What to Expect at HLPF 2017?

Monday, July 10, 2017
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The policy brief below is the introductory summary and explanation of the upcoming second High-Level Political Forum and explains what can be the outcome of the forum.

Read the policy brief below or find the original at: http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/policy-briefs/what-to-expect-at-hlpf-2017/


By Faye Leone

While the 2016 session of the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) was notable because it was the first HLPF session after governments had adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2017 Forum will involve two more “firsts.” The HLPF will hold the first review of a specified theme related to the 2030 Agenda, and the first in-depth review of a set of SDGs. In addition to these thematic discussions, the Forum will consider 44 countries’ reports on their experiences with national-level implementation of the SDGs, as well as the second annual SDG progress report from the UN Secretary-General. This policy brief offers a brief overview of expectations for the key elements for HLPF 2017, taking place from 10-19 July.


As the HLPF session will take place under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it will overlap with a segment of the ECOSOC High-level Segment, making for a set of interlocking gatherings and resulting in a joint Ministerial Declaration. According to the draft programme released in May, the meetings will take place as follows:

10-14 July, HLPF General Segment:

  • Introduction of UN Secretary-General’s SDG Progress Report
  • Thematic review: ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’
  • Review of SDGs implementation: 1 (no poverty); 2 (zero hunger); 3 (good health and well-being); 5 (gender equality); 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure); 14 (life below water); and 17 (partnerships for the Goals)
  • Implementation at the regional and sub-regional levels
  • Leveraging interlinkages for effective implementation of SDGs
  • Science-policy interface and emerging issues

17-19 July, HLPF Ministerial Meeting and ECOSOC High-level Segment:

  • Voluntary National Reviews
  • Introduction of relevant reports
  • General debate
  • HLPF adoption of joint ministerial declaration

20 July, Continuation of ECOSOC High-level Segment:

  • General debate
  • High-level policy dialogue with international financial and trade institutions
  • Thematic discussion on the main theme of ECOSOC 2017 session: ‘Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions through promoting sustainable development, expanding opportunities and addressing related challenges’
  • ECOSOC adoption of joint Ministerial Declaration

Thematic Review

The thematic review for the 2017 HLPF will take up the first theme identified by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in its resolution of July 2016 on follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda at the global level (70/299). Following on the theme for the 2016 session, ‘Ensuring that no one is left behind,’ the resolution outlined topics for thematic reviews for three additional years, as follows:

  • 2017: Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world
  • 2018: Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies
  • 2019: Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality

When ECOSOC holds its High-level Segment in July 2017, it will discuss the main theme for its 2017 session, which was selected to align with the HLPF theme. The main theme for the 2017 ECOSOC session is: ‘Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions through promoting sustainable development, expanding opportunities and addressing related challenges.’ In early May, the UN Secretary-General released two reports addressing this theme.

Together, the four years (2016-2019) comprise one “cycle” of HLPF sessions under ECOSOC auspices. At the conclusion of the cycle, every fourth year, the UNGA will also convene an HLPF. Therefore, in 2019, two sessions of the Forum will take place. The UNGA resolution calls for the two sessions to be closely coordinated to ensure coherence.

SDGs Review

The UNGA resolution mandates the HLPF under the auspices of ECOSOC to discuss a set of SDGs and their interlinkages at each HLPF session. The purpose is to conduct an in-depth review of progress made on all Goals over the course of a four-year cycle.

Each HLPF session will review Goal 17 (Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development). In addition, the other 16 Goals will be reviewed according to the following schedule:

  • 2017: Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14
  • 2018: Goals 6, 7, 11, 12 and 15
  • 2019: Goals 4, 8, 10, 13 and 16

In preparation for the 2017 reviews, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and other UN bodies are organizing a series of expert group meetings (EGMs) on four of the SDGs to be reviewed in depth. The EGMs are addressing:

  • SDG 1 (no poverty) (Copenhagen, Denmark, from 11-12 May)
  • SDG 2 (zero hunger) (New York, US, from 12-13 June)
  • SDG 3 (good health and well-being) (New York, US, from 15-16 June) and
  • SDG 5 (gender equality) (New York, US, from 30-31 May).

Discussions at the EGMs may provide a preview of themes that will emerge during the HLPF’s in-depth review of each Goal.

