Sixth Forum of countries of LAC on Sustainable Development: A space that needs to grow

May 16, 2023
Javier Surasky
Director of Research

The Sixth Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Forum on Sustainable Development—the main space for dialogue and promotion of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the regional level—was held from April 25 to 28 in Santiago, Chile. The meeting marked the return of face-to-face events after its 2020 suspension due to COVID-19. The event pointed out the highs and lows of the region’s progress in achieving the established goals and highlighted the need to revitalize and strengthen this space in future editions to accelerate SDG implementation. 

One of the things that stood out from the beginning is that for the first time since 2017—the year the first session was held—the regional forum did not have its own working motto. Instead, the one established for the high-level political forum (HLPF)—the main arena for discussing and monitoring global progress on SDGs—was used: “Accelerate recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and fully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels.” 

As such, this was the first regional sustainable development forum to dedicate a session to each of the goals to be reviewed in depth in the 2023 HLPF: SDG 6. Clean water and sanitation; SDG 7. Affordable and clean energy; SDG 9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure; SDG 11. Sustainable cities and communities; and SDG  17. Partnerships for the goals.

In addition, this year’s meeting strongly emphasized local processes, which allowed cities and regions to be key players in the discussions. As the days went by, this topic became one of the forum’s central themes, as there is a clear need to promote territorialization regarding SDG implementation and monitoring. 

However, there is still a disconnect between the regional and the global. The forum neglected processes that will impact the region.  There was little debate on what the upcoming September SDG Summit will include and even less on the Future Summit’s process, which will include a ministerial preparatory session this year, with heads of state and government slated to meet in 2024. Furthermore, there was almost absolute silence around the Global Sustainable Development Report—created every four years by a group of scientists selected by the United Nations Secretary-General to bring their contributions to international debates. 

During the meeting, two regionally relevant documents were presented:

  • ECLAC’s Annual Progress Report and Regional Challenges of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, entitled “Halfway to 2030 in Latin America and the Caribbean: Progress and recommendations for acceleration.” This document analyzes both the current regional context and the progress made in implementing and monitoring the SDGs in each country at the subregional (a new feature introduced this year) and regional levels. The results are neither encouraging nor unexpected; the region is lagging behind in progress for 75% of the targets. Even worse, 27% of the targets show setbacks compared to figures from 2015. The region’s growth forecast is not optimistic either; it is estimated that the annual average for the current decade will be 0.8-0.9%—half of the growth recorded in the 1980s, which is known as “the lost decade for development in Latin America and the Caribbean.” However, there is some good news; the governance strategies—established by each country for the national implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda—show a trend toward greater openness to non-governmental stakeholders’ participation.
  • The report on the “Contribution of the United Nations System to sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean.” This document highlights the launch of the “Regional Collaboration Platform 2.0,” which will unite all UN entities with a regional presence in organizing their work through four issue-based coalitions (climate change and resilience; equitable growth and financing for development; governance for peace, justice, and strong institutions; human mobility), three thematic working groups (gender and women empowerment; populations left behind; youth), and seven operational and planning groups. The latter include groups for SDG data and statistics, peer support, knowledge management, partnerships, communication, and evaluation.

The Forum also provided an in-person meeting space for ECLAC’s Community of Practice on Voluntary National Reviews, whose main mission is to promote lessons learned in preparing these reports and to support countries that decide to submit their reports to the HLPF each year. For example, in 2023, the Latin American and Caribbean countries set to participate in this exercise are Barbados, Chile, Guyana, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Venezuela was also on the list of countries that had offered to report this year, but it withdrew its offer at the end of March.

As has been the case for years, most forum participants were civil society representatives. Originally conceived as a mechanism that could work at the ministerial level, the forum has not yet succeeded in attracting the attention of the highest levels of State officials. In fact, ministers were almost completely absent, and not even a single prime minister was present.  Moreover, representatives from the private sector and academia were scarce among the nearly 800 event participants (out of 1,500 who registered).

Therefore, Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Forum on Sustainable Development must be revitalized and made more attractive to States and other stakeholders, given that the strength and contributions of regional forums are linked to the success in accelerating SDG implementation.

Cepei’s participation

Cepei has presented a document with concrete suggestions for creating “regional forums for the sustainable development we need.” For the first time this year, the mechanism that manages civil society’s participation in the forum decided to adopt our proposal as follows: Countries planning to present their voluntary national reviews to the HLPF must bring their “key messages” documents—which must be submitted to the UN beforehand—and explain how those documents were prepared. If this is achieved, it will make the regional meeting much more appealing.

Our activities during the Forum included the following:

  • We participated in the Community of Practice meeting, presenting the governance indicators for the 2030 Agenda and the quality indicators for the voluntary national reviews.
  • We held a meeting with resident coordinators and the regional director of the United Nations Development Cooperation Office (DCO), who presented the regional adaptation of the “17 Rooms” methodology for results-oriented multi-stakeholder work.
  • Additionally, we co-organized—together with partners from the Coalition for the United Nations We Need (C4UN)—the one and only side event. The SDG Summit process and the Future Summit were discussed as central themes.
  • We participated as panelists in activities organized by the civil society participation mechanism that focused on strengthening the regional forum. We also participated in an event organized by Chilean civil society that presented the results of their country’s governance indicators and voluntary national reviews.
  • We also produced short daily summary videos for the three days, highlighting the most important parts of the forum sessions, which we then shared on our social media networks.

We remain committed to the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean and will continue to provide analyses, data, and innovative tools to decision-makers on issues related to sustainable development to contribute to its acceleration. Given the scale of the challenges ahead, we maintain that regional work is key; therefore, a more robust and efficient forum on sustainable development for Latin America and the Caribbean is possible and necessary.

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