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

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

In September 2015, UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. For this, delegations come together every year in July 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.

While, in general, the HLPF is considered to be a success, there is room for improvement. Preparatory processes for the annual Themtic and SDG Reviews, for example, are insufficient for a systematic in-depth review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), presented by national delegations during the ministerial segment of the July HLPF, have created political momentum: Since 2016 168 UN member states have presented their VNRs at the HLPF at least once. However, the quality of the VNRs 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 the relevance of the reviews. The ministerial declaration adopted each year at the HLPF has not been an effective tool for providing the mandated “political leadership, guidance and recommendations”. And there is also no effective follow-up of if after the Forum has taken place.

In 2016, in General Assembly Resolution 70/299, UN member states decided to review the format and organizational aspects of the HLPF after the completion of its first four-year cycle, building upon lessons learned. Intergovernmental negotiations started in February 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, member states decided to postpone the review, agreeing only on a short resolution (A/RES/74/298) in August 2020. The second phase of the negotiations started on January 25th, 2021. A vote in the UN General Assembly on the 25th of June 2021 concluded the negotiations. The Annex-resolution on the Review of ECOSOC (A/RES/74/290A) was adopted with 47 abstentions after controversial amendments had been brought forward by the G77 and China (see A/75/L.104).The Annex-resolution on the review of the HLPF (A/RES/74/290B) was adopted by consensus. A next review of ECOSOC and HLPF in conjunction is foreseen for the 78th session of the UN General Assembly (2023/24).

On the basis of empirical analyses of the current working methods of the HLPF, this research project develops and discusses reform options to give recommendations for actions. In the context of the first round of negotiations in March 2020, several reform options were presented, also graphically.

HLPF Reform Option: SHERPA (as curator of year-round process around annual HLPF under the auspices of ECOSOC)

HLPF Reform Option: SPRING MEETING (splitting the days of the HLPF for an analytical & results-oriented Follow-up & Review process)

HLPF Reform Option: THEMATIC AND SDG REVIEWS (GSDR-informed systematic approach to Reviewing Themes & SDGs with a focus on transformations and relevant interlinkages)

In the second round of negotiations the project analysed the positions of UN member states. The results will be anaylzed and published, also giving recommendations for further steps.

The research team also contributes to an international book project "The SDGs as a Transformative Force?" (scheduled for publication in 2022), a scholarly SDG impact assessment, which is coordinated by the Global Goals Project at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The project director is co-lead author of the chapter on "Global Governance and the SDGs"

The research project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (September 2019 - December 2021).

Related links:
The UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform provides further information on the HLPF, including on the status of the ECOSOC & HLPF Reviews.

Further SWP-publications and materials are in this dossier. Aside from recent project-publications, selected older publications about reform options related to the HLPF are also listed beneath.