The interlinking nature of the Sustainable Development Goals represented an important opportunity to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and scale of future development efforts, speakers said today, as the Economic and Social Council wrapped up the first segment of its High-Level Political Forum.
The balance and details of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were contained in its targets, which were the “social contract” that had been negotiated between Governments and other stakeholders, said Charles Arden‑Clarke, Head of the African 10-Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production Secretariat at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Achieving some 49 targets contained within 13 of the 17 Goals depended on a shift to sustainable consumption, said Mr. Arden‑Clarke, speaking in a panel discussion aimed at exploring opportunities for leveraging interlinkages for the implementation of the Goals. A range of targets across the 2030 Agenda highlighted the integrated and synergetic challenges of sustainable development, although designing polices that could adequately address those challenges would require more coherence and coordination among Government departments.
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, said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). 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, he told the Forum. Such experiences pointed to the fact that leveraging interlinkages for implementation was a critical issue for all, although it was important to recognize that those issues were often deeply rooted in politics.
Intellectual clarity was needed for implementing the agenda, as well as for establishing conceptual and analytical frameworks for doing so, said Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair of Southern Voice and a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue. 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, he continued.
Highlighting that as an intergovernmental organization which promoted the rule of law for the purposes of development, Irene Khan, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization, 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; yet, in many of those countries, law and policies did not give women equal access to land and resources.
Pointing to a “fantastic amount of data” emerging from a variety of different producers, Roberto Olino, Chief Statistician of Brazil, underlined the need to harmonize those sources in a way that would create more coherence. Speaking in a second panel discussion focused on data and statistics, Mr. Olino said the national challenge of leaving no one behind implied a need for data disaggregation in order to identify “the no-ones”, adding that this spotlighted the need to gather data in order to better understand trends and movements. Noting that talking about data had recently become “trendy”, he said there was nevertheless a real need to consider it more seriously and coherently.
Underscoring the importance of avoiding getting “stuck in the weeds” in discussions on data, Judith Randel, Co-founder and Executive Director of Development Initiatives, said one major challenge was to develop a more sophisticated understanding about how people’s identities made it harder or easier to take advantage of opportunities. “We have to make it really easy” for politicians to understand the 2030 Agenda, she stressed.
Also today, the Forum held a panel discussion on the science-policy interface and other emerging issues.
In closing remarks, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, President of the Economic and Social Council, and Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs, gave a broad overview of the sessions throughout the week.
The Forum will meet again at 9 a.m. on Monday, 17 July, to begin its ministerial segment.
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 Voice 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.
The day’s second panel discussion, which focused on data and statistics, was moderated by Mr. Bhattacharya. It featured three panellists: Roberto Olino, Chief Statistician, Brazil; Judith Randel, Co-founder and Executive Director, Development Initiatives; and Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada.
Mr. BHATTACHARYA, noting that the adoption of the 2030 Agenda had brought with it the new term “data revolution” and that countries around the world were paying increased attention to better quality, more granular and disaggregated data, as well as “big data”. There was also a more recent backlash led by people who felt there was an overfocus on, and fetishizing of, data, he said.
Mr. OLINO, pointing to a “fantastic amount of data” emerging from a variety of different producers, underlined the need to harmonize those sources in a way that would create more coherence. The national challenge of leaving no one behind implied a need for data disaggregation in order to identify “the no-ones”, he stressed, also spotlighting the need to gather data in order to better understand trends and movements. Among the most important tools in that regard were household surveys and the improved use of modern data sources. Noting that talking about data had recently become “trendy”, he said there was nevertheless a real need to consider it more seriously and coherently.
Ms. RANDEL, underscoring the importance of avoiding getting “stuck in the weeds” in discussing data, said one major challenge was to develop a more sophisticated understanding about how people’s identities made it harder or easier to take advantage of opportunities. “We have to make it really easy” for politicians to understand the 2030 Agenda, she said, citing the work of the Development Initiatives’ P20 Initiative — aimed at tracking the progress of the poorest 20 per cent of the global population — in that regard. Urging stakeholders to consider three simple questions — namely whether people were better off, better nourished and known by their Governments — she called for both political and technical progress in those regards, and said national statistical offices should engage much more with the “wider ecosystems of data”.
