January 2019 Newsletter


In place of the monthly Pathfinders’ newsletter, this briefing previews the year ahead. July 2019 will see the first review of SDG16 at the High-level Political Forum. In September, presidents and prime ministers will gather for the first SDG Summit.

There are 173 days to the HLPF and 250 days to the SDG Summit. These events have the potential to mark a breakthrough in the work to build more peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

This briefing lays out the milestone events throughout the year and discusses some of the challenges the events are likely to give rise to. It also proposes means by which the Task Force on Justice and its partners can help to overcome these challenges and push for positive change.

If you find this briefing useful, please pass it on to others working on the SDG16+ targets for peace, justice and inclusion. Subscribe or unsubscribe to our usual newsletter — and check out the sdg16.plus website.

1. The High-level Political Forum: 9–18 July

The 2019 HLPF is the final ministerial review of the first four-yearly cycle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

  • The theme is “empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” As well as SDG16, SDG10 will be reviewed. SDG10 aims to reduce inequality within and between countries.
  • Other goals under review include: SDG4 (education), SDG8 (growth and jobs), SDG13 (climate change), and SDG17 (partnerships).
  • 51 countries will present their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) — which means that a total of 143 countries out of 193 will have submitted at least one VNR in the first cycle.

The first week of the HLPF will include a debate on SDG16, with ministers and other senior contributors participating (as a model, see the thematic review of SDG5 on gender). The ministerial segment will be held in the second week, along with the VNRs and the ECOSOC general debate.

As in previous years, much of the action will take place outside the official proceedings. Last year, more than 300 side events were held in the UN’s meeting rooms, as well as many more elsewhere in New York.

2. The SDG Summit: 24–25 September

The SDG Summit will be held during the high-level week that marks the opening of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly.

  • The SDG Summit is officially also a High-level Political Forum, but it is held under the auspices of the General Assembly — the annual July event is part of ECOSOC.
  • The world’s leaders are asked to come to New York every four years to “provide high-level political guidance on the Agenda and its implementation.”
  • Leaders will have nine hours to present their statements, with one session on Tuesday afternoon and two sessions on Wednesday.
  • The Secretary-General’s annual SDG Progress Report will be presented, as well as the quadrennial Global Sustainable Development Report, which is prepared by 15 eminent scientists and experts.

3. Cutting Through the Noise

Ministerial HLPFs have often been a bit of a bun fight. Challenges have included:

  • Countries bringing high-powered delegations to New York to present their VNRs, only to find that their slots in the official program are too brief.
  • The growing sprawl of side events creating a lot of noise but not necessarily leading to sufficient new commitments to implementation.

The President of ECOSOC — the Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — is searching for ways to give more prominence to the VNRs (although there are significant space constraints). She is also committed to trying to streamline all aspects of the HLPF.

The SDG Summit will be part of a busy week:

  • The Secretary-General will convene a climate summit on the previous day. There will also be high-level meetings on financing for development, universal health coverage, and the elimination of nuclear weapons on Thursday, and on small island states on Friday.
  • With the General Debate continuing all week, Permanent Representatives are complaining about too many demands on their leaders’ time. There are fears that the SDG Summit will be over-shadowed by the Climate Summit and that attendance could be disappointing.
  • These fears are probably overplayed. The summit is mandated by member states, while the MDG summits provide a model for how events of this sort can increase ambition and deliver practical outcomes. But it is certainly true that considerable work — and leadership — will be needed to make the summit a success.

4. The Political Declaration

The political declaration further complicates matters. In 2019, there will be a single declaration that covers both the HLPF and SDG Summit (the ECOSOC President will also publish a summary document in July).

This is already causing anxiety:

  • In 2018, the declaration was adopted after a vote rather than through consensus, leaving the European Union to deeply regret disagreements, “especially regarding references to human rights, rule of law and justice at all levels.”
  • A worsening geopolitical climate has eroded the optimism that contributed to the successful negotiation of the 2030 Agenda. Many observers expect acrimonious disagreements about what the political declaration should contain.
  • In the worst case, the declaration could mark a step back from the agenda’s “supremely ambitious and transformational vision.”

