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Empowering Sustainability: My Insights from the High-Level Political Forum 2023

The Nepal Weekly
August 8, 2023

By Rohit Dahal, Founder of AMES Academy and Co-Founder of United for Impact

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(As a representative of Nepal and being a part of IDEAS for US, Community Catalyst, AMES Academy, United for Impact and a U.S. State Department Fellow for the Community Engagement Exchange Fellow 2023, I had the privilege of participating in the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) 2023. This annual meeting brought together world leaders, policymakers, civil society, youth delegates, and stakeholders to review progress, share best practices, and suggest new actions to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SD Goals. Here I will share my first-person perspective on the HLPF 2023, highlighting my engagement, collaboration, and reflections on accelerating sustainable development.

Introduction to HLPF

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 goals (SDGs) to improve the world economically, socially, and environmentally. To ensure progress towards these goals, countries hold an annual meeting called the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), where government representatives and stakeholders review progress, share best practices, and suggest new actions.  It replaces the Commission on Sustainable Development, which had met annually since 1993. The Forum meets annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council for eight days, including a 3-day ministerial segment and every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the General Assembly for two days.

This year, HLPF took place from July 10 to July 19, 2023, under the Economic and Social Council. The forum’s theme was “Accelerating the recovery from COVID-19 and implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

HLPF over the years

–   2022 Building back better from the COVID-19 while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

–   2021 Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda

–   2020  Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development

–   2019 HLPF under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council

–   2018  Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies

–   HLPF 2017. Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world

–   2016  Ensuring that no one is left behind

–   2015  Strengthening integration, implementation and review – the HLPF after 2015

–   2014  Achieving the MDGs and charting the way for an ambitious post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs

–   2013  Building the future we want: from Rio+20 to the post-2015 development agenda

During the HLPF, effective and inclusive recovery measures were discussed addressing the impact of the pandemic on the SDGs. They also explored actionable policy guidance for implementing the 2030 Agenda and SDGs at all levels. The forum reviewed in-depth five specific goals: 6 – clean water and sanitation, 7 – affordable and clean energy, 9 – industry, innovation and infrastructure, 11 – sustainable cities and communities, and 17 – partnerships for the Goals.

The VNR countries are expected to submit comprehensive written reports that will be made available in the VNR database. In addition, each VNR country will also provide main messages summarizing their key findings. These main messages are also posted in the VNR database. 39 countries carried out voluntary national reviews (VNRs) of their progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda. These countries included Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia, Canada, Fiji, Ireland, Poland, and many others.

The HLPF in July also supported the mid-term review of SDG implementation and prepared for the 2023 SDG Summit, which will be convened under the General Assembly in September 2023.

Exploring the HLPF:

During the HLPF in 2023, I had the privilege to represent Nepal. Throughout the entire duration of the event, I actively participated in various panel discussions, workshops, and side events that focused on crucial themes such as sustainable development, youth empowerment, and inclusive growth. Drawing on my expertise, I contributed to these discussions, emphasizing the importance of innovative solutions to tackle global challenges effectively. Collaboration emerged as a key theme, and I stressed the significance of forging partnerships between various stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, and local communities, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A major focus of the sessions revolved around specific SDGs, including goals 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), and 17 (partnerships for the Goals). I actively participated in sessions such as “Thriving in the Green Economy: Unlocking the Potential of Vulnerable Youth through Green Jobs,” “SDG 11 and Interlinkages with Other SDGs – Sustainable Cities and Communities,” and “Gender-Sensitive International Financial Architecture.”

Additionally, I joined the virtual Youth Lead Innovation Spotlight session and was inspired by key takeaways such as the importance of creating a thriving world rather than just a sustainable one, preparing for a better future, and promoting kindness and adaptability for societal support and personal growth.

An exciting highlight of the forum was the discussions surrounding the 2023 SDG Summit and the 2024 Summit of the Future. Important insights emerged, emphasizing the need to be both optimistic and realistic, recognizing that the SDGs are only a part of the broader 2030 agenda. The forum stressed the importance of focusing on interlinkages between the goals, using more science and evidence, and scaling up efforts. Public-private partnerships were recognized as vital for achieving the SDGs, and breaking silos and issuing concrete calls for action were deemed necessary.

One of the most inspiring aspects of the HLPF 2023 was its emphasis on youth empowerment. I actively participated in youth-focused sessions and initiatives that advocated for the inclusion of young people in decision-making processes. The discussions highlighted the critical role of young individuals as agents of change in shaping a sustainable future. I was motivated to see how the HLPF recognized the importance of harnessing the energy, creativity, and innovative ideas of youth to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.

