First week of the High-Level Political Forum 2020

July 15, 2020

Javier Surasky
Program Officer Governance and Financing for Sustainable Development

On Tuesday, July 7, at 9:00 AM, the ECOSOC President Mona Juul opened a new session of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2020 (HLPF), the “Global house” of the SDGs. Her speech illustrated the meaning of the works that were about to begin:

This year, HLPF must maintain the momentum achieved during the SDG Summit last September. And create a new dynamic to overcome the negative impacts of the pandemic. Guided by the values enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the framework for financing sustainable development in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

The HLPF 2020 is the first global event that aims to gather national, regional and global sustainable development strategies to face COVID-19 and its effects.

This year, discussions were organized around the main points outlined in the Global Sustainable Development Report, published in 2019 by an Independent Group of Experts representing a variety of backgrounds, scientific disciplines and academic institutions, appointed in 2016 by the former Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Therefore, the events carried out during the first week of the HLPF promoted multi-stakeholder dialogues on the Decade of Action, focusing on the SDGs to combat COVID-19. Discussions on the post-COVID world reconstruction were geared towards generating a greater impact on the SDGs: Promoting human well-being, ending poverty, ending hunger and food security, responding to shocks, and relaunching the economy, protecting the planet and building resilience, clean energy and, of course, pandemic control measures.

There were also official sessions around the whole-of-society approach, on the particular situation of Small Island Developing States, and on the principle of leaving no one behind, that has become the “official marketing” strategy of the 2030 Agenda, among others.

During this first week, UN representatives, civil society and other sustainable development actors organized more than 20 side-events on related topics.

Photo: IISD Reporting Services, Kiara Worth, 2020 

On Friday, July 10, we had the first set of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presentations that will take place during this year´s Forum (46 in total). Among the first five reporting countries which presented their reports through pre-recorded videos, were two of Latin America and the Caribbean: Ecuador and Honduras. In both cases, these were second reports presentations. Next week the turn will be for Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. These last three have not make their reports public yet.

Although it is early for a definitive opinion, the pre-recorded presentation modality has shown to be an obstacle to debate about the reports contents, one of the essential functions of the HLPF.

Personally, taking into account that I have followed up all the HLPF meetings since 2016, and that I recognize the UN efforts to organize a global forum through virtual platforms, I have the feeling that the States have failed to meet the expectations that the moment requires.

Most of the presentations during the working sessions can be summarized as follows: “Our country, despite significant challenges and restrictions, was taking determined steps and making progress towards the SDGs when the pandemic started. Now we don’t know what will happen and we foresee possible setbacks”. Definitely, these statements suggest that the world was advancing towards achieving the 2030 Agenda when COVID-19 broke, which is not true: There were some advances, this is true, but not there were fewer stagnation situations or even regressions on the road to the SDGs. Before the pandemic, the world was far from the path to achieve the commitments made in the 2030 Agenda.

These statements mean that we are not progressing on specific and operational content to advance on two elements that need urgent concretion: the “Decade for Action to delivery the SDGs”, launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2019, and the  medium and long term strategy “Build Back Better” to face the consequences of COVID-19. It is essential that the HLPF can take concrete steps in the production of critical and operational content for each of these two strategies.

Some final observations of what happened this first week, explained by the limitations of virtual work, are:

A significant number of people managed to connected to the different events (however, we don’t have official data yet).

The limited spaces available to participate in side-events, including those on the official HLPF agenda, have been mainly granted to United Nations agencies, funds and programs which has limited the participation of other actors.

All official working sessions have been broadcast only in English (even if the speaker uses another language, the audio in English overlaps), which has meant “leaving behind” civil society organizations and individuals that don’t speak that language. This is particularly serious in the case of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), given that citizens from countries like Ecuador and Honduras have not been able to listen to their governments in their language, despite the fact that the presentations were made in Spanish, affecting the accountability that is part of these exercises.

Despite the challenge, the broadcasts and virtual discussion rooms have worked well, have been accessible and have not experienced major difficulties. However, inequality in the quality of internet access has been exposed: Some  countries have had difficulties keeping quality connections during their presentations.

The second week of the HLPF, which focuses on Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presentations, marks the final stage of the Forum. Cepei will continue to follow-up, gathering the elements to carry out our analyzes of the Latin America and the Caribbean national reports, available at the “Governance for Sustainable Development” section of our website.

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