The co-facilitators of the declaration — the Permanent Representatives of Sweden and the Bahamas — face a tough task if they are to deliver a declaration that satisfies member states in New York, while also reaching the SDG’s global audience.

They are also likely to find that SDG16+ takes up a lot of their time — as tensions from the 2030 Agenda negotiations are re-litigated by governments who may now be prepared to take a much tougher line.

5. From ‘Recommitment’ to New Commitments

Left: Inga Rhonda King, President of ECOSOC, UN Photo (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0) / Right: Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, OECD (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The political challenges were discussed late last year at a retreat co-hosted by UN DESA and the UN Foundation, and led by the President of the General Assembly and the President of ECOSOC:

  • This was the first opportunity for member states to discuss plans for the HLPF and SDG Summit –the high-level attendance reflected the strong interest from many countries in making the events a success.
  • There was a call to present the SDGs as a beacon of hope during a time of crisis — balancing a positive, solutions-based narrative with a wake-up call. Change is happening, but the pace of transformation is not fast enough.
  • A repeated theme at the retreat was that, “instead of asking countries to re-commit to what they have already agreed in the past, we should ask them to make commitments to what they will do to implement the SDGs in the future.”
  • The aim should be to build on the experience of the MDG Summits. For example, the 2010 Summit was memorable not for its political declaration, but for, “the announcement of major new commitments for women’s and children’s health and other initiatives against poverty, hunger and disease.”

6. Action, Acceleration, Mobilization

This aligns with the Pathfinders’ presentation at the retreat — and with discussions among the SDG16+ community over the past nine months or so. We called attention to language from the 2030 Agenda itself, which asks leaders to come to New York to “mobilize further actions to accelerate implementation.”

  • Action. Our experience is that a focus on solutions is the key to a positive debate on the implementation of the SDG16+ targets. Advocacy about the problems tends to reinforce political divides, but space quickly opens up when we focus on what change looks like in the real world.
  • Acceleration. As we come to the end of the first four-year cycle of the 2030 Agenda, we need to demonstrate an increase in ambition. The SDG Summit is an opportunity to announce new commitments that show that stakeholders from all sectors and all parts of the world are prepared to step up and do more.
  • Mobilization. By placing these commitments at the heart of a broader mobilization, we can further energize the global, regional, and national partnerships that are vital to the success of all the SDGs, but especially for SDG16+, which relies on a new consensus about how to build more peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

In short, the best way to respond to political headwinds may be to demonstrate the difference that the SDGs are already making in the real world and the potential to scale up implementation during the second four-year cycle.

7. A Registry of Commitments?

A possible objection to the focus on commitments is that they are easy to make, but accountability is often lacking. This could be surmounted — at least in part — if there is a mechanism for recording commitments and a process for ensuring follow-up.

At the retreat, there was considerable interest from Permanent Representatives in making a Registry of Voluntary National Commitments a centerpiece of the SDG Summit. This proposal is being considered by the President of the General Assembly and has support from within the UN system.

  • The Rio+20 outcome document asked the Secretary-General to compile commitments into a registry that was transparent, available to the public, and regularly updated. The aim was to, “present positive, concrete initiatives from different actors in order to demonstrate progress and efforts towards sustainable development.”
  • This registry lives on as the Partnerships for the SDGs platform, which is run by DESA, and which is, “open for all stakeholders and their networks to register their concrete policies, plans, program, projects and actions that promote sustainable development and poverty eradication.”
  • The Oceans Conference made full use of this platform, registering more than 1,000 voluntary commitments ahead of and in the wake of the HLPF on SDG4 in 2017. (Read our case study on the Oceans Conference to understand more about how this worked.)

The advantage of an official registry is that follow-up on the implementation of commitments would then form part of the HLPF and VNR process during the 2030 Agenda’s second four-year cycle. Accountability, in other words, is built in.

