Source: Small Island Developing States
25 October 2018: A research paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) suggests that the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) is in danger of being “victim to its own success” if it cannot fulfill the high expectations of its role. Author Marianne Beisheim, SWP, adds that the Forum will only generate real added value if preparatory processes ensure that UN Member States discuss relevant findings at meetings, and translate them into productive policy decisions.
The paper titled, ‘UN Reforms for the 2030 Agenda: Are the HLPF’s Working Methods and Practices “Fit for Purpose”?,’ notes that UN Member States will review the format and organizational aspects of the HLPF in 2019-2020. In this context, the author assesses the effectiveness of the HLPF’s current working methods and practices, and proposes improvements. Working methods and practices include: mandates, negotiation formats, coordination and decision-making processes, cooperation with non-state actors, knowledge transfer, resource management and financing regulations, and other systematic collective practices and work routines. On mandate, the paper notes that the HLPF’s mandate is very broadly formulated, referring to the resolutions establishing the Forum and setting out the format and organizational aspects. The broad mandate, Beisheim argues, currently determines and “burdens” the annual programme planning.
On the HLPF’s annual reviews of progress towards selected SDGs, the report finds that in 2018, preparatory processes were organized “much more effectively” than before, but improvement is needed in the external communication on these processes, thorough analysis and “safeguarding” of results. Beisheim suggests mandating the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) with developing good practice guidelines for these reviews, as well as minimum standards. For example, she indicates that: reports to the HLPF should be available much earlier; responsibilities for actors in the review process should be clear, without creating “silos” or giving priority to securing resources and mandates; and the thematic and SDG reviews should not only present data on the relevant official indicators, but analyze them by focusing on relevant interlinkages between Goals. The paper also notes a need to identify “entry points” for appropriate and coherent measures in all relevant policy areas. Based on these, UN Member States should then discuss recommendations for appropriate action.
On Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented at the HLPF, the paper notes that currently they provide a “good but insufficient approach.” In a view of promoting accountability to citizens, the report calls on governments to discuss their draft VNR reports at the national level first, and avoid having their reports written by externally financed consultants. It notes that: despite stated deadlines for submitting VNR written reports, they are generally submitted very late, if at all, which makes it difficult for other HLPF participants to prepare for substantive discussion; many reports are only available in the respective national language; and the time allocated to discuss the reviews (15 minutes per VNR) is too short for “complex reasoning.” Beisheim says the quality of both written and oral VNR reports must be improved, as presentations are rather technical and tend to avoid politically controversial subjects, very few reports analyze the causes behind failures or successes, and most VNR presentations focus on development successes, to the exclusion of failures or challenges.
The author proposes organizing the VNR presentations in a similar format to the ‘VNR labs’ that took place during the 2018 HLPF. Per the paper, VNR presenting governments could highlight specific challenges where they are politically ready to take action but need the support of partners. DESA then could connect them with partners so as to match demand and supply, for example on policy ideas, technologies, financing or investments.
Member States could hold a one-week meeting in late May for the thematic and SDG reviews, with recommendations then discussed at the July HLPF.
On improving thematic and SDG reviews, the report notes that UN Member States could decide to hold a one-week preparatory meeting in late May each year (an HLPF ‘Spring Meeting’) to conduct the reviews. Results would feed into negotiations on the HLPF Ministerial Declaration in June, and recommendations could be discussed at the ministerial level during the three-day high-level segment of the HLPF in July.
On participation of non-state actors in the HLPF, Beisheim suggests bundling and making accessible online the shadow reports and other contributions from “societal actors.” She points to the fact that time and space for interventions by non-state actors in the official HLPF meetings are “extremely limited,” and outlines difficulties in gaining access to the HLPF conference rooms in the UN building. She reports that only 30-70 seats in the gallery of the HLPF negotiation room are available for the more than 2,000 registered non-governmental participants, and many NGOs complain of “shrinking space” at the national level as well, both politically and financially.
On the HLPF Ministerial Declaration, the paper notes that since the Declaration is negotiated before the start of the HLPF, it cannot present any HLPF results, and can hardly incorporate analysis from the thematic, national or regional learning processes. The value of the Declaration is further limited by only taking stock of trends and challenges, and listing general commitments, and since it has no direct or binding effect on the HLPF.
As for the two sessions of the HLPF that will take place in 2019, the paper notes that in September, a concise “Political Declaration” will be adopted by Heads of State and Government at the Forum meeting under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, and no Ministerial Declaration will be negotiated for the eight-day HLPF that will take place in July under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This leaves an open question regarding how the results of the July 2019 meeting will be documented.
On the review of the format and organizational aspects of the HLPF planned for the 74th session of the UNGA (2019-2020), the paper suggests that the German government, together with other interested UN Member States, could support a preparatory process for review. Such a process would call on the UN Secretary-General to present a report setting out options for the HLPF reform based on the experience of the first four-year cycle no later than early 2020. [Publication: ‘UN Reforms for the 2030 Agenda Are the HLPF’s Working Methods and Practices “Fit for Purpose”?’] [HLPF Website]