Independent Group of Scientists Co-Chairs Present Findings from 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report
The High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development, entering the third day of its 2019 session, focused on the essential role of major groups and other stakeholders in implementing and monitoring the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with speakers emphasizing the regional dimension of their contribution.
Opening the first thematic dialogue, panellist Jose Viera, Chief Executive Officer of the World Blind Union and Co-Lead of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Task Force, outlined a set of principles to make the Forum’s review processes more democratic and productive — among them, more resources for civil society groups to participate in the Forum’s work.
Fellow panellist Warda Rina of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, emphasized that the 2030 Agenda includes the term “regional” more than 30 times. Regional processes have much to offer in terms of strengthening accountability, sharing lessons and identifying both priorities and barriers.
Panellist Donovan Guttieres, representing the major group for children and youth, said that, while 142 countries have presented voluntary national reviews of increasing quality to the Forum, good examples of participation are more often the exception than the rule. Looking ahead to the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September, he said the Forum must rethink the way it fosters participation.
Panellist Pooja Rangaprasad, Director at the Society for International Development, focused on global democratic governance. She wondered whether the United Nations should have a mandate to address tax avoidance by multinational corporations, recommending that the Organization establish a mechanism for resolving crises without undermining human rights and sustainable development.
In the ensuing discussions, representatives of Government, major groups and stakeholders agreed that civil society needs a bigger say in the Forum, with a speaker from the women’s major group stressing that discussions should take place at the national and regional levels “because that is where the people are”. A speaker from the indigenous peoples’ major group likewise appealed for an enabling environment where views can be expressed freely and without fear, alongside grass‑roots consultations targeting those being left behind.
“We need to know, in order to have a hand in what happens next,” said a representative of the major group for children and youth, who objected to civil society’s tokenistic participation in the Forum. On that point, France’s delegate said her delegation would yield its time to civil society whenever possible.
Several speakers underscored the link between human rights and sustainable development, including the representative of the LGBTI stakeholder group, who suggested that the Forum produce an outcome document that reflects the complementary relationship between the Goals and human rights. Norway’s delegate, expressing alarm at attacks on human rights and environmental rights defenders, said civil society must have space to hold Governments to account. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do if the Goals are to be achieved,” she said.
Also today, the Forum held a thematic review on the interface between science and policy that featured a briefing by the independent group of scientists preparing the Global Sustainable Development Report for release at the September Summit.
Report Co-Chair Peter Messerli of the Center for Development and Environment at the University of Bern said the report will identify targets that are on track to be achieved and those that not, citing hunger, inequality, environment as areas in which results are going in the wrong direction. The report will also pinpoint trade-offs among the Goals that must be addressed and mutual benefits to be harnessed, he said.
Noting that science can identify emerging issues beyond the implementation of the Goals, co-chair Endah Murniningtyas, Indonesia’s former Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, said the report will highlight the importance of partnerships in enhancing science capacity in developing countries.
Panellist Heide Hackmann, Chief Executive Officer of the International Science Council, said scientific contributions to sustainable development could be far greater. The United Nations can reinforce the critical role of science through more effective coordination, she said, drawing attention to a global science funding initiative.
Panellist Meera Joshi, former head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, stressed the importance of data and data analytics to local governments. Citing her experience overseeing yellow cabs and Uber cars, she stressed the importance for policies to be based on data, not anecdotes.
When the floor opened for discussion, France’s representative stressed the need to build science capacity in Africa to better understand its challenges, including inequality and effects of climate change. Her counterpart from Jamaica noted, however, that collecting data is a challenge for small island developing States.
In the afternoon, the Forum — meeting under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council on the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” — held a discussion on implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 10 on reducing inequalities within and between nations.
The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will reconvene at noon on Friday, 12 July, to continue its work.
The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development began the day with a thematic discussion titled “Perspectives of society”, moderated by Katarina Popovic, Secretary‑General, International Council for Adult Education and Representative, education and academia stakeholder group to the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Steering Group; and Paola Simonetti, Deputy Director, Economic and Social Policy Department, International Trade Union Confederation and Co-Chair of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Steering Group. It featured presentations by Jose Viera, Chief Executive Officer, World Blind Union and Co‑Lead, Major Groups Task Group on High-Level Political Forum Reform; Pooja Rangaprasad, Director, Policy & Advocacy, Financing for Development, Society for International Development and Civil Society Financing for Development Group; Warda Rina, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, and Co-Chair, Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Organizations Engagement Mechanism; and Donovan Guttieres, major group for children and youth.
