The High-Level Panel on Sustainable Development Assesses Progress Toward Nine SDGs

Governments and stakeholders examined global progress toward a subset of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and strategies to accelerate their accomplishment by 2030 during the first week of the 2021 HLPF session. The Forum will take held at UN Headquarters in New York, the US, from July 6 to 15, 2021, both electronically and in person. 

The influence of COVID-19 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs loomed large once again, as it did in 2020, and every session throughout the week sounded the alarm of growing inequality. 

A session on the SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 8 (decent job and economic growth), and 17 was held on July 7th (partnerships for the Goals). According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) 2021 SDGs Report, by 2030, the global poverty rate is expected to reach 7%, falling short of the SDG target of 3%. In 2020, between 83 and 132 million people will go hungry, and 255 million people will lose full-time work, four times the number lost during the financial crisis of 2007-2009. 

During the conference, UN and government officials advocated for universal social protection, the formalisation of informal workers, and the consideration of localized needs when designing social protection systems. Climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, according to one expert, are increasing the obstacles of eradicating poverty and hunger. According to another authority, fulfilling SDG 2 will cost USD 39 billion. 

Inadequate payments to COVAX, according to an Africa expert, will increase the gap in immunization rates between the Global North and the Global South. Another speaker referred to Pope Francis’ concept of “pharmaceutical poverty,” which refers to the lack of vaccine access. To close the vaccination gap, the speaker stressed the importance of multilateralism. 

In the areas of Goals 1, 2, and 8, countries presented their activities and pledges. Indonesia has made it a national goal to improve food security, particularly through reducing food waste, increasing agricultural output, and cultivating underutilized land. Thailand has created a nationwide multidimensional poverty reduction index that covers education, quality of life, and financial stability, according to the country. Finland detailed and encouraged others to join a coalition to improve school nutrition, which will be unveiled at the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021.  

Several speakers emphasised the private sector’s involvement in addressing inequities and poverty. According to one expert, the COVID-19 epidemic exacerbated Indigenous Peoples’ poverty and hunger, while also exacerbating the exploitation of their land and resources. 

Participants heard that 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are thrown away each year, and the global material footprint increased by 70% between 2000 and 2017, in a session dedicated to SDGs 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), and 17 (partnerships for the Goals), which also took place on 7 July, In 2020, greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations reached new highs, and foreign direct investment (FDI) fell by up to 40%, falling below USD 1 trillion for the first time since 2005. 

The moderator advocated for greater recovery funding that is low-carbon and environmentally friendly. Agriculture and forestry contribute to GHG emissions and account for 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He stated that the IUCN is requesting that all authorities set aside 10% of the COVID-19 response budget to support nature.  

Other speakers emphasized the need for a circular economy to reduce raw material exploitation, single-use plastic consumption, and food waste. One administration has asked for the start of talks on plastic pollution. 

The relevance of educating young people about sustainable consumption and production methods; the importance of engaging local governments to develop greener economies; and the usefulness of local actors’ knowledge as a means to attain stability were all backed by several stakeholder groups. 

China has urged industrialized countries to follow through on their pledge to raise $100 billion each year to combat climate change. 

The HLPF assessed the remaining SDGs in the 2021 in-depth review on July 8, including SDG 3 (excellent health and well-being), SDG 10 (reduced disparities), and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), as well as SDG 17 (partnerships). Participants were advised by DESA that many areas of health, such as maternal health, were improving prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has halted or reversed progress; and Worsening trends for peace and stability; the mid-2020 period saw the highest absolute number of people fleeing war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations, and other disruptions on record. 

Throughout the HLPF session, delegates expressed dissatisfaction with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, claiming that it reflects existing disparities by causing more COVID-19 illnesses in unequal societies. Nonetheless, vulnerable SDG targets such as maternal well-being, early childhood mortality, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and pollution received little attention during the debate. 

The second week of the HLPF saw 42 governments presenting voluntary national reviews (VNRs) on how they are implementing the SDGs. 

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