The SDG Summit at 74th General Assembly: Launching a Decade of Delivery?
On 24-25 September, heads of state gathered at UN Headquarters in New York for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit to review progress and identify measures to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG Summit was chaired by the President of the General Assembly and resulted in apolitical declaration. It constituted the second segment of the 2019 High Level Political Forum (HLPF: UN General Assembly segment), and was marked by a series of high-level meetings bringing together political and thought leaders, the private sector, civil society and international organizations to discuss and mobilise for accelerated action on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by its 2030 deadline.
WILPF believes that the SDGs can be a critical tool for preventing conflict. Their vision of sustainable development for people and planet, and commitment to policy coherence creates the best opportunity yet for the international community to design development and peace for equality, participation, non-discrimniation, and justice. As part of our work on leveraging the SDGs to accelerate the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) monitored the SDG Summit with a focus on gender equality, peaceful societies, and means of implementation.
As a whole, the SDG Summit showed a clear recognition that the international community is failing to take the action needed to realise the 2030 Agenda. Participating stakeholders focused on the need for urgent action and continued multilateral action in order to put “people and planet at the center”. However, there remained a clear disconnect between the transformative vision of the SDGs and the risk-averse and incremental approach being taken by governments to implement the agenda.
On one hand, there was significant exchanges of experience and lessons learned on how to move forward. Discussion brought attention to the importance of enhancing policy coordination and coherence, such as through national and regional SDG coordination committees, councils, and secretariats, as well as ensuring an international enabling environment for national action. It highlighted the need to strengthen social protections, including via responsive taxation, budgets, and plugging of illicit financial flows. It brought up the need for inclusive engagement, including having diverse civil society and other stakeholder consultations and leadership, and acting based on principles of gender parity. It also raised issues of wealth inequality, social protections, and alternative indicators for success (i.e., “national happiness” instead of GDP as a baseline), as well as exploring cross cutting measures, including on women’s rights and transborder flows (especially around climate), for action.
On the other hand, there was a continued focus on the SDGs as a development aid project, and continued efforts to have corporations invest in public-private partnerships to realise the agenda. This narrow and incremental approach poses major challenges to creating the “world we want” for people and planet.
Overall, the bulk of the discussion failed to tackle the systemic obstacles to sustainable development, gender equality, and peace. If stakeholders are unwilling or unable to tackle systems of power, we will not realise the vision of the 2030 Agenda. Addressing ongoing silos between development on the one hand and peace and security on the other, and ensuring substantive rather than superficial approaches to gender equality will be critical for moving forward.