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HLPF Review: Process, Positions, Politics & Practicable Reform Options (completed)

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 developed and discussed 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 were analysed and published in the SWP Research Paper "Conflicts in UN Reform Negotiations", also giving recommendations for further steps. The key findings are:

  • The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is widely appreciated as a venue where representatives of the member states, the UN system and stakeholders can discuss the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This study analyses the negotiations on the HLPF review conducted in 2020/21 under the UN General Assembly.
  • The intended strengthening of the HLPF was blocked by numerous conflicts over environmental and development issues as well as overarching conflict lines concerning the international order. Lessons should be drawn for future UN reform processes.
  • The resulting resolutions largely confirm the status quo. The few incremental improvements should now be realised. The German government and the EU should work to improve the preparation and follow-up for the HLPF meeting in July 2022. The new Coordination Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which meets for the first time in February 2022, offers an important opportunity.
  • The German government and the EU should prepare ambitious annual UN strategies that also cover their work in ECOSOC and the HLPF. The identified conflict themes should be taken into consideration.
  • The UN Secretary-General’s report “Our Common Agenda”, requested by the member states and published in September 2021, creates a window of opportunity for progress on UN reforms.
  • By early 2024, when the next HLPF review is due, the German government and the EU should have developed reform proposals. They should communicate these in good time in the Alliance for Multilateralism and seek to build coalitions of the willing.

The research team also contributed 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 was 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.