SDGs and High Level Political Forum (HLPF): Issues Arising

SDGs and High Level Political Forum (HLPF): Issues Arising
August 10 03:16 2017 Print This Article

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs with 17 goals) aims to eradicate poverty and inequalities and spur economic growth while respecting planetary boundaries. This agenda is not about development cooperation among governments, but about structural economic transformation. Organizing a consultative process with a wide range of stakeholders outside national governments for effective national policy prioritization and for efficient, coherent delivery based on clear roles and responsibilities. The SDGs as a national priority, implementation will require significant resources; from the public and private, national and international, domestic resources will dominate the resource pool for implementation in all countries. Financial institutions such as the World Bank, Development Banks will play key roles by aligning their portfolios with the SDGs and in stimulating private finance. But the onus is on national leaders to ensure an enabling environment and good governance to encourage financial resources to flow in the proper direction and when it flows to ensure it is used for achieving the SDGs. This involves transparency, participatory decision making and mobilizing the strength and innovation of local governments, the private sector and civil society are essential to implement the SDGs three dimension of Economic, Social and Environmental development. It requires collaboration, coordination and coherence within governments and engagement with a multitude of partners beyond national governments. As an intergovernmental system, the UN is only able to track progress of sovereign member states, based on voluntary progress reports VNR.

Accountability will start within country to regional and international levels. National leaders can demand accountability from the private sector to abide by laws and regulations in countries where they operate, so their impact in part depends on governments establishing good policies, fair regulations and an effective judiciary system to deliver such development impact. National leaders can demand that cities, civil society and companies report on sustainability, including environmental, social and labour issues, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters. At the same time, governments need to be accountable to their people as well and to the United Nations.

This is where the High Level Political Forum HLPF comes in. Founded on a political mandate, (UNGA 2012, paragraph 85 and UNGA 2013a)with goals and functions to provide high-level political leadership and guidance for sustainable development while avoiding overlap and duplication. Agenda-setting with multiple sources of input through dialogue and stocktaking with governments, major groups, and stakeholders more broadly. Implementation of a focused, dynamic agenda that can also consider emerging challenges. Enhance integration and coherence of the three dimensions of sustainable development within the UN system, across global governance institutions more broadly and at all levels of decision-making;

While retaining the intergovernmental nature of the forum, allow a variety of modes of f participation by representatives of major groups and other relevant stakeholders. Follow up and review progress in the implementation of sustainable development commitments “of all the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and environmental fields, as well as the respective means of implementation…” (UNGA 2013a, para.7 (d));


The Agenda 2030 demands that countries give national reports on the progress and challenges of implementing the SDGs at the United Nations. The first National Voluntary Review in 2016 had 22 countries who reported on the achievement of the SDGs from their national perspectives, including a consideration of their national priorities and approaches, and outlined how they have included the SDGs into national development plans and strategies. They provided information on the context in which they are implementing the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs and particularly the challenges they faced. These included high levels of poverty and inequality; fragile economies; dependence on natural resources and agriculture and facing the effects of a prolonged fall in commodity prices; epidemics and their aftermath, high youth unemployment; conflict situations, disasters, vulnerability to climate change; as well financial and institutional shortcomings( corruption).


The 2017 HLPF with the theme ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world,’ had seven sets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reviewed in depth: Goal 1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere); Goal 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture); Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages); Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls); Goal 9 (Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation); Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development); and Goal 17 (Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development), which will be considered each year. The theme and these SDGs were addressed in the first week (10-14 July). The second week included a three-day ministerial meeting (17-19 July), as part of the High-level Segment of ECOSOC (17-20), during which 43 countries presented Voluntary National Reviews on implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The ECOSOC High-level Segment adopted the Ministerial Declaration on 20 July. Inputs to this year’s HLPF include: SDG progress report of UN Secretary-General; VNR reports; reports from regional fora on sustainable development (ECA, ECE, ECLAC, ESCAP, ESCWA); reports from Major Groups and other Stakeholders on the theme and SDGs under consideration; contributions from ECOSOC functional commissions and other intergovernmental bodies on the theme and SDGs under consideration amongst other reports. Outside of the main HLPF session, rosters of side-events plunged deeper into these issues. It was notable that many of the side-events were questions around multi stakeholders involvement, monitoring and accountability, or means of implementation, most times highlighting concern about financing issues ranging from lack of budgetary allocations, to regressive domestic tax systems, the use of tax havens and corporate tax dodging. Many representatives of social movements gave insight into their challenges and experiences on development failures.


