The 2021 Arab Forum on Sustainable Development, at a Glance

The 2021 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development, hosted by the UN Social and Economic Commission for Western Africa (ESCWA or UNESCWA) was part of the road towards the 2021 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), in which five Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia) will submit their second or subsequent Voluntary National Review (VNR) reports

The Arab Forum is the leading regional mechanism for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda implementation in the 22 UN Arab Group countries. The Forum began its activities in 2014, before the Sustainable Development Goals adoption, under the designation of the “Arab High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development,” primarily oriented to fulfill the commitments adopted at the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development. After adopting the 2030 Agenda, it was formalized as the region gathered to work in the SDGs implementation and follow-up at the regional level, renaming itself in 2016 as “Arab Forum on Sustainable Development.”

It is important to note that even if ESCWA hosts this forum, all Arab Countries participate, including Comoros and Djibouti. These two Arab states are not ESCWA members. One of the core inputs to the discussions is the annual Arab States Sustainable Development Report, published by this regional commission, which includes information of all the countries mentioned earlier, including Comoros and Djibouti

This year’s meeting comes following the postponement of its 2020 session due to COVID-19. Its central theme was Accelerating Progress on the 2030 Agenda post-COVID. One of the main results of this year’s meeting was verifying the region’s insufficient level of progress towards meeting the SDGs by 2030. Its timeline lag is concerning in comparison to other regions. Poverty and inequality were increasing even before the pandemic hit Arab societies.

The 2021 Forum tried to find ways to reverse that picture, which explains the prominent role played by youth, one of the most valuable regional engines for change, and the centrality of the debates linked to the Decade of Action. Data and financing gaps were identified as solid barriers to accelerate the development in Arab countries. Finally, and in order to promote innovative solutions to current data restrictions, the Forum launched an ESCWA Digital Arabic Content Award for Sustainable Development.

The Forum was also the framework of the first Regional Collaborative Platform (RCP) meeting, a mechanism created as part of the ongoing UN Development System reform at the regional level, backed by the UN Secretary-General. The mission of the RCP  is to boost UN institutions working in regional countries in a coherent, effective and efficient way.