HLPF Review: Process, Positions, Politics & Practicable Reform Options

Researching the reform debate on the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

In September 2015 the member states of the United Nations (UN) adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since its constituting session in 2013, the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is supposed to play a central role in the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. For this, delegates from UN member states come together every year for eight days under the auspices of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as well as every four years in September for two additional days under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. In September 2019 the first such SDG summit took place in New York.

So far, however, the yearly Thematic and SDG Reviews taking place during the HLPF are not “fit-for-purpose.” Preparatory processes are insufficient for a systematic review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and there is no effective follow-up. The Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), presented by UN member states during the ministerial segment of the July HLPF, are often considered a success: Since 2016 more than half of UN member states have presented their VNRs at the HLPF. However, their quality varies, and the underlying national and local review mechanisms could be enhanced. Moreover, the consequences of reporting at the HLPF are unclear, which raises questions about their relevance. Also, the ministerial declaration adopted each year at the HLPF has not been a very effective tool for providing “political leadership, guidance and recommendations.”

Already in its 2016 Resolution 70/299, UN member states had decided to review the format and organizational aspects of the HLPF after the completion of its first four-year cycle reviewing all SDGs, building upon lessons learned. Intergovernmental negotiations started in February 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the “HLPF review” and corresponding reform decisions have been postponed to the 75th UN General Assembly (2020/21).

This research project analyzes the current working methods of the HLPF and, on this basis, develops and discusses reform options and recommendations for action.

The research project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.




Marianne Beisheim, Steven Bernstein,

The High-Level Political Forum Review 2020: An Opportunity to Fulfill the HLPF’s Mandate

in: Felix Dodds (Ed.), Governance for Sustainable Development Volume 4: Challenges and Opportunities for Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New World Frontiers, February 2020
Marianne Beisheim, Steven Bernstein

Matching the HLPF’s Ambition to Performance: Prospects for the Review

in: International Institute for Sustainable Development, 13th of February 2020 (online)
Marianne Beisheim

Reviewing the HLPF's "format and organizational aspects" - what's being discussed?

Assessing current proposals under debate

Working Paper Research Division Global Issues, 2020/01
Marianne Beisheim

UN Reforms for the 2030 Agenda

Are the HLPF’s Working Methods and Practices “Fit for Purpose”?

SWP Research Paper 2018/RP 09, October 2018, 33 Pages

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