum will therefore be the first UN official global forum to be held entirely on the internet.

Organizational problems have been and are enormous, and we may only know the extent of their success once the meeting is over. The willingness to hold the Forum is, however, a good sign: the countries that will present their VNRs this year were given the possibility to “withdraw”, and the response was practically unanimous: they are keeping up to their commitment to present. 

The negotiations of the Forum program and the draft of its ministerial declaration were carried out virtually, and today we have a working program, still subject to possible adjustments, and a “zero draft” of the final declaration. Multiple stakeholders will join the HLPF virtual meeting platform and all interested parties will be able to follow its sessions live through the UN Web TV site.

As a result, and despite the pandemic and associated restrictions, the HLPF will meet from July 7 to 14 under the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”. Discussions will be based on the proposals made by the Independent Group of 15 scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General in his Global Report on Sustainable Development entitled “The future is now: science for achieving sustainable development”, published in 2019, which proposes 6 entry points to promote sustainable development, crossed by four axes / levers that, when combined, expand its possible achievements.

Source: Global Sustainable Development Report, 2019

47 countries will present their VNRs, including 9 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago will present their progress for the first time; Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama and Peru will do it for the second time. All of them have been asked to include in their reports and in their presentations, references to how the implementation of the 2030 Agenda will be incorporated into their post-pandemic reconstruction policy plans and strategies. Except for Trinidad and Tobago, the other countries have already submitted their Main Messages documents, where they summarize the main points of their VNRs.

Despite the obstacles that the HLPF 2020 is facing, it will be a great opportunity to understand how countries establish bridges between the increased needs and challenges that will mark the post-pandemic world and their commitment to progress towards sustainable development; Integrating social, economic and environmental variables, based on the full respect for human rights and leaving no one behind.

Just like every year since 2016, Cepei will be live-monitoring in our website and social media networks (Facebook and Twitter), the main events of the HLPF 2020. We will also be sharing our analyzes of the reports that the Latin America and the Caribbean countries will present.

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