KIRA CHRISTIANNE DANGANAN AZUCENA (Philippines), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the session would highlight the essential role that major groups and other stakeholders play in implementing and monitoring the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It would also hear about progress and challenges that various groups face in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
Ms. SIMONETTI said that, as the first phase of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals concludes, it is time to determine how the review process can be carried forward. During this session, major groups and other stakeholders — which have contributed to regional forums and national review mechanisms — can report on their contributions, and discuss whether the Forum is faithfully carrying out its mandate.
Mr. VIERA, outlining a set of principles to make the review process more democratic and productive, proposed greater emphasis on the inclusion of all groups, especially those most marginalized. Reform of the Forum should be based on results-oriented actions, an analysis of shortcomings and a determination of the systemic factors that lead to them. Participants must be more dynamic and not just congratulate themselves on what has been achieved. More resources should be made available to civil society, especially at the national level, while in the Forum, there must be more room for civil society to contribute. To exclude these principles from the Forum’s reform would be to miss out on the many opportunities offered by the 2030 Agenda.
A representative of the children and youth major group from the Philippines, underscoring the need to step up stakeholder engagement, said that, in her region, many non-governmental organizations feel they are not part of the 2030 Agenda process. Having contributed to national review processes, they want feedback from Governments. “We need to know, in order to have a hand in what happens next,” she said, calling for an end to the tokenistic participation of civil society.
A representative of the women’s major group from Rwanda said women and girls “in all their diversity” must be at the heart of discussions. Noting that patriarchal systems limit choices, she called for greater investment in accessible, gender-responsive social services. For societies to be inclusive, and women and girls to be empowered, the broader system must be addressed, she added.
A representative of the indigenous people’s major group said there is a huge gap in the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples at the national level during preparations for voluntary national reviews. She appealed for an enabling environment where views can be expressed freely and without fear, alongside grass‑roots consultations targeting those being left behind. Noting that 92 per cent of the targets underpinning the Goals are linked to legally binding human rights instruments, she said the human rights obligations of States must be integrated into voluntary national reviews.
A representative of the Asia-Pacific Regional Civil Society Organization Engagement Mechanism drew attention to the situation of migrant female workers and called for the establishment of just, equitable and sustainable economies.
The representative of the Philippines said his country takes pride in its consultative processes when it prepares its voluntary national reviews. Such reviews are an opportunity to connect with stakeholders from different sectors and regions. He added that his country’s reports are posted online for public comment and recommendations.
The representative of France said the Forum’s wealth is based on the unique place it gives to civil society and the major groups. She added that her delegation would yield its time to civil society whenever possible.
The representative of the European Union said the bloc considers the implementation of the 2030 Agenda to be a shared responsibility that depends on the participation of all stakeholders.
The representative of Belgium drew attention to the absence of youth voices from the global South. The Goals are a worldwide story in which everyone — including young people — must have a say. “We may not have decades of working experience, but that may be our strength,” she stated.
Ms. POPOVIC said the discussion would turn to ways of integrating cross‑cutting topics and thematic processes, such as development financing, food security and science, technology and innovation.
Ms. RANGAPRASAD said the key question is raising global democratic governance. Much is heard about illicit financial flows as a challenge to be addressed, but it is often packaged as a “technical definition” issue when it is, in fact, a political question about whether the United Nations should have a mandate to address tax avoidance by multinational corporations. Reorienting the goals of a global tax system — one designed by developed countries, but not working for developing States — is not a purely national exercise. She proposed a United Nations “debt workout” mechanism that would make it possible to resolve debt crises without undermining human rights and sustainable development. She also discussed the need for a global mechanism that can address the transboundary impact of emerging technologies.
Ms. RINA said the patriarchal and militarized model of development is clearly not working. It must be replaced with people-centred development that addresses inequalities. Civil society is paving the way, driving regional engagement mechanisms with structures that ensure that grass‑roots voices are heard. Emphasizing that the text of the 2030 Agenda includes the term “regional” more than 30 times, she said regional processes have much to offer in terms of strengthening accountability, sharing lessons learned and identifying priorities and barriers. Citing examples in Latin America, she added that regional processes have great potential for charting ways to implement the Goals.
The representative of the LGBTI stakeholder group stated that more than 90 per cent of the Goals are linked to specific articles in international human rights instruments. Emphasizing the crucial role that national human rights institutions can play, she suggested that the Forum produce an outcome document that addresses the complementary relationship between the Goals and human rights.
The representative of the food and agriculture cluster of the non‑governmental organization major group said that, with global food insecurity on the rise, the world is far from achieving Goal 2 (zero hunger). Urging leaders to demonstrate political will, she said the right to food alone is not the solution to global hunger.
A representative of the women’s major group from Latin America and the Caribbean said fundamental discussions on implementing the 2030 Agenda should take place at the national and regional levels “because that is where the people are”. She also noted the difficulty that Forum participants can face in obtaining visas and paying for airfare to attend its annual sessions. Another representative of the same major group, from Women Engage for a Common Future, said there is not enough critical analysis of human rights violations, especially violence against women. Voluntary national reviews should be discussed at regional forums with civil society providing alternative reports.