According to a recent briefing on the key messages from EGMs on SDG 1 and SDG 2, interlinked considerations are at the forefront. For example, on SDG 1, the expert discussions called to: make growth more inclusive and sustained over a long period of time, and ensure that it cuts across various sectors; improve connectivity to markets and promote decent jobs; invest in health, nutrition and education; promote resilience including by providing social protection and safety nets; ensuring complementarity between development and humanitarian efforts; and build diverse partnerships, such as creative insurance mechanisms in agriculture that could leverage government, private sector and civil society resources.

On SDG 2, discussions called for: raising agricultural production and productivity while addressing economic, social and environmental impacts; incorporating and building from indigenous knowledge in science, technology and innovation (STI); and finding innovative ways to engage with the private sector.

On the other SDGs to be reviewed this year, SDG 9 was subject of an ECOSOC Special Meeting in May, implementation of SDG 14 received high-level political attention during the UN Ocean Conference held from 5-9 June and hosted by the Governments of Fiji and Sweden, and SDG 17 was in focus at two recent Fora – the second ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development Follow-up (FfD Forum) and the second Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum).

Voluntary National Reviews

Forty-four countries will present Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at the 2017 Forum, which is double the number of countries that presented VNRs in 2016. As the ECOSOC President noted recently, approximately one-third of the UN membership will have participated by the end of the 2017 Forum.

The VNRs enable governments to discuss national efforts in implementing the SDGs with the aim of sharing successes, challenges and lessons learned. After last year’s initial round of VNRs, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin reflected that the process had the potential to serve as the HLPF’s “centerpiece” going forward, but that much would depend on the extent to which governments succeeded in “localizing” the 2030 Agenda. Indeed, Marianne Beisheim, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said the reports had highlighted the challenge of including all levels of government, especially at the local level, and she noted that a national review process only gains traction if it delivers results. The 2017 VNRs should offer some insights on whether the national reviews are rising to this challenge.

The 2016 presentations left other questions for this year’s VNRs to take up. First, how have governments advanced in creating or refining mechanisms to ensure coordination across ministries and departments? A focus of the 2016 reviews was on how governments were building their approaches to implementation, including by enacting “whole-of-government” approaches. According to a synthesis report from the UN Division for Sustainable Development, VNR 2016 countries said that ensuring coherent, coordinated institutions was one of the first steps in implementing the SDGs, and identified as a key challenge the coordination of multiple government sectors in monitoring, evaluation and reporting.

Most countries who will present VNRs in July, or the “class of 2017,” have shared main messages from their upcoming reports. The messages indicate that many governments have made institutional and consultative arrangements for implementing the SDGs, and are currently establishing follow-up mechanisms.

Second, the 2016 reviews stressed the importance of active mobilization of stakeholders in priority-setting, implementation and review. Raising awareness and ownership of the SDGs was highlighted as a key challenge faced by countries in implementation. In 2016, the Government of Colombia, one of the more advanced countries in terms of laying the groundwork for SDG implementation and monitoring, reported that only 12% of its population was aware of the 2030 Agenda. The same percentage (12%) was reported by Denmark at the end of March 2017 regarding awareness of the SDGs among the Danish population. How far beyond the “New York bubble” have the SDGs reached?

Finally, the topic of data capacity pervaded the 2016 reviews. Countries noted the significant human and financial constraints to improving the quality of data, identifying this as a key area for capacity building assistance. They identified the need to collect data more broadly, with greater frequency, and with more disaggregation. The 2017 reports should provide an indication of whether the past year’s efforts by the UN Statistics Division, agencies, and countries themselves have made any headway towards this goal.

SDG Progress Report

The yearly assessment of global progress towards the 17 Goals takes two forms: an annual progress report of the UN Secretary-General to inform follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda at the HLPF, as mandated by the 2030 Agenda, and a related, interactive presentation that extracts key messages from the report, for wider use.

The 2017 report of the Secretary-General, ‘Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ (E/2017/66), was released on 7 June, following requests from Member States to receive it in advance of the HLPF session. It will be formally introduced at the beginning of the session, on 10 July.

Unlike the annual in-depth review of selected SDGs, the progress report provides a snapshot of global progress against the entire goal-set. Its overview of progress towards the 17 SDGs is based on a selection of the global indicators for which data were available as of April 2017. For most indicators, the report notes, values represent global, regional and sub-regional aggregates calculated from data from national statistical systems, compiled by international agencies.

