Realism. Realism. HLPF 2022. 2030 Agenda Annual Review
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf
From the Claretian team at the UN
UNITAR Master in Development Studies & Diplomacy
The Context of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development
Last Tuesday, July 5, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development began at the UN headquarters in New York. This Forum annually reviews compliance with the 2030 Agenda, reorienting and adjusting its implementation. The meeting starts on July 5 and ends on July 18 of the same month; the first week focuses on the review of the 2030 Agenda, on a given theme and five specific SDGs; the second week, the Voluntary Reports of each country on its 2030 Agenda implementation program are presented. The Forum is attended by: the representatives of 54 UN states as full members; the spokespersons of the leading Civil Society groups, with the right to express their opinion; and representatives of NGOs recognized before the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) may attend, without a voice in the event. In this article, I will focus on my impressions of the first week, i.e., the review of the 2030 Agenda, especially five of the SDGs.
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The motto of this year’s Forum was: “Rebuilding what was destroyed by COVID-19 and advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Accordingly, the review has been focused on SDG 4 on quality education, SDG5 on gender equality, SDG14 on life under water, SDG15 on land, and SDG17 on partnerships for the Goals.
A turning point in world history
Since the 2030 Agenda, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals, was adopted in 2015, the world has not stood still. As much as we pretended that the world analyzed by the Agenda would remain unchanged, it has not. During the time before the COVID-19 pandemic, everything seemed to be going acceptably well. The SDGs closest to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were improving as compliance indicators showed. The 2030 Agenda was accepted as an accurate benchmark for development in most countries. Everything was going acceptably well. However, the COVID-19 pandemic represented a global shock that the UN could not escape. The HLPF meetings on Sustainable Development from 2020 to 2021 presented worrying data on what was happening, but nothing more. The consequences of COVID-19 were unknown, nor was it clear how to act; the UN, like everyone else, was in a state of shock. In HLPF 2022, the situation has presented itself as it is: hugely alarming.
The UN Secretary General’s preliminary reports, the 2022 Sustainable Development Goals Fulfillment Report and the presentations during the HLPF-2022 Forum leave no room for doubt. All SDG compliance indicators are down very significantly from the pre-COVID-19 trend. We can make a short but impressive list of global issues that emerge from reading the 2022 Report and the HLPF-2022 presentations. Here is the shortlist: very significant increase in poverty rates; increase in the precariousness of employment and the number of jobs; debt impossible to pay for the poorest countries; increase in the number of refugees and displaced persons, the highest since World War II; millions of children out of school; increase in violence against women; decrease in gender parity; increase in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. I invite you to read at least the summary of the 2022 Report to know the situation in more detail.
In the HLPF 2022, the current crises have been presented: the economic crisis of 208, not yet fully digested; the pandemic of COVID-19; the increasingly evident consequences of climate change; Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and its impacts on refugees, famine, energy shortages, thousands of deaths. No, the present and future panorama is drawn at the 2022 Forum is not good. There was no talk at this High-Level Forum about the change in international relations caused by the Invasion of Ukraine. Still, the international organization of the world is changing and will change even more. The world and its connections are in rapid transformation. There is no doubt that the new configuration of international relations will directly impact whether or not the 2030 Agenda will be achieved.
The Forum’s proposals
What can be done about this situation, and what do the world-class panelists at the HLPF propose? Once again, let us make a list of priority proposals.
- ffirmation of the 2030 Agenda as a global reference in the face of the crises we are experiencing and will continue to experience. It would be difficult to find among the documents issued by the United Nations one with as much impact and survival as the 2030 Agenda; perhaps only the Universal Declaration of Human Rights surpasses the Agenda in this respect. Therefore, it is not surprising; that the content and complexity of the 2030 Agenda are the results of a new process of study and negotiation of UN documents. The study of the Agenda’s contents was open, for the first time in the history of the UN, to Universities, external experts, NGOs, and Faith-Based Organizations; in other words, to Civil Society. The result is an Agenda 2030 that goes beyond its time limit and presents a concrete path to a future of solidarity for humanity.
- Climate Change. The climate crisis is transversal to much of what has been happening in recent decades and announces what is to come. Massive displacements, floods, droughts, acidification of the seas, etc. Political will is needed to overcome the indecision and ineffectiveness of the Madrid COP-25 and Glasgow COP-26 agreements on climate change.
- Peace and Reconciliation. SDG 16 refers fundamentally to situations within each country, but, in the current situation, it is necessary to refer to the international panorama. The reconfiguration of international blocs cannot mean a return to the Cold War. Spending on armaments by the major powers should not reduce their contribution to the least developed countries.
- Financing the 2030 Agenda. Much has been written and agreed upon since Addis Ababa (2015) agreed on the financing of the Agenda’s sustainable development. Still, much more needs to be done after the crises we are experiencing. There is talk, in the HLPF, of public financing through, above all, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and regional banks. Together with the mechanisms of these entities and given the immensity of the challenge, an extra effort is requested from Civil Society through the involvement of large global companies, individual donors, and investment in “Green Bonds” and “Agenda 2030 Bonds”.
- Education. It is one of the SDGs under review for 2022, but all participants in the HLPF have insisted on the need to recover the path of increased schooling before COVID-19. Resources for personal and national development are primarily based on formal education. The millions of children who have dropped out of school must return to school.
- Multilateralism. Issues of global strategy and bloc-to-bloc relations have not been addressed in the HLPF 2022, but the background noise has not stopped ringing. The world, and its inhabitants, will not be able to bear the consequences of a new Cold War. Therefore, pathways to multilateralism must be sought.
2023 will be a particular year for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. There have been repeated requests from the people preparing it that its conclusions should be clear, distinct, and compelling. A single forum with a final declaration with which governments and civil society are truly involved; binding conclusions and not just politically correct words.
The Good Shepherd. Saved from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) will have to be very attentive to what is happening in 2023, a year that is becoming a pivotal year for the future of humanity. We, as believers, must recover, in these critical moments, trust in the God of History, who leads everything to a good end.
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf