2023 High-level Political Forum: Halfway to the Sustainable Development Goals

This July, I had the privilege of attending the United Nations’ High-level Political Forum in New York City. The High-level Political Forum, or HLPF, is the UN’s premier yearly conference summarizing progress toward achieving the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Leading officials in the NGO or IGO space, government ministries, Youth Delegates, and other distinguished members of the international community hold meetings to report on strengthening advocacy initiatives for the Goals. The Forum is a unique opportunity for countries to spotlight their work in shaping a more sustainable world by sharing their Voluntary National Review (VNR) reports that outline their progress. HLPF is a wonderful way to celebrate our achievements to date and acknowledge how nations could work together for the Goals.

Humanitarian issues are at the forefront of my work as the 2023 Co-Chair of UNA’s Human Rights Affinity Group and an individual working in the NGO sector. Many of the Sustainable Development Goals are human rights; Goals like No Poverty, Good Health and Well-Being, and Clean Water and Sanitation are essential to maintaining a healthy quality of life. I walked through the UN doors hoping to gain insight into how human rights and youth engagement synthesize with the SDGs. HLPF 2023 was a powerful learning experience for me, and I’m delighted to share some highlights of my time there.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2030: Special Edition
It was inspiring to attend the UN’s official SDG Report on the ground floor, especially since we’re at the halfway point in the SDG journey. Unfortunately, only 12% of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals’ targets are on track to be fulfilled by 2030. Transformative action was a common thread across different avenues of pushing the SDGs forward. In-depth strategic plans to advance, stronger institutions, and addressing debt distress are critical pillars to get the SDGs back on track. On a more positive note, advancements in the digital era are promising in the global sustainability mission. For example, investing in the development of data for the SDGs helps humanitarian organizations stay informed and formulate a quick response in emergencies.

Redefining Public Private Partnerships and SDG 17 in the Humanitarian Response,
Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar

SDG 17 is Partnerships for the Goals. In order to facilitate the best humanitarian response possible, SDG pursuits should equally benefit civil society members as well as governments. Global cooperation makes all the difference in international goals like those of the SDGs. The public and private sectors have distinct roles to play in effective response, and establishing the link between partnerships is not an easy step to take. Nurturing the circulation of continued action is a must to ensure that the link stays strong. Sustained dialogue is a fundamental requirement to facilitate effective coordination, and sharing time-sensitive information across all sectors is imperative. Finally, panelists talked about internal work within the UN to further action for the SDGs, such as establishing stronger ties between the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the UN’s humanitarian offices to maximize involvement globally.

Ensuring a Human-Rights Based Approach to a Green and just Energy Transition,
Permanent Missions of Denmark, Chile, and Colombia, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights

Questions asked during this productive discussion included: how do we avoid a state where transitions harm human rights? Is our current technology humanitarian-based? How is SDG16 a framework for this agenda, and how can we include civil society? The three most important takeaways I gathered are: protecting human rights should be at the core of transitioning to more just energy transitions, tokenism must be erased, and democracy is the tool needed to create the change we want to see. It’s imperative that nobody is left behind.

Meaningful Inclusion of Youth in the VNR Process; Lessons from the First VNR Youth Chapter, Permanent Mission of Ireland and Ireland Youth Delegates

Youth voices are being recognized – and amplified. Ireland and its Youth Delegates, David and Jessica, made history this year by becoming the first UN representatives to publish a Youth Chapter of a VNR, “Youth Consultation for the VNR”. They conducted research with young people, who were asked which SDGs mattered to them the most, and who is responsible for seeing them come to fruition, among other topics. If there’s one thing that needs to be leveraged to accomplish the SDGs, it’s youth inclusion. It was amazing to hear about my friends’ work and a new way to accommodate young peoples’ needs. There’s still much progress to be made in ensuring that youth are given a seat at the decision-making table, and a youth VNR chapter is a step in the right direction.

Intergenerational Dialogue on Leveraging Skills and Investment to Achieve the SDGs, UN Youth Envoy and the Permanent Mission of Nigeria

I’ve admired the work of the UN Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, for a long time. I appreciate the dedication of leaders like her who create a seat for youth at the decision-making table. In this event, she moderated a panel discussion with representatives from the Permanent Mission of Nigeria, country ambassadors, and youth leaders. They discussed several important topics in making advocacy for the Sustainable Development Goals an intergenerational process. The hallmark of this Side Event was the topic of effective social transformation. Transforming the world means transforming the models in it: in order to have action and participation, you need to have participatory societies and an active civil society. As noted by the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the UN, Maritza Chan, systemic change needs to take place. Transformative, innovative initiatives and education should come forth in the SDG framework. This stems from today’s youth movement in the humanitarian sphere. One quote from Ms. Chan stuck out to me in particular. Her words summarize my main takeaway from the High-level Political Forum, and her sentiment is one that I feel all advocates should keep in mind – “there is no limit to knowledge”