For many of the SDGs, the progress report notes some progress, but stresses the need for more effort, financing and investment to accelerate progress and expand impacts, and to enact stronger legal frameworks. Worsening trends are identified in the areas of, inter alia: SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production; SDG 13 (climate action), with deaths attributed to natural disasters continuing to rise; SDG 14 (life below water), with regard to deterioration of coastal waters; and SDG 15 (life on land), with regard to declining trends in land productivity, biodiversity loss and poaching and trafficking of wildlife. Based on these and other messages of the report, the HLPF could be expected to address the need for urgency and accelerated implementation.

Ministerial Declaration

As agreed in UNGA Resolution 70/299, HLPF sessions under the auspices of ECOSOC shall result in a negotiated ministerial declaration for inclusion in the Council’s report to the UNGA. The HLPF is expected to adopt this year’s joint Ministerial Declaration on 19 July, followed by its adoption in the ECOSOC High-level Segment on 20 July.

Negotiations on the text are underway by UN Member States, with a zero draft released on 7 June by the co-facilitators, Jan Kickert, Permanent Representative of Austria, and Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica. By the draft, UN Member States would highlight the need for accelerated implementation. They would also:

  • Call for attention to leveraging synergies and co-benefits, while avoiding or minimizing goal conflicts and trade-offs;
  • Call on the UN to establish an interagency task force, guided by ECOSOC, to provide policy guidance “towards national efforts to enhance policy integration” for achieving the SDGs;
  • Encourage amplifying the poverty-reducing impact of actions taken to achieve other SDGs, such as those related to growth, energy, infrastructure and inequality;
  • Encourage measures to strengthen institutions serving people affected by conflict, fragility and forced migration;
  • Stress the need for improved and coordinated collection, analysis, dissemination and use of statistics and disaggregated data, and highlight the need to build capacity for producing, analyzing and using data;
  • Highlight the importance of localizing and communicating the SDGs, including at the national and community, grassroots levels; and
  • Note the importance of ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, and encourage the UN development system to improve collaboration in delivering collective results for the realization of the 2030 Agenda.

Special Events and Side Events

The UN Secretariat had received over 240 proposals for side events as of 26 May. With the UN having capacity for 80 events, President Shava has noted that some side events are expected to be merged and/or hosted outside of UN Headquarters.

Among the Special Events during the Forum, a Partnership Exchange will take place on 17 July and an SDG Business Forum will convene on 18 July. In addition, DESA and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) are organizing ‘learning centers’ comprising eight courses on the HLPF theme and the SDGs under review. Finally, the UNGA President is expected to offer a preliminary report on SDG implementation on the margins of the Forum.

Role of HLPF 2017 and Implementing the 2030 Agenda

The first session of the HLPF after the SDGs were adopted was watched closely for emerging leadership and for recommendations and examples of implementation. This year, a key question is whether governments’ initial approaches have taken hold, and how these are translating into action on the ground. In particular, are the Goals being implemented in an integrated, mutually reinforcing way? Are synergies supporting the achievement of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17, and are tradeoffs being identified and conflicting outcomes avoided?

To demonstrate forward movement since last year, analysts have suggested that the VNR presentations would need to show that:

  • local government has been engaged in implementation, and that this engagement is yielding results for citizens, especially those most in need of concrete changes to their daily lives;
  • coordination and integration are being ensured across ministries within national governments;
  • public awareness of the SDGs is growing, leading to stronger stakeholder mobilization; and
  • governments’ capacity to collect and analyze data is beginning to rise to meet the challenge of reporting on the SDGs’ targets and indicators.

On the two “firsts” for the 2017 HLPF – the thematic review, and the in-depth review of a selected set of SDGs – they must collectively balance the need to address interlinkages with the demand that no SDG is overlooked as a Goal in and of itself. Given this year’s focus on poverty and prosperity, a balancing act is also needed to ensure that poverty can be addressed without compromising other Goals, while also showing that the SDGs can achieve what the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not – reaching the poorest and designing a world where prosperity is possible for everyone, without sacrificing natural resources.

IISD’s ENB team will be reporting on the HLPF 2017 proceedings with daily reports and tweets, a nightly webpage with highlights and photos, and a summary and analysis at the conclusion. We will also report on events on the sidelines of the Forum through the SDG Knowledge Hub. We look forward to helping you follow progress and challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda, as revealed by the discussions to take place at HLPF 2017.

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What to Expect at HLPF 2017?