The 2023 UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development brought together over 1000 participants to scale up action for the SDGs as the region finds itself mired in multiple crises. The forum took place on 29 and 30 March, with over 30 side events as well as pre-meetings from Youth and Civil Society kicking off in the days before.
The Co-Chairs, Ambassador Milos Priça (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Ambassador Markus Reubi (Switzerland) called on participants to increase momentum for the SDGs as well as use this forum as an opportunity to take strong messages forward to the High-level Political Forum in July and the SDG Summit in September, to underscore the region’s role “as a global champion of sustainable development.”
In times of multiple crises, the Regional Forum succeeded in carving out a space for substantive discussions on how to accelerate SDG progress in challenging circumstances, and for networking and new partnerships among participants.
SDG progress slowing in the region
The annual UNECE SDG Progress Report found that the region is not only not on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda, but in fact, progress has worsened since last year. The UNECE region is on track to achieve only 21 of the SDG targets by 2030, down from 26 last year, with 79 requiring acceleration, and 15 requiring a reversal of trend.
As the UNECE Executive Secretary stated however, “this is not a time to despair at the lack of progress or just point out the problems we face. The message of the 2030 Agenda is ultimately one of hope, of confidence in our ability to deliver a better future for all.” This was echoed by a strong message from the Deputy Secretary-General that “no matter the headwinds, change is possible.”
UNECE Expertise in Goals Under Review
At the centre of the Regional Forum are the peer learning round tables, which bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to share policy expertise, advice, and analysis. The Goals under review for 2023: SDG 6, 7, 9, 11 & 17 are areas of substantive expertise for UNECE, where it took on the role of Lead Organizer, along with other partners within the Regional UN System. Key conclusions of the discussions include:
SDG 6: While the UNECE region is not on track in achieving SDG 6, the UN 2023 Water Conference (New York, 22-24 March 2023) catalysed important commitments by many stakeholders, including to further leverage the UN Water Convention and Protocol on Water and Health, that need to be translated into scaled up action also at the regional level.
SDG 7: More action is needed by countries and all stakeholders to move towards a decarbonized energy system by accelerating the deployment of renewable energy and improving efficiency in the production, transmission, distribution, and consumption of energy. Attention should be paid to digital solutions to substantially contribute to this acceleration.
SDG 9: In view of high levels of emissions associated with infrastructure assets, more sustainable infrastructure construction will be required as well as appropriate vehicle regulations and transport infrastructure planning. Moreover, innovations are needed across different fields that cumulatively create a transformative effect on the economic and ecological sustainability of entire socio-economic systems.
SDG 11: Multiple initiatives have been undertaken to address the negative consequences of the pandemic and climate change, aiming to strengthen cities’ resilience and putting in place SDGs plans. Key concerns are the increased resilience to disasters, development of sustainable urban transport, creating vibrant public spaces, shaping nature-based solutions and offering affordable and adequate housing. City alliances and international networks contribute to knowledge exchange and the development of innovative solutions.
SDGs 9 & 17: Information and communication technologies (ICT) and digital development are key to ensure the 2030 Agenda is realized. Partnerships across different stakeholders, sectors, countries and governance levels are necessary to ensure digital development that is human-centered, environmentally sound, socially trusted, and economically viable.
Accelerating transformations towards 2030
To deepen the discussion on transformational areas that can have a significant impact on SDG progress, panellists from academia, member States, the private sector as well as voices from civil society and youth shared perspectives and priorities. Dr. Åsa Persson, working on the UN 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report focussed on identifying linkages between different areas of Sustainable Development where interventions could have maximum impact.
Mr. Patrick Odier in his capacity as President of Swiss Sustainable Finance, stressed the importance of private finance in enabling sustainable development through both direct investments, as well as appropriate risk costing, leading to companies pursuing more sustainable business practises.
State Counsellor Laszlo Borbély of Romania touched upon suitable institutional frameworks that are required to underpin transformation, which is ultimately driven by political willingness. Policy coherence is ensured by whole-of-government approach which is complemented by a whole-of-society engagement. Assistant Minister of Environmental Protection of Serbia Dusan Carkic underlined that the green transition is a major transformational goal, which has led to multiple initiatives in different areas, including waste management, the circular economy and air pollution. A sustainable, circular and carbon-neutral economy requires boosting investment, knowledge, skills, innovation, technologies and partnerships.
Representatives of Youth and Civil Society made valuable contributions in both emphasising the importance of equity and inclusivity in the drive for sustainable development, but also the crucial role that both young people and civil society actors can and should play, if given the opportunity by policy makers, in driving forward progress.
The Co-Chairs’ summary of the Regional Forum will provide the region’s official input for the High-level Political Forum in New York in July. This year, the SDG Summit will also take place in September, marking the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the SDGs.