The first UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was held in July 2013 and reoccurs every year under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and every four years under the General Assembly. It is the official platform for monitoring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each meeting aims to:

  • Provide political leadership and recommendations for sustainable development,
  • Follow-up and review progress in implementing sustainable development commitments,
  • Enhance the integration of economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development,
  • Consider new and emerging sustainable development challenges, and
  • Provide a forum for Voluntary National Reviews on the Sustainable Development Goals.

HLPF 2018
The 2018 HLPF, held from 9-18 July, focused on the theme of Transformation towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies. The SDGs highlighted this year included:

  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption & production
  • SDG 15: Life on land
  • SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

By grouping these specific SDGs within a broader theme, HLPF 2018 aimed to help policymakers, stakeholders, private sector actors, and the general public assess the interactions between them. HLPF themes attempt to encourage integrated discussion on the pursuit of the SDGs, across goals and sectors – discouraging countries from shortsightedly pursuing one or two SDGs individually.

Over the course of 8 days, 2,458 registered stakeholder representatives along with 65 ministers, cabinet secretaries, and deputy ministers convened to assess 47 voluntary national reviews (VNRs) from Africa, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean. There were meetings, side events, special events, learning courses, and workshops all themed around sustainable cities and SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, and 17. The overarching ambition of these meetings was to provide spaces and a common platform to review what’s working and how to take best practices to scale.

SDSN staff and networks were actively involved in several events throughout the forum:

HLPF Opening Session: Keynote from Jeffrey Sachs

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a vision for people, planet, peace, and prosperity to be achieved through partnership and solidarity, is now in its third year of implementation. There are positive signs – such as the widespread inclusion of SDG’s targets into countries’ own development plans and strategies, and the creation of coordinating structures and mechanisms necessary for implementation. At the same time, certain other indicators – for example, deeply entrenched patterns of inequality and the increasingly apparent impacts of climate change – are a cause for concern. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of SDSN, gave a keynote address at this opening session and indicated what he sees as priorities for urgent consideration, including investment and financing for the SDGs. He mentioned SDSN’s newest initiative, Move Humanity, which aims to help close the SDG financing gap in the lowest income countries by mobilizing greater private funding for basic health and education, critical infrastructure, and environmental conservation priorities. You can watch the full opening session here.

The role of Information and Communication Technologies in the Implementation of the Targets in SDG 11

On 9 July, the SDG Academy was proud to co-sponsor an HLPF side event with UNESCO and, titled “The role of Information and Communication Technologies in the implementation of the targets in SDG 11.” Panelists representing ICT experts across academia, civil society, and the UN system debated the opportunities and challenges associated with implementing ICT solutions for smart and sustainable cities. Topics included the use of data for responsible decision-making, the relative merits of public vs. private sector research and development, and the need for capacity-building at all levels. Panelists also emphasized the importance of localization and the need to think critically about the use of technology when trying to produce change. The SDG Academy, UNESCO, and also announced their collaboration on an upcoming Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) focusing on the use of ICT for achieving the SDGs, including modules on the use of ICT for the health and education sectors, the importance of data, and ethical considerations of ICT for development. The course will launch this fall.

Realizing the SDGs in Cities: Aligning Knowledge, Tools, and Monitoring Frameworks

This workshop offered a platform to discuss current challenges and review global agendas for achieving SDG 11. The new International Science Council, in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation, Cities Alliance, UN-Habitat, OECD, and SDSN conducted this workshop. The discussion began by examining the disconnect between local and institutional agendas. Participants emphasized the importance of local engagement for improving transparency and garnishing partnerships between local and national organizations. Participants reviewed the limitation of a unilateral discussion on cities while agreeing that SDG 11 could be used as a thread to interlink other SDGs. The day wrapped up with Jessica Espey (SDSN), Jaideep Gupta (GCRF), and Seth Schultz (Urban Breakthroughs) explaining the evolving roles of networks, funders, and partnerships for the development of urban communities.

How are Higher Education institutions integrating the SDGs into their teaching, research, outreach, and practice?

