Javier Surasky, Ph.D.
What are the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development?
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sometimes means facing problems that transcend borders, so it is essential that the countries of a region are able to articulate joint responses and support each other. This is the objective of the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development. They are of great importance today because, as Cepei’s analyses show, the future of sustainable development is linked to the future of the Regional Forums: without strengthening the latter, it will not be possible to move towards the former in a comprehensive and sustained manner over time.
The Regional Forums on Sustainable Development were born as a decision of the UN member states to find regional environments to lead the debates on the SDGs. Currently, these are spaces organized by each of the UN regions (Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and Arab countries), which allow, among other things, exchanges between States and non-governmental actors facing similar problems and sharing geographies.
Along with seeking to accelerate the SDGs, one of the most important missions of the Regional Forums is to connect and coordinate the work being done at the national and global levels. As they are spaces that lie between the two, the regional forums act as channels for systematizing and circulating information from the countries to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) and vice versa.
In addition to the Regional Forums, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was defined at the global level, where countries share lessons, are accountable for their actions to promote the SDGs and agree on common policy lines that should guide the stipulations of the UN member states. Both were established by the latter after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, which defined an implementation and monitoring scheme at the global, regional and national (including subnational) levels for the SDGs.
The potential of the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development has not been sufficiently exploited. Their capacity to strengthen the work between States in the same region, systematize regional learning and provide inputs for global discussions has not been fully developed. The consequence is a loss of opportunities.
Currently, pressure on multilateral institutions has increased due to multiple crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of the war in Ukraine and its implications for security and access to food and energy. It is therefore necessary to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the work to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs and other commitments included in the 2030 Agenda, such as leaving no one behind and creating enabling environments for the participation of all stakeholders.
With this context in mind, Cepei conducted an analysis on the future of the Regional Forums and how to increase their contributions to sustainable development, with emphasis on:
- The strengthening of Regional Forums on Sustainable Development as scenarios to promote transparency in the progress of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the UN regional reform.
- The participation of different stakeholders in the Regional Forums.
- The support that the forums can offer to cities in the preparation of their Voluntary Local Reports (VLRs), which are the follow-up mechanism for the 2030 Agenda at the territorial level.
- The need for a systematization mechanism that allows the forums to publicize their main achievements and contributions to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
- The possibility of moving towards an interregional line of work that integrates the debates and results of the different Regional Forums.
- The urgency of making the contributions of the forums to the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda more visible.
The work carried out by Cepei, with the support of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Foundation, showed that there is plenty of room for improving the results of the Regional Forums in at least three areas:
- Support to states conducting voluntary national reports (VNRs).
- Interaction between the follow-up and review levels of the 2030 Agenda, taking advantage of regional opportunities created by the current reform to the UN Development System, such as building regional collaborative platforms, thematic-based coalitions for action, and establishing regional knowledge hubs.
- Maintain the ambition of the 2030 Agenda, updating and adapting its contents to each region and integrating global agendas into regional debates on sustainable development.
To foster these changes, Cepei made a series of concrete and immediately applicable recommendations aimed at improving the working capacity of the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development and its interactions with other levels. These are grouped into five key areas:
- Closer articulation between the Regional Forums and the multiple global agendas that impact sustainable development.
- Connecting the different Regional Forums with each other.
- Increasing the links between the Regional Forums and other regional bodies.
- Strengthen the work of the Regional Forums in support of national and subnational follow-up to the 2030 Agenda.
- COVID-19, UN reform and the work of the Regional Forums.
In response to the “breakdown or breakthrough” option presented by UN Secretary General Antonio Gutérres, the Cepei report “How do regional sustainable development forums contribute to the SDGs?” argues that the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development are called upon to “step up to keep the level of ambition of the 2030 Agenda high, and become a fundamental pillar in the acceleration of the SDGs.”
Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional (Cepei). (2022). How are the Regionals Forums on Sustainable Development contrubuting to the SDGs https://cepei.org/en/documents/regionals-forums-sustainable-development-contrubuting-sdgs/
United Nations (UN). (2021). Our common Agenda https://www.un.org/en/content/common-agenda-report/