ECOSOC: High-Level Political Forum

| July 14, 2017

Note:  A complete summary of today's Economic and Social Council meeting will be available after its conclusion.

Panel I

The first panel on the day titled “leveraging interlinkages for effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”, was moderated by Minh-Thu Pham, Executive Director for Global Policy, United Nations Foundation.  The panellists included Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair, Southern Voices and Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue; Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); and Charles Arden‑Clarke, Head of the African 10-Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production Secretariat, Economy Division, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  The lead discussants were Michael Gerber, Special Envoy for Sustainable Development, Switzerland; and Irene Khan, Director-General, International Development Law Organization.

Mr. BHATTACHARYA said that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development not only linked the three pillars of sustainable development, its own goals and indicators were also interconnected.  Those connections should also be looked at as means of implementation.  Intellectual clarity was needed for implementing the agenda, as well as for establishing conceptual and analytical frameworks for doing so.  All models of implementation suffered from a major problem in that they focused on the aggregate level — which was the global level — and did not look deeper into national experiences.  Most countries had finished their policy planning and mapping for the future development agenda and the lead institutions for implementation had also been identified, while resource assessments had been completed.  The integration approach was too abstract and unmanageable at the national level and actually worked best at the ministerial level.  Sequencing and prioritizing were also needed for the implementation phase.

Mr. SIDIBÉ said leveraging interlinkages for implementation was a critical issue for all, as it dealt with efficiency, effectiveness and scale.  However, it was important to recognize that those issues were often deeply rooted in politics; better leverage political leadership was needed.  Given the recent seismic political shifts, it was imperative that people were not left behind.  From the world’s experience in attempting to address HIV and AIDS, it was clear that interlinked issues, such as those related to equality, poverty, gender, hunger, governance, education and human rights must be addressed.  For example, in Botswana, it was determined that even one year of additional education could reduce one’s risk of HIV infection rate by almost 11 per cent.  What was learned was that HIV and AIDS could not be dealt with in isolation, and in that context, a new fabric within the United Nations system was established, based on new partnerships.  The price of medicines was reduced from about $15,000 per year to about $80 at present, which would not have happened without civil society activism.  HIV was taken out of isolation and investments were made across different areas of the system that ultimately benefitted the fight against HIV.

Mr. ARDEN-CLARKE said the balance and details of the 2030 Agenda were contained in its targets, which were the “social contract” that had been negotiated between Governments and other stakeholders.  For example, he noted that 49 targets contained within 13 of the 17 Goals were dependent on a shift to sustainable consumption, which highlighted the interlinked nature of the Goals.  He noted that target 8.4 on sustainable economic growth aimed at increasing resource efficiency and decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.  The positioning of that Goal had broad implications for development and was clearly liked to target 1.5 in Goal 1 on ending poverty as the more efficiency use of resources would result in greater resilience for all, particularly the poor.  A range of targets across the Goals highlighted the integrated and synergetic challenges of sustainable development, although designing polices that could adequately address those challenges would require more coherence and coordination and among Government departments.  Achieving the world’s future development efforts would not be achieved by policymaking alone, but would require the collective definition of the linkages and the policies and actions and investments that put them to most effective use.

Mr. GERBER recalled that it had often been said that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were interlinked and indivisible, which was a fundamental concept for the implementation of the whole of the 2030 Agenda.  The international community must pay attention to the interlinkages by maximizing synergies and alleviating trade-offs.  The key methods for addressing development challenges were the mechanisms and processes determining the interactions between the targets that produced synergies and trade-offs, which, in turn, pointed the way to success or failure.  There needed to be more intersectoral research and approaches, greater efforts on leverage points between goals and targets and more multi‑stakeholder cooperation to foster synergies and produce concrete results and, in turn, coherence.  There were many different levels of coherence, all of which were important, including international and domestic collaboration and actions.

Ms. KHAN said that as an intergovernmental organization that promoted the rule of law for the purposes of development, she had a slightly different perspective on the discussion.  She agreed that the real strength of the development agenda was contained within the targets, and in that context, it was important to dig deeper than the individual Goals.  In her view, it was important to view Goal 16 not as a standalone Goal, but as a framework and enabling environment for other Goals through the concepts of laws and processes.  She noted that 14 out of the 17 Goals addressed the need for access to justice or inclusive societies.  For example, women’s equal rights to land and natural resources were related to many aspects of food security.  Women’s work in agriculture not only ensured their own foods security, but that of their families, and also contributed to economic growth.  Yet, in many of those countries, law and policies did not give women equal access to land and resources.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Sri Lanka stressed that measuring prosperity would require far greater non-quantitative indicators and dynamic influences, which had tangible outcomes rather than mere “mechanical” results.  Highlighting the importance of actions on the regional level, the representative of Romania noted that regional strategies, initiatives and actions were useful instruments for advancing global decisions at the national and subnational levels.