Mr. ARORA, describing Canada’s deep engagement in exploring the interlinkages between the various Sustainable Development Goals and indicators, said data on those issues were growing rapidly. However, stronger statistical rigour was needed, because more and more data did not always lead to successful outcomes and could even be used to justify the desires of narrow interests. In order to broaden the world’s understanding of data — especially among policymakers — national statistical offices needed to “sharpen their elbows” in such areas as accessibility, statistical literacy and communication, he said.
In the ensuing discussion, a number of delegates representing their countries’ statistical offices shared national experiences, best practices and challenges in the collection and use of quality data.
The representative of Belarus was among several speakers who described disaggregation as one of today’s most complicated data issues. Noting that Belarus was improving its efforts in that area by designing new studies on people with disabilities, women and children and other areas in conjunction with United Nations agencies, she also pointed to a broader need for increased accountability, and cooperation and the enhanced sharing of best practices on data collection.
The representative of Ghana, also voicing concern about the challenge posed by disaggregation, warned that many countries around the world were still struggling with basic data collection.
Other speakers addressed the issue of statistics through a more systemic lens, with the representative of Chile emphasizing that decentralized national statistical systems — such as the one in her country — would be critical to the neutral, impartial monitoring of the 2030 Agenda’s implementation in light of the fact that administrations would change over the course of its implementation. Statistics were one tool Chile was using to better identify, and continuously improve its response to, the needs of its citizens, she said.
The representative of Iran underscored the importance of identifying what could be done to implement the Sustainable Development Goals within the framework of a Government’s various ministries and sectors. Capacity-building — including at the regional level — would be essential in that regard, he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation echoed the panellists’ calls for more harmonized data collection, also drawing distinctions between the 2030 Agenda’s three tiers of indicators. “Tier 3” indicators would require detailed methodological standards, he said, adding that they would require strong monitoring at the national level.
Several speakers, including the representative of the stakeholder group on ageing, drew attention to particular populations in the context of data disaggregation. Noting that, by 2030, almost one fifth of the world’s population would be over the age of 60, she stressed that data must be used to help Governments better understand and pay more attention to the needs of older adults.
As the panellists responded briefly to those comments, Mr. ARORA agreed that, despite the recent explosion of demand for disaggregated data, many countries were still struggling with the basics. Efforts to leave no one behind must also ensure that no national statistical office was left behind, he said in that regard.
Ms. RANDEL called for a standards-based “minimum set” of disaggregation criteria, adding that civil registration and census data would be critical tools in that regard.
Mr. OLINO described the 2030 Agenda as a “huge” endeavour that would require significant data, time, reflection and coherence.
Also speaking were the representatives of Madagascar, Switzerland, Senegal and Kenya.
A panel on “science-policy interface and emerging issues” was moderated by Bill Colglazier, Editor-in-Chief, Science & Diplomacy and Senior Scholar, Center for Science Diplomacy, American Academy for the Advancement of Science and former science adviser to the Secretary of State, United States. The panel featured Endah Murniningtyas, former Deputy Minister for National Resources and Environment, Ministry of National Development Planning/National Development Planning Agency, Indonesia; Peter Messerli, Director, Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern; and Wang Ruijun, Director-General, National Center for Science and Technology Evaluation, Ministry of Science and Technology, China and Chair, United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development. Tolu Oni, Associate-Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Stuart Taberner, Director of International and Interdisciplinary Research, Research Councils of the United Kingdom were lead discussants.
Ms. MURNININGTYAS said an inclusive process was being created with a view to reaching the goal of poverty eradication. Working groups were focusing on, among other things, examining how research could be used for policymaking in that regard. Turning to the issue of the science-policy interface, she said a set of evaluation guidelines existed to bring science advances into the policymaking arena.
Mr. MESSERLI reflected on implications on the science-policy interface and other issues of concern. When analysing land use change, functions were often reshuffled to create winners and losers. Sustainable development was not about harmony between stakeholders, but instead was a challenge of how to maximize progress. Interlinkages must be understood, he said, emphasizing that real evidence existed that more foreign direct investment led to poverty eradication. Working within and with the system, a new realm of development pathways could be identified. However, knowledge gaps were a challenge and no single scientific assessment could provide solutions. To face the huge task ahead, science, policy and the interface between them must be changed. Available knowledge must be used, he said, emphasizing that the uneven distribution of knowledge and science was a great concern.
Mr. RUIJUN said it was necessary to identify science, technology and innovation gaps in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Issues to be addressed included inadequate and mismatched research and development funding. New, innovative approaches must address current and future challenges. Providing examples, he said innovations in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were helping communities. Offering several recommendations, he said awareness of scientists should be continuously raised so they could devote themselves to addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. The science-policy synergy should be strengthened and building the capacity of science, technology and innovation should be mainstreamed into official development assistance (ODA) initiatives.
Ms. ONI said engaging with policy-making could be considered to be a trade‑off for scientists. To overcome such trade-offs, efforts should be supported to equip mid-career scientists with the relevant skills to help bridge existing gaps and identify solutions. Providing examples from Africa and Asia, she said efforts had been made to engage scientists with communities. In addition, education programmes should target science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes to bolster knowledge among younger generations. Turning to the issue of rapid urbanization, she said urban health research was an area to examine. Good health did not “accidentally happen”; it should be directly addressed, bringing uneasy bedfellows together. For instance, health scientists must work with non-health policy makers. Voluntary national reviews could be harnessed as a tool to ensure that evidence generated from various studies supported those linkages.
Mr. TABERNER said bringing together a diverse group of experts to solve problems was important. Challenges of research and policy forced stakeholders to think about identifying or creating pathways to make significant impacts. Fundamental research and outcomes must be considered more closely. For instance, he said, the challenge of different cultures and expectations among stakeholders existed and solutions must be found. Another challenge was that research had a long timescale, whereas policy required answers immediately. Such challenges must recognize the need for equal partnerships and broader dialogue. In addition, efforts must focus on capacity-building and partnerships.
In the ensuing dialogue, participants provided examples of how they were making inroads, with GABRIEL LIVIU ISPAS, Secretary of State of the Ministry of National Education of Romania, saying that the role of education was critical in empowering people to take action and play an active part in their communities. Romania provided appropriate teacher training and believed educational research was essential for progress and should be intensified. Cooperation must be bolstered between scientists and policy makers to find suitable solutions to development issues.
Participants also raised pressing issues and shared challenges in science‑policy interfacing. The representative of Japan said domestic science and technology policies must be directly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals while the representative of Uganda stressed the importance of investments in research and development.
Some representatives of major groups raised their concerns. The representative of the women’s major group said a holistic approach must ensure that equality was achieved in a range of fields, including by providing youth with universal access to education to allow them to build their futures. People‑centred and gender-responsive initiatives were also essential, she said. The representative of the scientific and technological community major group called for an inclusive definition of science that could be rationally applied and interfaced with traditional knowledge systems. In addition, she underlined the importance of engaging young scientists in the science-policy interface practice.
Also participating was the representative of Finland. The representative of the United Nations Environment Programme spoke, as did the representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Also speaking were representatives of the persons with disabilities stakeholder group, indigenous peoples major group, non-governmental organizations major group and the children and youth major group.
During a wrap-up session of the first week of meetings of the high-level political forum, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of Economic and Social Council, and Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs, provided observations and an overview of panels that had been held.
Mr. SHAVA, noting an unprecedented level of engagement by all stakeholders, said the indivisible, integrated and interlinked nature of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals had been clearly recognized by discussions that had taken place over the past week. There were positive signs of progress in efforts to leave no one behind and many participants had made commitments to forge new partnerships and increase cooperation.
Empowering vulnerable groups must become a priority to end poverty and promote prosperity, he said, stressing the need to focus efforts on making real progress on the ground. Several recurring themes had included a lack of statistics and data, which remained a great challenge, and the importance of taking a “whole society” approach.
Mr. HONGBO, calling the Forum the right platform on the right track with regard to the 2030 Agenda, said progress had already been made during the current session. A total of 44 national reviews would be presented, partnerships had been forged, 147 side events had been confirmed and special events had focused on business and learning. A measure of success should be how much value the Forum had added to the follow-up review by, among other things, identifying gaps. Its mission had indeed been accomplished.
The Forum, he continued, provided space for various communities that sought to go beyond sectoral boundaries. Linkages and transformative actions had been discussed. While growth bolstered poverty alleviation, it alone was not enough and the various dimensions of poverty must also be addressed. A clearer focus on what was needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals had also been discussed in areas such as science and technology. In addition, the importance of data had been recognized as a tool to implement the Goals.