In the VNR sessions with 43 countries review cited challenges that included data in measuring progress against indicators where data is lacking and a lack of disaggregated data; ensuring adequate financing and resources; achieving political consensus among actors; and recognizing the interests and demands of all sections of society. Most of them seemed more like previews than reviews. The tone and framing was very similar to 2016 discussions, emphasizing visions and plans, still in theory almost two years into implementation.

My country Nigeria was among the reviewing countries. The report was presented by H. E. Adejoke Adefulire the Senior, Special Adviser to the President on SDGs OSSAP. She gave the report that the country’s progress on SDGs is held back by: the economic crisis triggered by the decline in oil prices; the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast; and continued militancy in the Nigerian delta.


Unfortunately, the attention to human rights principles and structural concerns that was evident in some of the thematic dialogues only applied to a few of the voluntary national reviews. While some countries did a fair job addressing the breadth of the 2030 Agenda in a holistic manner, most fell short. Some of the better reports for example. Sweden and Belgium did grapple with human rights alignment and the underlying determinants of poverty and inequality. However, some reports only addressed the goals that were the thematic focus of this HLPF, treating each goal as separate and cherry picking the ones that are most politically palatable. Issues of illicit financial flows, trade, pollution, climate change, the arms trade, tax havens and debt were all highlighted as pressing concerns several times , another disappointment of the HLPF was its failure to systematically discuss the cross-border challenges that present a profound obstacle to sustainable development. Millions of Africans die in the deserts and Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. There was no space dedicated for serious analysis of these global policy issues that by definition cannot be dealt with merely at the national or even regional level, to review what countries are doing to tackle them, and to suggest potential solutions through collective action.


A major discontent of the HLPF was the space and time given to civil society participation in this process. Hundreds of civil society representatives from all over the world travelled to New York for the HLPF, many expressed a desire to hold their governments accountable for lack of progress and misguided policies, and several national coalitions and groups produced excellent, exhaustive ‘shadow’ or ‘spotlight’ reports. However, such initiatives were met with only tokenistic opportunities to participate, with the VNR sessions more akin to a PR exercise for governments than any kind of meaningful dialogue, and the ‘shadow’ reports given no official status or space nor time. The Major Groups(MGOS) barely had three minutes to make interventions while some countries banned questions from CSOs others ensured that CSOs from their countries do not attend the HLPF. This seriously undermines the credibility of the VNR processes and the whole HLPF, given the tightening civil society space and clamp down by governments in many parts of the world. This limited space civil society is given to shine a light on this fundamental change must be reviewed.


In conclusion, the 2017 HLPF provided grave confirmation of the failures of governments to reflect this shift in their policy and actions that is necessary to leave no one behind by 2030. Governments must be challenged with the new development agenda to avoid failure of the SDGs. The HLPF should provide a counterbalance, an opportunity for engagement and a place where government action can be subjected to scrutiny.


Louisa Ono Eikhomun,

Writes from Echoes of Women in Africa Initiatives (ECOWA)


write a comment


  1. Gabriel
    August 11, 16:03 #1 Gabriel

    Very good and well structured information about sdgs and hlpf thanks Louisa

    Reply to this comment
  2. Gia
    August 11, 17:41 #2 Gia

    Thank you Louisa for your quite comprehemsive report we can all benefit from your words
    Much appreciated

    Reply to this comment
  3. Cheallys
    August 11, 17:42 #3 Cheallys

    A great presentation you have here. Well done

    Reply to this comment
  4. Kate Duru
    August 12, 03:33 #4 Kate Duru

    Thank you Louisa. This report is very apt, detailed and informative. We now have an idea of what happened at the just concluded HLPF in New York.

    Reply to this comment

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