2023: The Perfect Storm
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf
From the Claretian Team to the UN
Master in Development and Diplomacy by UNITAR
One more year, as every year since 2015, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development has met to review the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda. A previous Blog article presented the first week’s main conclusions focused on five of the 2030 SDGs.
The second week was dedicated, as every year, to the voluntary presentation of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in their respective country (VNR). The truth is that this second week has been transformed into a space of time dedicated to singing the glories, most of the time nonexistent, of the fulfillment of the SDG 2030 in the respective country; in this way, on quite a few occasions, the usefulness of these “VNR” disappears. Sometimes, after hearing the presentation of the country, with its corresponding tourism propaganda video, one thinks that the table’s moderator has made a mistake in naming the country; the known reality of the nations is so far from some of the presentations. Moreover, the objectivity and seriousness of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council in Geneva are far removed from these presentations.
The most enlightening sessions took place on Monday, the 18th; on the afternoon of this day, the Forum ended for this year. Practically all the relevant speakers who have passed through the “HLPF” these two weeks have insisted on the importance of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) of next 2023; it will be held in September coinciding with the UN General Assembly. Next year we stand at the halfway point between the year of adoption of the 2030 Agenda (2015) and its year of completion, 2030. All the key speakers, I repeat, because there have been interventions of a deficient level, have affirmed the urgent need for clear political decisions that imply regulations practically mandatory for all. We know that this obligation depends on the sovereign will of each country, following its specific legislation.
In this last decade, we have been experiencing an endless accumulation of crises. The environmental crisis of the so-called Anthropocene was joined by the financial crisis of 2008, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Very possibly, in a short time, we will have a food crisis, an energy crisis, and, perhaps not a few interveners said, a new health pandemic. This is how 2023 will begin.
Historians say that when a theme appears very often in the minutes of a council, even if it is a positive one, it means that the issue is problematic and needs to be addressed urgently. The same could be said of the 2022 High-Level Political Forum. So what have been the ideas most highlighted during these two weeks, and what, in my opinion, can be found in their substratum?
Multilateralism. This has been one of the most frequently used expressions during these two weeks. Everyone has been clamoring for solutions, among countries and blocs of nations, to the enormous challenges we have to face with determination. What lies beneath these statements is the real fear of a multi-polarization of international relations. The Pandemic has already indicated some blocs around China, Russia, and the Western countries, in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines; the invasion of Ukraine has completed the delimitation of borders. It has been very enlightening in this respect to see which countries supported, disapproved, or abstained from voting on the invasion of Ukraine.
Importance of the United Nations. Continuing with this theme of multilateralism, but to be more specific, the importance of the United Nations as an irreplaceable forum for dialogue and meeting has been repeated ad nauseam. There is no doubt that this is so. Still, the continued ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council, the systematic non-compliance with international treaties and conventions, and the fragmentation of UN agencies are symptoms of a crisis in the UN system. New ways and structures are needed to move forward, certainly based on the UN scheme but profoundly reformed.
The importance of the 2030 Agenda as a roadmap. The results, within the perplexity that specific statistics may present, is that the overall situation of the world concerning sustainable development was improving until 2019. In 2019, the Pandemic destroyed all the progress made in a decade in terms of Sustainable Human Development. Added to this situation is the non-compliance, or minimalist compliance, of various climate agreements: Paris Agreement on Climate Change and CO2 emissions, COP25 of Madrid-Chile, and COP26 of Glasgow. Concerning climate change, the energy crisis that we are beginning to experience will end many Green Economy decisions, which will be blackened by the return of coal and the consideration of nuclear energy and natural gas as transitional energies. One of the “collateral damages” of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The world order is based on universally enforceable laws. In the “HLPF”, the Paris Climate Agreement or the 2030 Agenda itself have been pondered as examples of open legislations to be concretized in geographic areas and by each nation-state. This legislative formula was offered as the most convenient, valuable, and realistic. The reason for this insistence on a world order based on universal laws is that international agreements and treaties are not complied with when the protagonists of the breach are great powers or nuclear powers. The International Tribunal in The Hague has still not found ways to implement its judicial decisions binding on UN members.
The monetary funds necessary to comply with the now, unfortunately, tiresome expression “leave no one behind”. If the previous terms have been overused, what can we say about the term “leave no one behind”? It is an absolute necessity, but it has become excessively trivialized from being used all the time. To “leave no one behind” requires a lot of money. Mention has been made of the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund), the Reconstruction and Development Banks, and the calculations approved at the Addis Ababa Conference (2015) to carry forward sustainable development. What lies behind this insistence is the failure to disburse the funds agreed upon for the 2030 Agenda, Climate Change, or COVID-19. Public-private collaboration is necessary to meet economic challenges, but it cannot exempt nation-state governments from their obligations. Even less so if we are referring to the historical obligations that highly developed countries have to those in the development process. Although the invasion of Ukraine has dramatically complicated the economic landscape, it is not a sufficient reason to justify the failure to provide the necessary aid to the countries of the South.
As we can see, the year 2023 looks rather dark; let us hope that the ship of our world can overcome this “Perfect Storm”. The means have already been mentioned in the previous paragraphs. We simply need to have the political will to seek the path of the world’s new organization and implement each of the ideas repeated in the Forum. The HLPF – General Assembly in September 2023 will be a pivotal moment to see what the world’s governments and civil society are willing to do. Missing the opportunity to reach a significant global agreement would be unforgivable and extremely dangerous. Therefore, let us wait until the end of 2023 to take stock.
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf