HLPF 2023: The Promise is in Peril

Paul Rahmat SVD

The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convened the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) from July 10-19, 2023. The HLPF serves as a central platform for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all UN Member States adopted in 2015.

The 2023 HLPF highlighted the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”. It conducted an in-depth review of SDGs focusing on clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), and partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17).

As part of the HLPF program, 38 countries and the European Union presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNR). It aims to facilitate sharing experiences, including successes, challenges, and lessons learned, to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The VNRs also seek to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The promise is in peril

Leaving no one behind is a shared promise countries have made since adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As they launched the SDGs in 2015, the state leaders were committed to working together to secure the rights and well-being of everyone on a healthy, thriving planet. “But halfway to 2030, that promise is in peril,” says the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in his special edition report for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2023.

The report entitled “Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet” shows sobering facts. Most of the SDGs are off track. Only 12% of the SDGs targets are on track. Nearly 50% of the targets are moderately or severely off-track. About 30% have either stagnated or even regressed below the 2015 baseline. If the present trends continue, as the report says, it is projected that by 2030, 575 million people will be living in extreme poverty, and the world will be back at hunger levels not seen since 2005. Furthermore, 84 million children will be out of school, and 300 million children or young people who attend school will be unable to read and write. Similarly, 660 million people will live without electricity, and nearly two billion will have no access to clean cooking.

Countries are used to blaming the multiple crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-related extreme events, the war in Ukraine, and even the triple planetary crises (climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution) for the constraints of the SDGs’ progress. But many experts said that countries were already failing short of the SDGs’ progress, even before COVID-19 or the Ukraine war began.  Lacking means of implementation, including financial, technological, and capacity-building resources, is another problem in achieving the goals and targets of Sustainable Development.

Lastly, the 2030 Agenda needs more monitoring and accountability mechanisms with a bottom-up and multilateral process. So far, the United Nations has used the Voluntary National Review (VNR) to hold countries accountable for implementing the SDGs. Many VNR reports demonstrate more “States’ self-congratulatory” telling their success stories than self-critical and action-oriented reflections that stimulate genuine learning and improvements in policies and implementation.

The SDG Summit

The 2023 HLPF is considered prepared for the SDG Summit, which will be held during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 18-19, 2023. The Summit is the quadrennial meeting of the HLPF under the auspices of the UNGA. The 2023 Summit will be the second since the adoption of the SDGs and will take place at the midpoint of implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It aims to review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  The Summit will bring together political leaders from governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, women and youth, and other stakeholders in high-level meetings.

The outcome of the Summit will be a negotiated political declaration that contains a political commitment of state leaders to implement and achieve goals and targets of Sustainable development by 2030. The political declaration on the SDGs commitment is hoped to have robust language and a stronger position, among others, on bold actions to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, and end the war on nature. It also demands strengthening national and sub-national capacity, accountability, and delivery institutions.

VIVAT International participated in HLPF/VNR in 2023. Working with Justice Coalition for Religious (JCoR), VIVAT International, the New York Office invited Gregory Minz SVD from Timor Leste to participate in person in the High-Level Political Forum and Voluntary National Review in New York. Gregory made a presentation on Water and Sanitation in Timor Leste at the JCoR SDG lab program. He also delivered a statement on behalf of the NGO Major Group during the VNR session of Timor Leste. At the same time, he attended the VIVAT Annual Meeting and shared about VIVAT Timor Leste’s experiences on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Voluntary National Review of the country.

VIVAT International also conducted a grassroots survey concerning SDG implementation in collaboration with the NGO Committee on Social Development. The VIVAT team in New York sent inquiries to and asked for short videos from VIVAT members regarding the implementation of SDGs in their respective local communities and countries. The survey is a way to bring people’s concerns and voices on the ground to the world leaders who will bring them together at the SDG Summit in September.

Paul Rahmat SVD