Awareness of the Partnerships for the SDGs platform is currently quite low. But it could be easily re-branded and re-launched — with a challenge to both governments and the communities supporting each SDG to use it ahead of the summit to “mobilize further actions to accelerate implementation.”

For more about registries of commitments and how they work, read our new briefing.

8. Priorities for the SDG16+ Community

Given this context, we would suggest that the growing SDG16+ community needs to:

  • Work together to maximize impact at the HLPF in July, building and communicating a coherent and powerful message about past and future implementation of the 2030 Agenda targets for peace, justice and inclusion.
  • Take momentum forward to the SDG Summit, shining a spotlight on SDG16+ and ensuring it receives the same focus as climate change and more established development priorities such as health and education.
  • Encourage governments and other partners to make commitments to implement and finance policies and programs at the scale needed to deliver and demonstrate measurable progress across the SDG16+ targets by 2023.

We need to share plans for the activities that are scheduled in the run-up to the HLPF and SDG Summit, using them to build momentum and to develop commitments.

In July, we will maximize impact if we work with the President of ECOSOC and with DESA to build links between the formal process and a focused set of side events. September requires political leadership and investment in communications and movement-building.

So how advanced are preparations? In the rest of this newsletter, we provide an initial overview. This is, as yet, a partial perspective, but we are supplementing it through a survey that we recently launched with the other umbrella initiatives for SDG16+ — the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies and the 16+ Forum.

Please complete the survey by 15 February if your organization is playing a role in the HLPF 2019 preparations. Also have a look at the SDG16+ calendarfor the events that we already have on our radar.

9. SDG16+ Preparatory Events and Reports

Before the HLPF, DESA will run an expert group meeting for each focus SDG. Alongside the SDG16+ report and a series of expert consultations, the SDG16 event will be a major opportunity to come together as a community.

  • SDG16+ Preparatory Conference, 3–5 April, Rome. DESA is co-organizing the event with IDLO and reports very strong interest. Around 200 participants will be invited — with at least some ministers expected to attend. There is space for side events, and also for roundtables to develop strategies for July and September.
  • SDG16+ report. The UNDP Oslo Governance Centre and co-facilitators of the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Promoting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies have committed to producing a joint SDG16+ report for HLPF 2019, which will inform the UN DESA Expert Group Meeting (EGM) in March/April 2019. This report will collate the perspectives of multiple stakeholders working on SDG16+ and aim to reflect country-level experiences. The Pathfinders are part of the advisory review group to support the publication of this report.
  • 2019 16+ Forum Annual Showcase. Timor-Leste has agreed to take the lead on the next Annual Showcase of the 16+ Forum to highlight solutions, successes and challenges in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Also, stay tuned for the 2018 Sierra Leone Annual Showcase Outcome Document.
  • Civil society is already exploring commitments for the HLPF — with the TAP network asking its members to send in commitments. This complements the role of civil society in asking for stronger accountability for the state commitments.

10. Targets for Peaceful Societies

We focused on the targets for peaceful societies at the recent Development Cooperation Forum in Seoul, which was led by the President of the Korea International Development Agency (KOICA). Our challenge paper for the Forum — published in the Korea Journal of International Development Cooperation — provides an overview of progress to significantly reduce all forms of violence everywhere.

There has been a good deal of activity in this area, summarized in our challenge paper on SDG16.1:

  • This area is connected to other international priorities, such as the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention, UN-World Bank Pathways for Peace report, and the Sustaining Peace resolutions.
  • The roadmap emphasizes the need for prevention to reach the countries and communities that are most at risk of being left behind. The g7+ — which brings together conflicted-affected states — remains an essential voice for countries that face some of the toughest challenges in achieving the SDGs.
  • Powerful communities are working on reducing interpersonal violence — especially violence against women and children. We need to build links between SDG5 and SDG16, through partnerships such as the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. The second Global Status Report on Violence Prevention, due out towards the end of the year, will provide a major update on what governments are doing to prevent violence.
  • Most violent deaths take place outside of conflict zones, many in urban contexts. City leaders and others are taking notice, collaborating to build safer communities based on improved knowledge and practice. There are significant opportunities to leverage existing and emerging partnerships — such as the Global Network on Safer Cities — and to provide a greater voice for the world’s mayors.
  • The new High Commissioner for Human Rights represents an opportunity to more proactively link human rights advances with violence prevention. One idea is to link Universal Periodic Reviews more closely with prevention and peacebuilding.
  • Some key events: PyeongChang Peace Forum from 9–11 February, and the Stockholm Peace and Development Forum from 14–16 May. We can also start planning for the next World Bank Fragility Forum, which will be held shortly after the SDG Summit.

