WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 7, 2019
New York, NY - From July 9th to July 18th, UN officials, government ministers, civil society representatives and private sector partners from around the world convened in New York for the 2019 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). The forum meets annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council for a total of eight days to review the 2030 Agenda. This year’s theme driving discussions was “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” The forum provides an opportunity to exchange experiences, recommendations and create linkages for a “system-wide coherence and coordination of sustainable development policies” to ensure 2030 remains relevant.
With SDG 16 up for review for the first time, this year’s HLPF was especially important for the 16+ Forum. Additionally, four 16+ Forum members, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste and Tunisia, presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNR). As a central feature of HLPF, the VNRs provide participating states an opportunity for self-reflection in demonstrating the efforts taken for SDG implementation while recognizing challenges that remain going forward. With Timor-Leste hosting this the 3rd 16+ Forum Annual Showcase this November, their first VNR will provide a timely preview for the showcase in highlighting successful concrete steps taken towards implementation as well as identifying areas needed for improvement.
On July 16th, the 16+ Forum co-hosted an official HLPF side-event “SDG 16+ and the Future We Want” in partnership with the Global Alliance, the Pathfinders, the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN, LexisNexis and the Transparency, Accountability, and Participation (TAP) Network. Held at the ECOSOC Chamber in UNHQ, the event underscored the importance of SDG 16+, its interlinkages across all the SDGs and as an enabler of the 2030 Agenda. Through dialogue and exchange of experiences of SDG 16+ in action, the side-event and reception that followed aimed to celebrate successes, inspire accelerating efforts to mobilize political will and foster multi-stakeholder commitments to advance SDG 16+ implementation.
The event featured a diverse panel of SDG 16+ experts with representatives from government and UN agencies, civil society and the private sector moderated by NYTimes Journalist, Mark Thompson, who expressed concern over the growing suppression of press freedom around the world.
In her opening remarks, Baroness Elizabeth Grace Sugg, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development of the UK, outlined the key obstacles hindering development progress—including violence, lack access to justice and weak institutions. She also raised concerns over the global trend of shrinking civic space and called on stronger cross-sector partnerships to protect civil society going forward to ensure no one is left behind.
The panelists included the Minister of Planning and Economic Development from Sierra Leone, Francis Kai-Kai, who discussed his country’s experience with its second VNR and the critical links between SDG 16+ implementation and access to quality education (SDG 4). He reaffirmed Sierra Leone’s commitment to advancing peace, justice and inclusion, remarking “no justice for the poor means no peace for the rich.”
Representing the UNDP’s 16x16 Youth Initiative, Lyrose Genon shared her perspective as a young leader from the Philippines. She outlined the obstacles the youth face around the world in advancing SDGs on the ground, which range from a lack of funding and awareness to the deliberate exclusion of young people in political decision-making and development processes.
Kim Haviv of the international law firm White & Case highlighted the critical role of the private sector in accelerating SDG 16+ implementation in its potential to introduce innovative solutions and build the capacity of public partners. Representing civil society, Florence Syevou of the SDG Kenya Forum emphasized the importance of grassroots organizations and the empowerment of marginalized voices to ensure inclusive implementation.
Marcos Bonturi of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) called attention to the growing “justice gap” that not only costs states billions annually but presents an obstacle in the advancement of peace, justice and inclusion and undermines efforts of realizing the Agenda 2030. Finally, Mourad Wahba of the UNDP concluded the event by calling for more inclusive civil society participation in priority-setting and implementation and stronger institutional capacity through multi-stakeholder partnerships.
In the discussion that followed, panelists agreed on the need for greater engagement with the private sector and local partnerships, including grassroots civil society organizations, as well as greater participation of youth and women leading these efforts. In providing the platform for dialogue between varied stakeholders, the side-event showcased different experiences of SDG 16+ advancement at all levels. Nonetheless, all panelists recognized that greater political will and investment, in addition to inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships, is fundamental to accelerate progress on SDG 16+ and to forge the future we want.
The reception at the Ford Foundation that followed featured interactive exhibits to showcase a variety of SDG 16+ initiatives and experiences, as well as “commitment stations” to galvanize attendees to commit to SDG 16+. The 16+ Forum and its partners, the Pathfinders, Global Alliance, UN Global Compact, Action Aid, LexisNexis, World Justice Project and Peace Direct, presented interactive exhibits. Affirming their support of SDG 16+, featured speakers included Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, and Fidelis Magalhaes, Minister of Legislative Reform Parliamentary Affairs in Timor-Leste. Minster Magalhaes articulated the importance of SDG 16+ in his home country, especially in relation to reconciliation, youth inclusion and economic development. The interactive and substantive cocktail reception further energized SDG 16+ champions in the lead up to the SDG Summit in September and the 3rd Annual Showcase to be held in Timor-Leste this November 11th to 14.
In closing the 2019 HLPF on July 19th, the President of the Economic and Social Council, Inga Rhonda King stressed that to deliver on Agenda 2030:
“We need to adapt and transform at a much swifter pace... and move out of our comfort zones in pursuing new ways of collective action.” 
Looking forward, a decade of ambitious action lies ahead on the road to realizing Agenda 2030. The 16+ Forum hopes to end this decade with sustained momentum for SDG 16+ and its related targets at the SDG Summit in September and at the Annual Showcase in November to build a global community and movement for SDG 16+ implementation.