MGA reflects on the 2020 High-Level Political Forum
From the Decade of Action to a Decade of Recovery
The annual meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the main United Nations platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In a year when most other multilateral meetings and processes have been cancelled or postponed, the 2020 HLPF took place during its originally-scheduled dates from 7-16 July, albeit in a much different format than previous years due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 HLPF was originally intended to begin a new four-year cycle to review the implementation of the SDGs, assess progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda, and begin “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.” The meetings took place in a virtual format, and the agenda was reoriented to focus on the pandemic, featuring an official agenda as well as over 240 side events, special events, Voluntary National Review (VNR) “Labs” and other online discussions to address key challenges and actions towards post-pandemic recovery.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the importance of the HLPF and the SDGs at this unprecedented time:
“The COVID-19 crisis is having devastating impacts because of our past and present failures. Because we have yet to take the SDGs seriously. Because we have put up with inequalities within and between countries that have left billions of people just one crisis away from poverty and financial ruin. Because we haven’t invested adequately in resilience – in universal health coverage, quality education, social protection, safe water and sanitation. Because we have yet to right the power imbalances that leave women and girls to constantly bear the brunt of any crisis. Because we haven’t heeded warnings about the damage that we are inflicting on our natural environment. Because of the shocking risks we are taking with climate disruption. And because we have undervalued effective international cooperation and solidarity.”
Similarly, the President of the General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande stated that “The reality is our Decade of Action and Delivery has become the Decade of Recovery. The SDGs must be at the forefront of government strategies for recovery to safeguard our communities against future shocks by building resilient systems.”
The common refrain that echoed throughout the 8-day event was that the Sustainable Development Goals are a vital roadmap for the world to “Build Back Better” from the COVID-19 pandemic, a phrase that was first defined and used with the 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Speakers voiced strong calls for solidarity, inclusion and multilateralism, and urged governments to transition their efforts to implement the SDGs from a focus on individual goals to systemic responses. One speaker referenced John Maynard Keynes in her remarks, cautioning that “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas, as in escaping old ones.” There was a strong emphasis on the call of the 2030 Agenda to “Leave No One Behind,” with a large focus on social protection. There was also a lot of discussion of the economic consequences of the pandemic, and what this will mean for resourcing implementation of the 2030 Agenda, with speakers discussing associated debt relief and finance implications. Despite the challenging virtual setting, civil society made their voices heard throughout the meeting, especially women and youth.
Unlike other HLPF sessions, this meeting did not conclude with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration. A draft had been developed, but agreement had not been reached by the close of the meeting on 16 July. The President of the UN Economic and Social Council, Mona Juul, reported that “an ambitious declaration was emerging, but some issues required further discussion.” On Friday, 17 July, she circulated a revised draft, but still the Ministerial Declaration has not been adopted. Civil society representatives have circulated a press release expressing deep disappointment and calling for governments to demonstrate real ambition and commitment to the 2030 Agenda and to dismantling injustice in all its forms.
A central focus of the HLPF each year is the presentation of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). This year, 47 countries presented VNRs, with 26 presenting for the first time, 20 for the second time, and 1 for the third time. Countries were given the option of livestreaming their presentation, sending pre-recorded presentations, or a combination of the two. The following countries with a Mercy presence presented VNRs this year:
- Argentina - Victoria Tolosa Paz, National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies, said the current government prioritizes the fight against hunger and multi-dimensional poverty, which goes beyond income and includes access to drinking water and public health. She highlighted: measures to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 and strengthen the public health system; resource transfers to the most vulnerable groups; and support to companies to preserve jobs. She said that her country’s commitment to the SDGs comes from the suffering that her country has experienced, including hyperinflation, unsustainable debt, and now COVID-19. View Argentina’s 2020 VNR (ES).
- Honduras - The VNR highlighted the holistic framework established for the implementation of the SDGs in the country, but also discussed continued challenges to providing decent work despite significant economic growth. Honduras is making efforts to tackle extreme poverty through programmes such as the Better Life subsidy that provides conditional cash transfers to improve access to health, education, and housing. They also are in the process of reallocating public expenditures due to the pandemic. View Honduras 2020 VNR (ES).
- Kenya - Ukur Yatani Kanacho, Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury and Planning, highlighted the country’s “Big 4 Agenda” prioritizing food and nutrition security, healthcare, manufacturing, and affordable housing. He noted advancements in renewable energy installed per capita, infrastructure, domestic resource mobilization, public awareness-raising of the SDGs, and stakeholder engagement. He also mentioned the policy gap analysis that was conducted in 2018, highlighting the need to continuously enhance implementation plans. View Kenya’s 2020 VNR (EN).
- Nigeria - Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, Senior Special Assistant to the President on the SDGs, said priority SDGs have been integrated into the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan for 2017-2020. She noted efforts to build a more inclusive economy and identified the need to invest more in education. Among challenges, she listed: high unemployment rates; maternal mortality; out-of-school children; and regional inequalities. View Nigeria’s 2020 VNR (EN).
- Panama - The VNR highlighted a national focus on: creating inclusion; fighting poverty and inequality; investing in education and health; addressing social equality among vulnerable communities; and combatting climate change and protecting biodiversity. While recognizing the urgency of international cooperation, Panama highlighted national intersectoral public health actions in response to the pandemic. View Panama’s 2020 VNR (ES).
- Papua New Guinea - James Marape, Prime Minister, reported that PNG has made modest progress, but that they were doing the best they could. He noted progress across many SDGs, including on improving transport connectivity, health, education, community development, life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, literacy, reducing extreme poverty, and maintaining a robust democracy. He noted the challenge of reducing widening inequalities. View Papua New Guinea’s 2020 VNR (EN).
- Peru - Javier Abugattás, National Centre for Strategic Planning, reported deeper integration of SDGs in long-term development plans, and said key priorities include the protection of life and risk management, including through improved decision-making processes, coordination, and research. He also highlighted government measures to support indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon in the fight against COVID-19. View Peru’s 2020 VNR (ES).
- Samoa - Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, noted that Samoans take collective responsibility for one another and respect individual human rights, but that her country was increasingly challenged by external shocks, including natural disasters and health crises. She highlighted progress in: literacy and numeracy; engaging stakeholders; integrating the SDGs and the SAMOA Pathway into national development planning; women’s representation in Parliament; and strengthening disaster risk response. View Samoa’s 2020 VNR (EN).
- Uganda - Mary Karooro Okurut, Cabinet Minister in Charge of General Duties, highlighted improved access to electricity and telecommunications, reduced unemployment, and increased manufacturing capabilities. She attributed the progress to social protection programmes, gender equality and women’s empowerment, a robust refugee policy, climate action interventions, rural electrification projects, and a sound economic growth rate. Immaculate Akello, representative of Uganda’s Youth Coalition for the SDGs, highlighted achievements in “go back to school” interventions for children who had dropped out, and the need for further efforts to raise SDG awareness in remote areas. View Uganda’s 2020 VNR (EN).
- Zambia - Alexander Chiteme, Minister of National Development Planning, and Chola Chabala, Ministry of National Development Planning, highlighted institutional arrangements for SDG implementation; a reduction of multi-dimensional poverty to 44%; investments in infrastructure and energy production; and improvements in health and gender equality. Precious Mulenga, a child civil society representative, called for a more inclusive process for civil society organizations to participate in SDG implementation.
View Zambia’s 2020 VNR (EN).
Messages to: Cecilie Kern - Global Policy & Research Advocate MIA- MGA