Our view: A lot is happening on the SDG targets for peace, but work is still fragmented. SDG16.1 should be used to bring different communities together behind a drive to prevent all forms of violence. “Just as halving poverty inspired those working on the Millennium Development Goals, an objective to halve global violence could become central to the 2030 Agenda.”

11. Focus on SDG16.2

This year presents a major opportunity on SDG16.2 and related targets for ending violence against children — where we have a strong and energized community.

The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children brings together the key partners in this community and now includes 23 Pathfinder countries. The INSPIRE package sets out seven strategies for ending violence against children — uniting UNICEF, WHO, and other major global partners, and an implementation handbook was recently published. The Solutions Summit took place in Stockholm in February 2018. Read our challenge paper for the summit and our review of what happened.

More on developments related to SDG16.2:

  • The Global Partnership has convened partners to plan for the HLPF and SDG Summit.
  • The group has a strong focus on commitments and is planning to publish a “menu” of possible commitments to encourage governments and other partners to act.
  • The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children is preparing a report on implementation of the SDG targets for publication in the spring.
  • The violence against children community is also looking beyond the SDG Summit to the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (20 November 2019). This will be an important focus of campaigning and mobilization activities.
  • Other campaigning opportunities include Safe to Learn and important partnerships, such as Alliance 8.7 on child labor and modern slavery.

12. Targets for Just Societies

We are seeing a strong mobilization on justice as we head into 2019. An energized community came out of the negotiation on SDG16.3 and work is now coalescing around the Task Force on Justice:

  • The Task Force is chaired by Germán Carlos Garavano, Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Argentina; Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, The Netherlands; Priscilla Schwartz, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Sierra Leone; and Hina Jilani, an Elder. They are joined by some of the world’s foremost leaders and experts on justice and legal empowerment.
  • The Task Force is supported by a growing group of justice partners, including UN Women, IDLO, the World Bank, UNDP, World Justice Project, HiiL, Open Society Justice Initiative, OECD, ICTJ, UNODC, Open Government Partnership, and many others.
  • The Task Force will present a new analysis of the scale and nature of the justice gap. It will make the case for increased and smarter investments in justice. And it will explore what works to accelerate delivery on SDG16.3. The Task Force is at the heart of the movement for justice, and the mobilization around its findings and its report will serve as a platform for commitments ahead of the HLPF.
  • After meetings in Argentina and Sierra Leone last year, the Task Force will meet in The Hague from 6–8 February. That same week, Minister Kaag will host a ministerial meeting for more than a dozen Ministers of Justice and for senior representatives of international organizations. Partners and Task Force members are coming together at the Justice Partners Forum, and the Innovating Justice Forum, as well as many other events, are scheduled during that same week. See here for the latest: #JusticeHague19
  • Spring will see a series of events where the report of the Task Force will be launched, including the OECD Roundtable on Equal Access to Justice, from 27–29 March in Lisbon; the DESA Expert Group Meeting on SDG16, from 3–5 April in Rome; the World Justice Forum VI, from 29 April-2 May in The Hague; the Open Government Partnership Global Summit, from 29–31 May in Ottawa; and the UNDP Annual Meeting on Rule of Law, to be held in June in New York. These events will build momentum, mobilize commitments and get ready for the HLPF and SDG Summit.

Our view: The justice community is well placed to make a breakthrough in 2019, shifting from a model that provides only justice for the few to justice for the many.

