The July 2019 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: An Opportunity to Right-track Our Multilateral Engagement

Attendees at ECOSOC Youth Forum 2019.

Scene from 2019 Economic and Social Council Youth Forum. The theme of this year's Forum is “Youth: Empowered, included and equal”. April 2019, New York.  

 

 

Listen. Have empathy. Engender trust.

Support each other. Find solutions together.

We are all time;

Yet only the future is ours

To desecrate.

The present is the past,

And the past

Our fathers’ mischief.

                                                            From “We Are the Cenotaphs”

                                                                      Daniel Williams

                                                                       Poet, Lawyer

                                                          Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

 

Almost four years ago, we celebrated a big victory for multilateralism—the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The process was universal, integrated and inclusive. It is clear that we need continued, constructive dialogue as we implement the 2030 Agenda.

Today, it is troubling that multilateralism is so frequently being questioned. Many are asking whether the achievement of this Agenda would be at all possible in the current political reality. But are we asking the right question? Perhaps the answer to our fears and concerns lies in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through multilateral cooperation. This is why the 2019 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 9 to 18 July, presents an opportunity to right-track our multilateral engagement.

It was multilateralism that delivered the conditions for economic growth after the Second World War. It was multilateralism that allowed us to reach the objective of cutting extreme poverty in half after 2000. Climate change, the disruption that could accompany technological advancement and the threat of nuclear war are the defining challenges of our time. The issues of refugees, migration and trade also need to be addressed. All of these challenges require global solutions, and only the United Nations allows everyone to bring their viewpoints to the table in order to find common approaches that will allow the world community to tackle the growing threats to our well-being. Now more than ever, we must keep the channels of dialogue open.  

So, how can we enhance multilateralism for sustainable development? 

We need to fulfil our commitments to the 2030 Agenda, which is the most ambitious and universal agenda ever adopted by the United Nations. Upholding the principles of the 2030 Agenda is paramount to solving our most pressing challenges.

Upholding the principles of the 2030 Agenda is paramount to solving our most pressing challenges. 

This year, the ECOSOC Youth Forum attracted more than a thousand young people. Many implored us to stop referring to them as the leaders of tomorrow because they are already leading today.

A year ago, I met Jonathan Mendonca, a 25-year-old civil engineer from Mumbai, India. About three years ago, Jonathan founded the Barefoot Edu Foundation, “a grassroots organisation committed to transforming educational spaces into stimulating learning environments, contextualised for under-resourced communities”. His first independent project, Preparing Anganwadis for Learning, was a district-wide improvement initiative that helped over a thousand government preschool teachers build capacity in the domain of early childhood education. Jonathan has been able to secure multi-organizational representation and support in an effort to address the challenges faced by this particularly underprivileged and disenfranchised group. He participated in this year’s Youth Forum, where he networked with other young leaders, exchanged ideas and shared his experience.

Jonathan and the many who gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York in April 2019 don’t speak of failing multilateral systems. They still believe in the promise that the United Nations represents. Young people are saying, however, “we need you to help us scale up the solutions we do have”.  They are asking us to listen to them. We need to.

The High-level Political Forum creates a space for real dialogue and a platform for knowledge-sharing. I am inspired by the strong commitment we have seen from 102 countries that have already presented voluntary national reviews (VNRs); an additional 40 are scheduled to present their VNRs this year for the first time and 7 for the second time. In July, the High-level Political Forum, under the auspices of ECOSOC, will review the SDGs on jobs and economic growth; inequality; climate change; education; peace, justice and strong institutions; and, of course, global partnerships; and it will address the theme of inclusiveness and equality—all relevant to grappling with some of the burning issues of our time.
 

Students served lunch at Barefoot Edu Foundation.

A nutritious midday snack of local organic foods rich in iron and protein is served on biodegradable teak leaves at One Star Public School, a school for children in Madhya Pradesh, India, entrusted to Barefoot Edu for holistic transformation. 

The wealth of information from these reviews provides lessons for realizing our common objectives and gives the impetus to forge ahead. There are numerous good practices and solutions being implemented all across the globe that are being shared through knowledge platforms and other mechanisms for technology transfer, finance, and information exchange, including many at the local and regional levels that could be scaled up or replicated elsewhere. Financial institutions are being urged to mobilize and redistribute resources for sustainable development so that they are more effectively used to address multiple challenges, with the understanding that smarter, forward-looking investments will pay dividends for years to come. Technological innovations, applied within institutional frameworks that support equality and the empowerment of all peoples, will undoubtedly boost the implementation of the SDGs and give us hope for a better collective future.

Civil society, with its many grassroots organizations, remains at the forefront of implementation. Leaders must encourage local solutions and foster the participation of those most likely to be unheard.

We are making progress. More people are living better now than they were just 10 years ago. Four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, we know that many Governments are putting the SDGs at the centre of their development plans and are aligning their policies and institutions behind the Goals.

Four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, we know that many Governments are putting the SDGs at the centre of their development plans and are aligning their policies and institutions behind the Goals.

Nevertheless, a growing global body of data, statistics and scientific knowledge all reveal that a far greater effort is needed to achieve the SDGs and ensure that no one is left behind. We need to do more, and faster, to transform the world by 2030. We can still achieve the Goals if we undertake a major course correction.

Young people at the ECOSOC Youth Forum and those marching around the world are warning us that we are living our lives as if we have limitless resources. They are telling us that the well-being of future generations rests on our shoulders. They are worried that they will be burdened by consequences of the unwise choices that we are making today. However, according to Harvard professor and renowned author Steven Pinker, who addressed ECOSOC earlier this year, “There is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.”

The High-level Political Forum, which will also meet under the auspices of the General Assembly at the summit level in September 2019, provides us with a perfect opportunity to take stock, apply knowledge, address solutions and catalyse action towards implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It will be an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to global cooperation to create the conditions for peace and sustainable development, because we cannot have either unless we have both.

In his last publication, entitled Brief Answers to the Big Questions, the late, great mathematician, Stephen Hawking, explained “When we see the Earth from space, we see ourselves as a whole. We see the unity, and not the divisions. It is such a simple image with a compelling message; one planet, one human race.” Stephen Hawking died in early 2018, but not before he wrote, “I hope that going forward … people with power can show creativity, courage and leadership. Let them rise to the challenge of the sustainable development goals, and act … I am very aware of the preciousness of time. Seize the moment. Act now.”

The peoples of the world are watching us and they believe we can do better. They, too, are asking that we ACT NOW!

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