Annual Review of New UN Goals Underwhelms, Avoids Controversy

By | July 28, 2016

NEW YORK, July 29 (C-Fam) Just a year ago nations agreed to massive new set of Sustainable Development Goals that were supposed to transform the way billions of dollars of aid will be spent in the decades ahead. But if this year is any indication, the UN mechanism set up to review progress on the goals will not be the catalyst for action its architects envisioned it would be.

When UN member states adopted the 17 goals and 169 targets that make up the ambitious new Agenda 2030 development plan they envisioned an unprecedented and transformative agenda. They also repurposed the already existing High Level Political Forum (HLPF), a function of the UN Economic and Social Council to assess progress on the agenda and spur and facilitate its implementation.

As things stand, the HLPF may become just another forum for UN member states to continue to take sides alongside familiar political, regional, and north-south divides.

It was evident from the very first statements delivered at the forum by UN negotiating blocs. The scene that unfolded was all too familiar and predictable.

On the one side stood developed countries insisting on “accountability,” “universality,” and global ownership. On the other, stood developing countries insisting that aid must not be conditional and that developing countries must reach parity with the developed world before UN commitments may truly be considered to apply to all equally. They also insisted on the need to recognize national prerogatives.

The unwieldiness of the vast all-encompassing 2030 agenda—which covers social, economic, and environmental polices ranging from health and education to climate change and biodiversity—does not help focus the attention of the HLPF in order to stimulate solutions to pressing challenges that many countries face jointly and individually.

Governments were not the only ones disappointed by the HLPF.

Non-governmental organizations had hoped for new opportunities to browbeat governments and “make them accountable.” But with the exception of brief interventions NGOs did not contribute as much as they hoped to the HLPF. There is no mechanism for NGOs to submit reports on individual countries, and the organizations that were allowed to submit reports to the HLPF were no more than a dozen.

The scarcely attended first week of the HLPF also revealed a dearth of interest in the HLPF. Roughly 1500 organizations registered for the session with even fewer attending. This pales compared to the over 6000 that don’t just register but attend the Commission on the Status of Women—a lower body than the HLPF, and one that has a much narrower agenda.

But those most disappointed should be abortion and LGBT advocates.

The Secretary General’s first report on the Sustainable Development Goals for the HLPF did not include any of the controversial indicators that are still being reviewed for approval by the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly.

While the UN Statistical Commission agreed to highly controversial indictors earlier this year, it could not adopt them—a task reserved for the two higher UN Charter bodies. The indicators agreed to by the statisticians included measures of access to abortion for adolescents without parental consent and social acceptance of homosexuality among other controversial social issues. The Secretary General’s report only “selectively” analyzed non-controversial indicators.