13. Focus on Justice Commitments

The justice community is actively working to mobilize commitments ahead of the HLPF and SDG Summit:

  • In The Hague, the Ministerial roundtable and the Justice Partners Forum will explore new commitments. This is an important priority for Minister Kaag of the Netherlands.
  • The Open Government Partnership has a growing focus on justice commitments through its national action plans (see its briefing on opening justice). Argentina is the next OGP chair, with Minister Garavanoemerging a powerful champion for justice within the open government movement.
  • A meeting of justice ministers from the g7+ is being planned for the spring — possibly to coincide with the World Justice Forum. Minister Schwartz is also working with her regional counterparts, in particular from the Mano River countries.
  • The World Justice Forum in late April is an opportunity to bring together commitments. The theme of the forum is “Realizing Justice for All.” The World Justice Project is working on a briefing on commitments.
  • There is a strong civil society campaign, Justice for All, that includes demands on financing and protection of justice defenders.

14. Targets for Inclusive Societies

There’s growing interest in inclusion and inequality across the political world at a time of rising populist discontent and polarization. Given the theme of the July HLPF — empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality — we expect a growing focus on the bridge between SDGs 10 and 16. This theme will also resonate at the SDG Summit, given its relevance to the challenges that leaders face at home:

  • Research continues to flesh out our understanding of changing patterns in inequality and exclusion — most recently the Social Panorama of Latin America 2018.
  • But we need a much stronger focus on political and policy solutions — the subject of the Pathfinders’ grand challenge on inequality and exclusion. A group of member states, international organizations, and experts are working together to explore how to build political momentum behind a new set of proposals for building more equal and inclusive societies.
  • We’re undertaking a series of visits to countries that wish to lead on this dimension of the 2030 Agenda. The Tunisia mission was completed at the end of last year. Next up: Indonesia and Timor-Leste. We also working on policy briefs on housing, political polarization, and corruption.
  • An Expert Group Meeting on SDG10 will be held in Accra, Ghana, from 27–28 March. This is expected to be a somewhat smaller meeting than the SDG Conference in Rome, but will still be an important opportunity to build momentum for the HLPF.
  • Also, the next Human Development Report will take inequality as its theme, with Pedro Conceição now leading the HDR team. This is a key priority for UNDP’s boss, Achim Steiner.

Our view: 2019 presents an opportunity to break the negative trends in the space of equality and inclusion, but a stronger sense of political urgency is needed. We also need to get practical — moving from advocacy about the problem to a solutions-focused agenda for change.

15. Focus on Governance

SDG16.6 promises to “develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.” Better governance is vital to the attainment of any SDG. Innovative approaches are essential given that so many targets require transformational change — a shift to quality in education, for example, or re-engineering economies to ensure sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

  • OGP is the biggest partnership in the SDG16+ space. 76 countries have national action plans which are jointly created by government and civil society. An Independent Reporting Mechanism tracks progress in each country.
  • The 2019 summit will be hosted by the Canadian government and has three priorities: participation, inclusion, and impact.
  • At the UN, the Committee of Experts on Public Administration will meetfrom 8–12 April. The committee recently published the principles for effective governance for sustainable development.

Our view: governance is the dog that is yet to bark, with too little focus on the institutional challenges in delivering 17 goals that describe themselves as “supremely ambitious and transformational.” There are lots of untapped opportunities for the SDG16+ community to build alliances with those working to deliver other goals.

16. Looking forward to 2020

When the SDGs were finalized in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda entered the doldrums — funding cycles were linked to the summit and many of those most active in the negotiations moved immediately to a new job. It took a couple of years to rebuild momentum.

We can’t afford to let that happen in 2019, so it makes sense to begin planning for 2020:

  • A UN summit is planned for September — the latest in a series that have been held every five years.
  • There’s talk of an SDG16+ commitments conference as well — this would be an opportunity to build on the platform provided by the HLPF and SDG Summit.


Remember, we want to hear from you so we can add more detail to this review. Don’t forget to take this brief survey (open until 15 February) that we launched in partnership with the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies and the 16+ Forum.