Why there should have been cake at this year’s UN High Level Political Forum

I was pregnant with my first child at the time it was created. Maybe that is why it still feels a little like “my baby”. And why I am so excited to see it grow and become a forum that attracts so much attention on its fifth birthday.

I’m talking about the High Level Political Forum, which just finished in New York this week. A Forum with an ambitious title that is the main global gathering on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But one that is starting to live up to its name.

44 countries volunteered to present at the Forum on how they are doing in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development this year. That’s double the number from last year. And between them you will find some very strong reports. Countries that are not only showcasing their achievement but that also talk about their lessons and areas for improvement.

Hannie Meesters extolls the virtues of peer pressure.

The energy at the Forum is very encouraging. Because this Forum has so much riding on it. It is the main global body for accountability for the 2030 Agenda. Here, governments are held to account for what they have done to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality to name a few of the SDG targets. But As I wrote last year, reporting of governments is voluntary against an Agenda which is also voluntary. Therefore, a lot depends on peer pressure exerted at the Forum.

The pressure from civil society groups also matters. For example, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a coalition of Indian civil society organizations prepared a shadow report on India’s progress on the SDGs. They point out issues that need more attention from the government, or rather linchpins as they call them, such as inequality and good governance.

While I’m excited about how far the Forum has grown, it is not yet mature enough. More rigorous monitoring and reporting is needed, more time for dialogue, more systematic engagement of stakeholders and more space for critical voices. My fear is that if we don’t strengthen the Forum and the reporting of countries to it, the interest in the 2030 Agenda overall could wane.

For the moment though, let’s celebrate where we are five years on. Which is what we did through several events organized in the side lines of the Forum. Together with the Government of Japan UNDP hosted an event titled “Asia-Pacific initiatives towards a sustainable future”. The governments of Malaysia, Thailand and India, along with business leaders, shared their experiences and lessons from the past two years out of the starting blocks of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Governments, civil society, youth, businesses — even Mr. Pikotaro, Japan’s current internet sensation — all have examples to share.

The events at the Forum illustrate an important point. When the SDGs were finally agreed upon in 2015 after several years of preparation and negotiation many complained that 17 goals was too many. That it was too complex and that nobody would be able to make much of it. But the opposite has proven true. The SDGs acknowledge the complexity of development in the 21st century and allow for all stakeholders to come together and pull behind a common narrative.

This is worth celebrating. And I hope we can continue to do so as “my baby” grows and reaches its sixth, tenth and fifteenth birthdays.


Edited by Mahtab Haider / Copyright UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub