The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) concluded 10 day ago in New York. This global political event gathering government representatives, civil society and other stakeholders is the moment of the year when the world collectively reviews the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Tanya Cox, CONCORD director and Lonne Poissonnier, Policy & Advocacy coordinator on sustainable development at CONCORD, both attended the event and joined parallel sessions. This crossed interview will provide complementary insights on this major milestone for the global sustainable development community.
1. What was the general atmosphere at the HLPF?
Tanya: The atmosphere was positive and harmonious in general, despite the fact that the conversation remained at the level of restating commitment rather than taking the debate forward (which is to be expected given the nature of the event).
If there was one quote which would summarise my general impression is that “we must not simply speed up progress if we are on the wrong path. This is a recipe for disaster”. Several participants highlighted it in the context of the EU’s focus on neoliberal economic policies prioritising growth and GDP over people and planet. ‘Speeding up’ change is not necessarily what we are looking for, we first need to review the very course of action and ensure we are walking on a solid ground.
Lonne: An overall feeling of inspiration. From Algeria to Vanuatu, from Helsinki to New York, government officials presented this year their most impressive contributions to this positive common agenda, often critically complemented by civil society and other stakeholders. Who would have thought back in 2015 that so many of them, 142 now in total, would take it upon themselves to undertake such voluntary reporting. Yet this incredible sense of inspiration goes hand in hand with despair, when scientists in various fields demonstrate that we are not on track yet the solutions offered fail to transcend accelerating business as usual. So much is cooking in the kitchens of sustainable development worldwide, but based on the wrong recipes and time for the much needed transformation is running out.
So much is cooking in the kitchens of sustainable development worldwide, but based on the wrong recipes and time for the much needed transformation is running out.
2. Is there any learning related to the main theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” you want to share?
Tanya: A side event on inequality, organised by the German government together with our member VENRO and other partners, aroused my interest about the complex balance which needs to be found when we talk about the ‘solutions’ to inequality. A multi-stakeholder conversation needs to happen. So far, the conversation revolves around redistributive policies, especially fiscal. However, this might appear as a limited solution if you speak to a wider range of individuals. While there is no silver bullet and a pallet of options should be followed, some solutions may not be given sufficient prominence as they challenge the current system and the roles of stakeholders. As an example, reforming the ownership models of companies where employees would have a greater share in the profits of the company as well as the decision-making. But how to make this a reality? What is the role for the government in this situation?
While there is no silver bullet and a pallet of options should be followed, some solutions may not be given sufficient prominence as they challenge the current system and the roles of stakeholders.
3. What are your deductions of the panel you were participating in at the HLPF2019? Did CONCORD have any impact?
Lonne: At the launch of the SDG Watch Europe report ‘Spotlight Report on Sustainability in Europe. Who is paying the bill?’ – to which CONCORD and its members contributed – we highlighted examples where the EU still gives with one hand while taking with the other. Whilst our agriculture, trade and chemicals policies can benefit European citizens, farmers or companies, they should be able to do so without weakening the ability of other countries to develop sustainably. We should do more to ensure they don’t, at the same time, flood local markets with cheap European imports, encourage labour exploitation or export resource-intensive and polluting production to other parts of the world. We had a frank exchange with a representative from the EU delegation before we sent all participants home with a set of 5 very concrete recommendations for moving forward – making the most of the opportunities on offer in 2019.
During the “EU review of progress”, Tanya’s intervention stimulated relatively lively conversations. While CONCORD challenged the economic growth paradigm as part of the problems of today’s world, the European Commission seems to push back the conversation. Once again, the incoherences in EU policy areas were pointed at with a noteworthy example concerning the toxic chemical waste which can no longer be treated in Europe, thanks to a recent EU policy. This has a disastrous side-effect. This waste is sent to partner countries for further treatment without any consideration of the impact on health or the environment. The EU is good at changing its own policies for the better but applies very different standards to its partner countries.
As a conclusion, both Lonne and Tanya ended up this interview on a looking forward note, hoping that the incoming EU leaders will consider Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development as a priority for the coming years and strive to achieve the transformative 2030 Agenda both within Europe and globally.
To find out more about CONCORD’s views on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the way forward, find below the 3 main papers: