The SDG Summit: Keeping Promises and Reaffirming Commitments

Paul Rahmat SVD

In September 2015, world leaders at the United Nations adopted the document “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.” The 2030 Agenda represents a global commitment to implementing 17 Goals and 169 targets for Sustainable Development, providing a framework for follow-up and implementation review.

As part of the follow-up and review framework, the UN established a mechanism called the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The HLPF occurs annually in July under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the UNGA, also known as the SDGs Summit.

The SDG Summit

Marking the halfway point to the 2030 Agenda, the UN General Assembly convened the SDGs Summit on September 18-19, 2023. The summit conducted a comprehensive review of the states of the SDGs, responding to the impact of multiple and interlocking crises affecting progress. It also provided high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda represents a promise made by all governments at the United Nations to endorse prosperity, promote peace, and foster partnerships to ensure no one is left behind. However, at the midpoint of the SDGs implementation, this promise is at risk. In April 2023, the UN Secretary-General published a special report on the SDGs’ progress, revealing that only 15% of the SDGs are on track, while the rest are stagnant or experiencing setbacks.

During the opening session of the SDG Summit, UNGA President H.E. Dennis Francis highlighted three major challenges compromising SDGs’ progress: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the war in Ukraine. To address these challenges, he urged world leaders to take transformative action with bold commitments to the SDGs.

Looking ahead to the next seven years of implementing the 2030 Agenda, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed a rescue plan to accelerate SDG progress. This plan includes mobilizing at least USD 500 billion for sustainable development annually, strengthening support for food security, energy, digitalization, education, social protection, decent jobs, and biodiversity. Guterres also suggests shifting the focus of Voluntary National Reviews towards accountability for commitments made at the Summit and reminding national governments to meet the goal of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for official development assistance in 2024. To accelerate SDG progress, the UN Secretary-General urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure debt on longer and more affordable terms and develop concrete proposals to reform the global finance architecture. Finally, he emphasized that world leaders attending COP28 must have concrete plans to support developing countries in just transition to renewable energy and operationalizing the loss and damage fund.

Political Declaration

The outcome of the SDG Summit is a Political Declaration in which governments reaffirm their political commitments to implement the SDGs and take action on climate change effectively. The Declaration affirms a shared commitment to the SDGs, highlighting progress, gaps, and challenges while setting out a call to action.

The Political Declaration opens with a statement of leaders’ shared commitment. Governments reaffirm their intent to effectively implement the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, emphasizing that the 2030 Agenda remains the “overarching roadmap” not only for achieving sustainable development but also for overcoming multiple current crises.

The Declaration provides an update on the context within which the second SDG Summit took place. Leaders speak of drastic changes since the first SDG Summit in 2019, primarily the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impacts, climate change, and armed conflicts. They point to increased inequality exacerbated by weakened solidarity and a shortfall of trust to overcome these crises jointly. The Declaration also expresses deep concern about the increase in the financing gap.

The Declaration sets a call to action on “turning our world towards 2030.” It comprises a range of commitments by governments, covering poverty, food and hunger, gender equality, education, the digital divide, water, health, cities, and settlements, consumption and production, energy, disaster risk reduction, climate, biodiversity, desertification, oceans, plastic pollution, science and technology transfer, data, policy integration, and financing for development.

Moving Forward

Rescue plan, course correction, acceleration, and step change are terms often heard during the SDG Summit, reflecting the average mood and dynamics of what has happened to Sustainable Development Goals in the first half of the 2030 Agenda implementation.

Moving forward, we must reaffirm the commitment to implement the SDGs effectively to make the SDG promises a reality and a source of hope for the wealth of people and the planet. Furthermore, there is a need to substantially and rapidly reform the international financial architecture, which, in the words of the UN General Secretary, “remains dysfunctional, outdated, and unjust.” Finally, overcoming the major challenges the world is facing, including climate change and geopolitical tension, conflict, and war, is essential to making the 2030 Agenda successful.

Paul Rahmat SVD