As I reflect on the HLPF experience, I believe that organizing similar sessions in Nepal’s context could significantly contribute to the country’s sustainable development. By tailoring the discussions to address Nepal’s specific needs, challenges, and priorities, we can engage key stakeholders such as government officials, civil society organizations, youth representatives, and the private sector in impactful ways. Incorporating local success stories and traditions can further inspire participants and foster a sense of ownership in advancing sustainable development efforts. Addressing local challenges, such as environmental conservation, disaster resilience, gender equality, and inclusive development, while promoting innovative, locally-driven solutions, is crucial for meaningful progress. To ensure broad participation, conducting sessions in Nepali or other local languages and planning cost-effective events will encourage diverse engagement. Ultimately, customizing discussions to Nepal’s unique context holds the potential to empower its youth and make a significant impact on achieving sustainable development goals in the country.

Insights and Reflections:

High-level political forums like the HLPF on Sustainable Development (HLPF) play a vital role in promoting global sustainable development and addressing pressing challenges. These forums serve as central platforms for monitoring and reviewing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth in 2015 by all UN Member States to tackle issues like poverty, gender inequality, education, healthcare, and environmental protection. The significance of these forums lies in their ability to bring together world leaders, policymakers, stakeholders from various sectors, and representatives from governments, civil society, businesses, and individuals. This diversity enables meaningful discussions, sharing of experiences, and collaborative strategies to advance sustainable development. Engaging young people in these discussions is essential as they represent the future and bring innovative ideas to the table. Recognizing the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HLPF focused on Sustainable and Resilient Recovery, seeking ways to build back better and ensure uninterrupted progress towards the SDGs. Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) provided data on countries’ progress, encouraging transparency, feedback, and peer learning.

Engagement and Contribution:

The HLPF in 2023 proved to be an influential platform for fostering collaboration and driving progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The forum focused on the interlinkages between the 2023 SDG Summit and the 2024 Summit of the Future, recognizing the need for a cohesive approach in addressing global challenges. One of the key highlights was the emphasis on scaling up efforts and forming public-private partnerships to accelerate progress towards the SDGs. A notable aspect of the discussions was the acknowledgment of the transformative role of young people in driving systemic change.

Additionally, the forum recognized the critical role of science and technology in generating evidence and data for informed decision-making. This highlights the importance of evidence-based policy formulation to ensure effective implementation of the SDGs.

The inclusion of civil society participation at the UN was also a significant aspect of the discussions. Involving non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders fosters a more comprehensive and well-rounded approach to sustainable development, considering diverse perspectives and experiences.

While the HLPF demonstrated several successes and positive aspects of collaboration, it is crucial to acknowledge that no event is without its challenges or areas for improvement. Despite the commendable efforts to provide opportunities for engagement, there were instances of uneven participation among Major Groups and other stakeholders (MGoS).

Providing adequate technical support is essential to ensure smooth and uninterrupted virtual sessions. Technical challenges can hinder meaningful engagement, and addressing them would contribute to more effective and productive discussions.

Conclusion:

Participating in the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) 2023 was a transformative experience. The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) serves as an indispensable platform for advancing sustainable development goals globally. Throughout the forum, various stakeholders come together to engage in constructive dialogues, share experiences, and learn from one another. The HLPF’s multi-stakeholder approach fosters inclusivity, enabling governments, civil society, youth representatives, and private sector leaders to collaborate effectively. The forum’s emphasis on youth engagement and empowerment acknowledges the transformative role young people can play in shaping a sustainable future. Concrete actions and partnerships are encouraged to ensure that commitments are translated into tangible outcomes.

By addressing interlinkages between different SDGs, the HLPF promotes a comprehensive and integrated approach to sustainability. The focus on science, technology, and reliable data enhances evidence-based decision-making and ensures that efforts are informed and effective. Moreover, the HLPF recognizes the importance of both local and global initiatives, emphasizing the need for resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges. By striking a balance between environmental, social, and economic aspects, the forum reinforces the interdependence of these factors in sustainable development.

The HLPF’s role in facilitating knowledge sharing and peer learning promotes cross-border cooperation and the dissemination of successful practices. Moreover, its concrete follow-up mechanisms hold countries accountable for their progress towards achieving the SDGs. Overall, the HLPF serves as a powerful catalyst for collective action, fostering global cooperation, inclusivity, and innovation in tackling sustainability challenges and creating a more sustainable and equitable world for future generations.

The insights gained from the HLPF underscored the importance of addressing interlinkages, fostering local-global synergy, and embracing evidence-based strategies to achieve the SDGs. As the world progresses towards the 2030 Agenda, concrete actions and public-private partnerships will play a critical role in transforming rhetoric into tangible outcomes.

I left the HLPF 2023 with a renewed commitment to making the world a better place. Empowered by collaboration and inclusivity, I am inspired to work towards a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable future for all. The upcoming SDG Summit in September 2023 offers new opportunities to further accelerate progress towards the SDGs and ignite a sense of hope and optimism in achieving the 2030 Agenda.