Headlines from the 2020 High Level Political Forum

The COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting impacts on the 17 SDGs and has implications for people, businesses, and the environment worldwide, according to the UN SDG Progress Report (E/2020/57).

To name a few impacts: the pandemic is reversing the current trend of poverty reduction, pushing tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty and hunger. The economic slowdown has exacerbated unemployment, increased hunger and food insecurity, and disrupted supply chains. The pandemic is also devastating heath systems worldwide and disproportionately impacting women, children, migrants, and the most vulnerable. While the crisis is endangering progress towards the SDGs, it also makes their achievement all the more urgent and necessary.

The progress report was delivered at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) annual meeting, the core UN platform for review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Participants met virtually to discuss the current state of the SDGs in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. They reviewed the progress toward the SDGs as well as the setbacks and opportunities presented by the pandemic. In addition, 47 countries carried out voluntary national reviews (VNRs) of their various 2030 Agenda implementations.

Here are our takeaways from the ten-day Forum:  

  • The virtual format was true to the SDGs principle of inclusion

The first-ever online format of the HLPF realized the UN ideal that “no one will be left behind”. All HLPF official meetings, VNR Labs, SDGs Learning, Training and Practice, and side events happened virtually. Even better, the transition to a virtual event was seamless, making the case for more virtual interactions. This move could allow for greater transparency and inclusion, reduce expenses for participants, and reduce the carbon footprint of this and other UN meetings.

  • The SDGs will be the roadmap and the heart of an inclusive pandemic recovery

The pandemic has touched every one of the 17 SDGs and should be placed front and center of the recovery. COVID-19 has not just been a public health crisis, but a development crisis, economic, environmental, gender, and poverty crisis. Throughout the HLPF, speakers called on one another to use the pandemic recovery and stimulus to launch into the Decade of Action. There was also heightened awareness of the need to build on interlinkages between stakeholders and to rebuild a strong and resilient society. The pandemic has presented challenges, but also opportunities to build back better.

  • Innovative partnerships will be crucial in recovery and the achievement of the SDGs

A strong emphasis on multilateralism and systems-level solutions was heard throughout the Forum. Innovative public-private partnerships were highlighted and encouraged for accelerated change. Businesses were encouraged to utilize lessons learned to accelerate the SDGs and contribute to the recovery of local economies. Focusing on and supporting local actions, actors, and programs was also recommended to strengthen the SDGs at the local level.

  • Stronger safety nets will help communities survive

The impacts of COVID-19 are hitting the most vulnerable countries and communities hardest, exacerbating instabilities and showing where more comprehensive safety nets are needed. Common concerns included the instability of supply chains, especially for food, the inability for many SMEs to survive, the strain of unpaid work on women, environmental conservation, and economic instability. Personal safety and access to PPE, flexible work, and better sick leave are just a few of the policies that garnered attention. Better social programs will facilitate a stronger recovery.

  • We have some big decisions to make, and quickly!

During the meeting, the message was clear: there is no going back to the old normal, since these behaviors allowed the COVID-19 to be the crisis it is today. More equitable, inclusive societies are needed to avert future crises. Crucial decisions about stimulus funding and recovery policies will be made in the next three years. This short timeframe poses challenges to implementing new, strategic policies and long-term thinking. However, this is an opportunity for governments to guide stakeholders toward SDG achievement through policies to achieve living wages, environmental standards, global health, gender equality, and more. Whatever policies we put in place now will have lasting impacts for the future and the SDGs. We must act quickly, but think carefully and work together.