A representative of the African Regional Society stakeholder group said the integration of regional processes into the Forum’s work must be strengthened, with more space allowed for regional voices.
Mr. GUTTIERES said 142 countries have presented voluntary national reviews of increasing quality, but as the Forum heard today, there are still challenges to meaningful participation. Good examples are often exceptions, not the rule, he said. Looking ahead to the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September, he cautioned against becoming locked into a framework of passive dialogue. The Forum should rethink the way participation is carried out and address the factors that place the 2030 Agenda in jeopardy. Reaffirming commitments is not enough, he said, calling for redoubled efforts.
The representative of Norway said Governments bear the primary responsibility for delivering on the 2030 Agenda, but success depends on partnership with all stakeholders at all levels. Emphasizing that freedom of expression is an urgent priority for Norway, she expressed alarm at attacks on civil society, human rights and environmental rights defenders in many parts of the world. Civil society must have space to hold Governments to account, she said, adding: “It’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do if the Goals are to be achieved.”
The representative of the workers and trade unions major group said voluntary national reviews often merely report progress on individual Goals without considering the linkages among them. Calling for dialogue, she warned that consultation and engagement are not synonyms, and that engagement cannot be a “check-the-box exercise”. The role of the private sector should not outweigh that of civil society, she said, and shadow reports from civil society groups should be published by Governments and the United Nations.
A representative of the major group for children and youth from Canada said she no longer wants to be part of the voluntary national review process. “You are leaving people behind […] because of your inaction,” she said. Young people have potential and if Forum participants want to be included in their development efforts, they are welcome to join.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Azerbaijan, Kenya, Morocco, Mexico, Sweden, Guatemala and the Czech Republic.
Thematic Review II
The Forum then held a thematic review on the science-policy interface and heard a briefing from the independent group of scientists on the Global Sustainable Development Report. Moderated by Romain Murenzi, Executive Director, World Academy of Sciences, it featured presentations by Endah Murniningtyas, former Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of National Development Planning of Indonesia, and Co-chair of the Global Sustainable Development Report; Peter Messerli, Director, Center for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland, and Co-chair of Global Sustainable Development Report; Heide Hackmann, Chief Executive Officer, International Science Council; and Meera Joshi, former Commissioner, New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Stephan Contius, Commissioner, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany; and Virginia Murray, Head of Global Disaster Risk Reduction, Public Health England and member of the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk scientific committee, served as lead discussants.
Mr. MURENZI said science, technology and innovations are essential to implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Noting that the panel will examine ways for policymakers to open and amplify communication with the science community, as well as ways to ensure that messages received from the social and natural sciences are fully integrated into policies, he said it will also explore how the science community can become a more effective partner in carrying out the 2030 Agenda — specifically in terms of institutional structures, approaches and communication. It will also examine how the United Nations can increase engagement from science communities, funders, academia and the private sector.
Mr. MESSERLI, noting that the independent group of scientists was mandated to produce the Global Sustainable Development Report, said the team worked on it over the past two and half years. After assessing and integrating feedback from Member States and other stakeholders, the report will be launched at the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September. The report identifies targets that are on track to be achieved, as well as those that are off track. In some areas, results are going in the wrong direction, notably the areas of hunger, inequality and environment. The report also identifies trade-offs among the Goals that must be addressed and mutual benefits to be harnessed. It also provides a knowledge-based transformation framework consisting of four levers — governance; economy and finance; individual and collective action; and science and technology — as well as six entry points of transformation, namely: human well‑being and capabilities; sustainable and just economies; energy decarbonization and access; food systems and nutrition patterns; urban and peri-urban development; and global environmental commons. He explained how this framework works in Nigeria around solar technology, addressing trade-offs and harnessing synergies among the Goals.
Ms. MURNININGTYAS stressed the importance of national context, as one country’s situation is different from another’s. The report identifies the role of science in informing policymaking, tracking progress and identifying countries and regions that need help. Noting that science can also identify emerging issues beyond the implementation of the Goals, she said the report also highlights the importance of partnerships in enhancing science capacity in developing countries.
Ms. HACKMANN highlighted achievements of the scientific community, including a report titled, “The Digital Revolution and Sustainable Development: Opportunities and Challenges”, prepared by The World in 2050 Initiative and published by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Scientific contributions to sustainable development could be far greater, she said, underscoring the importance of knowledge-brokering capacity at the local and national levels. The United Nations can reinforce the critical role of science through more effective coordination, she said, underscoring the power of partnerships among all stakeholders. She also drew attention to a global funding initiative for science.