The representative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted that his organization had a team specifically dedicated to policy coherence that had identified a framework that could help policy makers navigate and identify synergies and trade-offs.  The framework involved a checklist and self-assessment tool that would be helpful for countries as they moved forward in their policy planning.  The representative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stressed that to reinforce joint action across all sectors and achieve coherence among wide-ranging polices, identifying interlinkages across the 17 Goals would require broad knowledge and collaboration.

The representative of the Philippines said that her country’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda was led by clusters of different Government agencies that had been organized around specific themes.  The clusters were chaired by cabinet secretaries, who reported directly to the country’s President.

Mr. BHATTACHARYA said it was important that, during the discussion, there was a common understanding of the terms that were used.  In that regard, he called for the United Nations to take the initiative to help bring about more clarity and understanding to promote a consistent use of language and concepts.

Emphasizing the need for impact, Mr. SIDIBÉ said that the fact that the 2030 Agenda laid out a clear vision would be extremely helpful for countries as they sought to devise comprehensive approaches.  The key issue would be the need to maximize policy coherence and to bring the data revolution into the debate to ensure that there would be proper, strategic information available. 

Mr. ARDEN-CLARKE reiterated the importance of interministerial coordination, and highlighted the need to provide a sense of authority to the coordination and policy integration process, which was best achieved by making it a function within the Head of State’s office.

In a second round of comments from the floor, the representative of Kenya described her country’s establishment of an interministerial coordinating committee — aimed at improving coherence, efficiency and breaking down silos within the Government — which provided a voice for coordination “from the top”.

The representative of Malaysia, striking a similar tone, described his country’s Sustainable Development Goal Council, as well as a related steering committee.  Those structures brought together civil society, academia and a wide range of other stakeholders to ensure coherence, he said, drawing attention to the successful example of Malaysia’s “Blue Ocean Strategy”, which worked to streamline Government action on oceans with a focus on rapid implementation and low cost.

The representative of the Netherlands, noting that he had been appointed as his country’s Coordinator for the Sustainable Development Goals, called on Member States to take an inclusive approach to mobilizing “power, people and pennies”, rather than employing traditional negotiation methods such as threats, “bargaining down” or withholding information.

The representative of the business and industry major group, agreeing with other speakers on the need for a “systemic vision” to guide the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, urged Governments to coordinate systemic thinking as a signal to all actors — including private sector investors.

The representative of the group Together 2030 — an initiative of over 500 civil society organizations working across all the 17 Goals — underscored the group’s commitment to preserving the interlinked nature of the 2030 Agenda.  In that regard, she said, countries should commit to review all the Sustainable Development Goals annually, focus on the means of implementation and respect the links between the 2030 Agenda and other agenda critical global frameworks.

The representative of the group Partners in Population in Development, an intergovernmental organization consisting of 26 Governments, pointed to the wide existence of confusion about the various terminologies being used today, including “coordination” and “interlinkages”.  Regardless of which term one chose to use, he said the issue “should not be taken as something new”.  Such discussions had existed for a long time, and now a greater emphasis should be placed on outcomes.

The representative of the indigenous peoples major group, noting that the vast majority of the 2030 Agenda’s targets were related to human rights, underscored the importance of integrating the work of human-rights-monitoring bodies into the agenda’s review and follow-up processes.  Noting that indigenous communities had long advocated for a wide array of rights — including the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determined development, to their land and the conservation of the environment — she also made several concrete recommendations including the inclusion of a Sustainable Development Goal indicator on indigenous people’s right to secure, collective land tenure.

The representative of the stakeholder group for women echoed the need to connect solutions to the world’s ecological, economic and social crises.  Recalling a number of important discussions over the course of the week — including wide support for the equitable sharing of benefits, efforts to improve the planet’s environmental sustainability and calls for ensuring the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls — she underscored the particular importance of the latter, stressing:  “We will not accept women’s rights to be traded away”.

Also speaking were the representatives of Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana and Thailand.

Representatives of the children and youth major group and the persons with disabilities stakeholder group also participated.

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