Organized by the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI), this event provided a platform for higher education institutions to showcase how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is being integrated into sustainability strategies, research, teaching, pedagogy, and campus practices to bolster these institutions in becoming leaders in achieving the SDGs. SDSN joined this event to present the guide “How to Get Started with the SDGs for Universities” published by the Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific SDSN. This guide was referred to by several of the attending universities as a comprehensive and practical tool to launch the transformation towards an SDG-engaged university. The webcast of the event can be found here.

Launch of SDSN Youth’s 2018 Solutions Report

On 16 July, SDSN Youth launched the second edition of the Youth Solutions Report at the headquarters of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in New York. The report features 50 youth-led projects covering 61 countries that work towards the advancement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) around the world. Siamak Sam Loni, SDSN Youth Global Coordinator, welcomed the audience with the report overview highlighting the importance of supporting youth-led initiatives. SDSN’s Executive Director, Guido Schmidt-Traub, and the member of SDSN Association’s Board of Directors, Prof. Patrick Paul Walsh, attended the Youth Solutions Report launch and engaged with young changemakers. Launch video and the full publication can be accessed here:

Research Partnerships for the SDGs in Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

This event discussed the needs assessments for research priorities that could be pitched for donor funding, improved synergy with existing research, impact assessments on energy regulation in SIDS, and the possibility of a broader consortium of SIDS research universities. Representatives at the event spoke about different technologies that are being used in SIDS development, including data compilation platforms for greater public involvement, sensors to accommodate GIS technology, 3D-printed complex corals in Fiji to replace degraded natural coral systems, and robotics such as automated kayaks for supply and service delivery. Representatives from the Scientific Community on Oceanic Research (SCOR) spoke about their Visiting Scholars fellowship, fundraising success within SIDS, and research camps in Namibia.

Meeting Sustainable Development Commitments in Cities: The Science We Need for the Cities We Want

As one of the nine organizations who partnered to convene the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, SDSN hosted this event alongside the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN. The event opened with H.E. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development for Canada, highlighting the importance of multi-stakeholder engagement for SDG implementation and cited the Conference as a successful example. The event highlighted the reasons the conference took place including urbanization challenges such as increased dependency on rural areas and the tensions that will arise, population stressors and trends, and the lack of connection between policymakers and scientists. The conference was able to address these challenges by producing a research agenda which aims to assess current knowledge gaps.

The research agenda is currently in its draft stage and is being reviewed by conference participants. It will be presented to national governments during the UN General Assembly this fall.

Partnering on Long-Term Strategies to Achieve the SDGs

SDSN participated in an official side event hosted by the government of Slovenia on the topic of long-term planning and strategies for implementing the SDGs. Professor Jeffrey Sachs spoke about the importance of national planning agencies to ensure that long-term pathways are inscribed in government policy and outlast the political cycles. Panelists included high-level government officials who discussed long-term strategies implemented in their countries. An official from Colombia spoke about the country’s experience in institutionalizing public-private partnerships through a special government agency, and a representative from Iceland spoke about the challenges of closing the gap between legislation and outcomes for gender equality in the country. One of the key messages of the event was the importance of pro-active public finance for the SDGs. As stated by the Slovenian Minister of Development, Strategic Projects, and Cohesion, Alenka Smerkolj, markets alone cannot be entrusted to finance sustainable development.

2018 SDG Index Launch

SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung launched the 3rd edition of the SDG Index and Dashboards on July 17 at the German Mission to the United Nations. The German Ambassador to the UN, Christopher Heusgen, inaugurated the session and commended the index for making metrics easily accessible to policymakers and officials. Professor Jeffrey Sachs then presented the report and key messages, including that no country is currently on track for meeting all the SDGs in 2030. The theme of the 2018 report is “Implementation Mechanisms for the SDGs” and focused specifically on G20 countries. To that end, government officials were invited to speak during a panel about their role in translating the SDGs into government policy and action. Julie Gelfand, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development for Canada, spoke about the role of auditors in keeping the Canadian government accountable for its commitments to implementing the SDGs.

Other new features of this year’s report include trend analysis, country profiles for all UN member states, absolute implementation gaps, and new leave no one behind metrics for OECD countries.