Ms. JOSHI stressed the importance of data and data analytics to local governments. As Commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, she set regulations for drivers, as the number of vehicle operators, such as yellow cabs and Uber cars, dramatically increased over a short period of time. It was critical to gather data, such as trip details, including where a ride started and ended, and how much drivers earned. Without data and data analytics, policies are based on public testimonies and anecdotes. Local governments will not know how to regulate if they lack information, she asserted, stressing that data helps decision makers devise better polices for residents.
Ms. MURRAY stressed the importance of implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction as a central element for achieving the 2030 Agenda. It is essential to strengthen the science-policy interface, as science and technology can empower stakeholders. Science can help define disaster hazards, she said, underscoring the need for a multisectoral approach to disaster risk management and for data to be usable for all stakeholders.
Mr. CONTIUS commended the report for outlining ways to accelerate transformation, mitigate trade-offs and harness synergies. It offers a good basis for discussion at the Sustainable Development Goals Summit and can inform integrated policy for lagging areas. He expressed hope that the next report, due in 2023, will reveal far more progress than today.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of France called for building scientific capacity in Africa to better understand such regional challenges as inequality and the effects of climate change. Official development assistance (ODA) should prioritize capacity‑building for scientific research institutions in the region.
The representative of Norway said science is at the heart of transformation, commending the group of experts for presenting a bold report. Success hinges on effective follow-up.
The representative of Switzerland said the report provides valuable evidence‑based insights. It is now up to policymakers to make difficult choices. Underscoring that scientists and policymakers must engage, he said the political declaration for September’s Summit should explicitly refer to the Global Sustainable Development Report.
The representative of Jamaica said data collection remains a challenge for small island developing States. She welcomed the diversity of the expert panel, as the specific needs of these countries must be considered.
Ms. MURNININGTYAS welcomed comments from the floor, noting that the panel will seek to incorporate suggestions into the final report.
Mr. MESSERLI described access to data and knowledge as “hugely uneven”, stressing the need to build knowledge platforms in developing countries through South-South and North-South cooperation. ODA can be used for that purpose.
Ms. HACKMANN emphasized the need to link big data across all disciplines.
Ms. JOSHI, citing examples, said data found that 96 per cent of taxi drivers made less than the minimum wage. Based on this finding, the local government set a new policy to support their business. Underscoring the need to secure data and protect privacy, she said data can improve the daily life in large cities.
The representative of the stakeholder group of persons with disabilities said that, as technologies address many barriers faced by this group, people with disabilities should be included in the development of technologies.
Ms. JOSHI, citing an example, said that data had informed a policy devised in 2018 to enable people using wheelchairs to find a ride within 15 minutes.
The representative of the Dominican Republic pointed out that the science‑policy interface is not strong enough in some countries. Scientists need Government, and Government needs scientists.
The representative of the women’s major group expressed concern about the public-private partnership model as corporate power has trampled human rights in Mongolia. The report also lacks gender and human rights perspectives.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said the report disproportionately focuses on the environmental dimension of sustainable development and expressed hope that the concluding chapter will be more evidence‑based. To strengthen the science‑policy interface, more scientists must be included in the preparation of United Nations reports. At the country level, the scientific community can be involved in monitoring and reviewing processes, such as that for the Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries for the Decade 2014‑2024.
The representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Agency uses nuclear science and technology to advance sustainable development, including in the areas of agriculture, water, health and energy.
The representative of Ghana said his country has incorporated science, technology and innovation into its national development plan.
The representative of South Africa said his country has been addressing poverty and making the economy more competitive through science, technology and innovations, noting that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) listed South Africa among the world’s innovation achievers in 2018.
The representative of the European Union welcomed the report, notably the knowledge-based transformation framework involving four levers and six entry points.
The representative of Sweden said his country supports research capacity in developing countries through restructured funding schemes and urged other Governments to do so.
The representative of Rwanda said innovation occurs in Africa, but is restricted by a lack of capacity, citing “brain drain”. She asked panellists how science and research hubs can be created in developing countries.
The representative of the Bahamas said her country hosted a technology summit and revised immigration policy to attract science and technology professionals. Ongoing capacity‑building is critical.
The representative of Kenya said his country established a science, technology and innovation observatory.
Ms. JOSHI responded to the point about “brain drain” by underscoring the difficulty of retaining talent in the public sector, as big tech companies offering higher salaries to attract job seekers. While at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, she had sought to attract talent by offering them opportunities to work on big projects, travel and participate in training courses, as well as by appealing to their sense of public service.
Mr. MESSERLI said the report is guided by the principle of “leaving no one behind”, including women and other marginalized groups. It focuses on three dimensions of sustainable development, he said, highlighting the critical relationship between people and nature.