Experts Review HLPF’s First Cycle, Discuss Possible Improvements (2-2)

Lynn Wagner

Experts gathered to consider lessons learned from the first four-year cycle of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which concludes in July 2019. In the context of an intergovernmental review of the HLPF scheduled to take place during the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), participants exchanged views based on their experiences with the HLPF to date and made suggestions for improving the voluntary national reviews (VNRs), the SDG thematic reviews and multi-stakeholder participation, among other topics.

HLPF Theme and Thematic Reviews

Some participants cited the relevance of thematic reviews as a means to engage ministries and stakeholders in the HLPF, and to consider global trends on the 17 SDGs. A few wondered about the real added value of these reviews, while others called for extending the time allocated to them during the HLPF to allow for more discussion.
On the consideration of a theme for the Forum, someone suggested to assess whether in the past, the HLPF theme has led to transformative outcomes. Someone noted that the theme had led to a better alignment with the theme and activities of other UN fora, segments and bodies.
Some participants called for placing a bigger emphasis on cross-cutting issues. Some suggested to consider leaving no one behind as a cross-cutting theme, noting that further efforts are needed to implement this concept, while others proposed gender equality, evaluation and monitoring, financing, and transforming our world, among other possibilities. One expert suggested that the 2019 edition of the GSDR could provide an entry point to the HLPF theme and the SDG clusters.
On whether there should continue to be a cluster or specific group of SDGs reviewed every year at the HLPF, some noted that this approach helps foster discussions on interlinkages. One participant said clusters are useful, but since all SDGs are related, not too much time should be spent on defining clusters. Another participant called for focusing on one specific SDG at a time at the HLPF instead of clusters, and sessions on interlinkages could be complementary. Someone also suggested to let each Member States determine which SDGs and linkages they want to address at the Forum, instead of establishing a specific group of Goals to consider at the Forum.
Some called for better linkages between thematic reviews and HLPF preparatory processes such as expert group meetings (EGMs) and regional outcomes, and for better linkages with other processes, such as the UPR. One speaker proposed to appoint bodies or entities that could review in-depth the state of the world on a particular Goal or objective, and convey key messages from this assessment at the HLPF.

Multi-stakeholder Participation

Several participants underscored the multi-stakeholder nature of the HLPF and called for more creativity in making stakeholders part of its deliberations. One remarked that multi-stakeholder representation at the HLPF should be more balanced, observing an under-representation of stakeholders from developing countries. Among other challenges affecting meaningful participation in the Forum, participants outlined: language barriers; insufficient DESA funding to support stakeholder participation, including those coming from developing countries that are presenting VNRs at the respective HLPF; the shrinking space for civil society participation at the national and global levels; the lack of visibility and use of stakeholder reports prepared for the HLPF; and the lack of opportunities given to stakeholders to make oral contributions.
In order to strengthen multi-stakeholder engagement, it was proposed to: conduct a survey to document country experiences in engaging stakeholders; call on UN Member States or groups of States to fund participation; create more open spaces for discussion at the HLPF; respect and strengthen the rights of Major Group and other stakeholders as defined in UNGA resolution 67/290 including the right to intervene in official meetings, submit documents, and make recommendations; and involve stakeholders in VNR preparation, presentation and follow-up. A participant announced that an online survey on VNRs has been circulated to Major Groups and other stakeholders to collect their input on the VNRs.
On the participation of local governments, one person reported that Helsinki, Finland will present a “voluntary local review” (VLR) in the summer of 2019, and has started a partnership with New York City, which presented its VLR during the 2018 HLPF.

Intergovernmental Review of HLPF

Participants discussed the upcoming intergovernmental review of the HLPF, as requested by the UNGA. Many said that with multilateralism at stake it will be difficult to agree on something more ambitious on the HLPF. Many noted the need to preserve the ambitious nature of the 2030 Agenda, and called for keeping the momentum going on the 2030 Agenda for the next years, including by defining a global outreach and communication strategy.
Speakers noted that some improvements to the HLPF could be brought in the short term without changing its mandate, such as a continued improvement of stakeholder participation, or preparing guidelines for countries presenting their VNRs for the second or third time.
Considering that negotiations on the HLPF review could take place any time between September 2019 and September 2020, many called for predictability regarding the July 2020 session of the HLPF, with some expressing concern that an intergovernmental decision on the HLPF review might be only taken late in the process, close to the 2020 HLPF. Some wondered what impact this uncertainty would have on the 2020 VNRs.
In order to complete the HLPF review far enough ahead of the 2020 HLPF, several participants stressed the importance to appoint co-facilitators for intergovernmental negotiations on that review as soon as possible, and to start the negotiations in 2019. Participants also discussed the possibility to have a “transitional” HLPF in 2020, for which the theme and the set of SDGs to be considered would be decided in advance in a UNGA decision or as part of the 2019 SDG Summit Political Declaration. A broader review of the HLPF, they suggested, could be captured in a separate resolution. One expert said the UNGA President could be asked to suggest a theme for the 2020 HLPF if countries do not come to agreement on time.
Apart from the HLPF review, the coming months will include a series of activities related to the HLPF including: negotiations on the SDG Summit Political Declaration from mid-May to the end of June; the HLPF under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) scheduled from 9-18 July; and the SDG Summit scheduled from 24-25 September 2019.
The UN Secretariat is expected to prepare a report from the EGM. It was indicated that DESA may organize another EGM on the HLPF during the last quarter of 2019

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