A Summary of Pertinent Events
at the July 2023 UN High Level
Political Forum on Sustainable Development
I. Good News and Bad News about the Agenda 2030 Deadline
II. Synergy Between SDG 11 and Cities for CEDAW
A. Localization of SDG 11
B. Cities for CEDAW Exemplifies the Pillars for Acceleration of SDG 11
I. Good News and Bad News About the Agenda 2030 Deadline
What do you want first: the good news or the bad news? This was the question on the minds of many speakers at the start of the July 2023 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) at UN headquarters in New York City. Many speakers started with the bad news, including H.E. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano[i] and H.E. Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif[ii] who proclaimed that we were nowhere near reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their conclusion was reinforced by Dignitary Nikhil Seth[iii] who presented a doom and gloom scenario of a world that was planting the seeds of its own destruction by failing to fulfill the promise of the 2030 Agenda.[iv] Only 12% of the agenda’s targets are on track at the halfway point.
Indeed, the world has seen progress toward the goals reversed in many instances. Worldwide hunger and poverty increased over the prior four years. “Gender equality is some 300 years away.” [v] H.E. Seth spoke about the recent tectonic shifts in the world that had set us back: the shock of Covid-19; the brutal shock of war and conflict (primarily Russian Federation aggression against Ukraine), the likes of which have not been seen since WW II.
“The 2030 Agenda is an agenda of justice and equality, of inclusive, sustainable development, and human rights and dignity for all.”[vi] At the half-way point of Agenda 2030, most governments admit that
they need to step up to the plate, commit to bold strategies for implementation of the universal and inter-related goals, and focus on gender equality. [vii]
Rescuing the SDGs will require meaningful participation by all stakeholders. If we are to LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND[viii] then all stakeholders must commit time and support to the implementation of policies that keep people at the center. To paraphrase U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA 7th District), the people who are closest to the pain need to be driving and informing the policymakers. Participation in policy making is a right of all people and a means to change the outcome, but participation should not be allotted to those who seek to participate for the mere sake of inclusion. Instead, participants need to devote time to listening sessions, storytelling and organizing to earn the trust of one another.[ix]
Business as usual will not get the job done. Instead, accelerated action is called for, including transformative actions for vulnerable populations such as gender equality initiatives. Gender equality will be a driver of sustainable development.[x] Equality initiatives uphold the inherent dignity of each human being[xi] and raise awareness of fundamental human rights. They promote solidarity over segmentation.[xii]
The good news is that localization of SDG implementation has proven to drive success. Localization of the SDGs uplifts the most vulnerable segments of the population. The ones who survive are the ones who adapt to change and not the strongest or most intelligent. [xiii]
Other good news is the world leader’s commitment to securing a massive surge in innovative and restructured global financing that will be directed to developing nations and trickle down to local communities. It is also thought that known debt reduction strategies will accelerate attainment of the SDGs. [xiv]
The September 2023 UN Summit for the Future is on the horizon. It will be a moment of peak political attention. World leaders will gather at the UN, with the intent of kickstarting Agenda 2030. We are at a moment of reckoning for the salvation of our planet. We want a world where mothers and babies are healthy, children learn skills for success, parents feed their children, we all breathe clean air and drink clean water, and enjoy our fundamental and universal human rights. [xv] It is time to put long-term thinking at the heart of sustainable development policies. We must fight back against the gravitational pull of short-term thinking. [xvi]
We already know how to achieve the SDGs and we have the tools to achieve the goals. We simply must secure the political will. Political will is urgently needed to combat the complex crises facing our world and rescue a sustainable future. [xvii] [xviii] How will WE make the moment count for gender equality? [xix]
The message of inclusion infiltrates many venues, including the July 2023 women’s FIFA World Cup Soccer stadium in Auckland, New Zealand which posted the rolling script “Unite for INCLUSION.”
Progress toward SDG 11 is too slow, and Member States will not reach the targets by 2030 if they continue with business as usual. Progress has been derailed by recurring natural disasters, political crises, and growing inequalities, to name only a few setbacks. Inequalities increased by 1.2% between 2017-2021 (the first such increase since a generation.) [xxii]
Local momentum must be leveraged to catalyze change and rescue Agenda 2030. Sixty-five percent of the targets around SDG 11 are dependent on local action. [xxiii] Local government action, in tandem with national government action, can make a significant impact on the achievement of the SDGs, especially SDG 11. The US is modernizing its local institutions to become more accessible, responsive, and accountable to communities.[xxiv]
The 2023 edition of the Global Sustainable Development Report will be released in September 2023. It is anticipated that the report will identify urban development as one of the six entry points through which we will accelerate progress toward the SDGs. [xxv]
Urban populations are expected to increase, and even higher percentages of people are expected to live in slums. As of 2020, only 56% of the world’s people had access to transportation/roads and less than 20% had access to dedicated open spaces.[xxvi] This is bad news for women’s empowerment. [xxvii] Girls and gender diverse individuals continue to be overlooked. [xxviii]
Localization of the SDGs is critical[xxix] and inspirational leadership is key to driving attainment of the SDG’s.[xxx] Who is better than cities to implement the SDGs? Cities create concrete solutions and are part of the solution to achieving the SDGs.[xxxi] City leaders are leading reforms, and the feminist movement is pushing the SDGs.[xxxii] Equity and women needs to be addressed seriously.[xxxiii] Local leaders from all private, public, and volunteer sectors have been likened to industrious hummingbirds.[xxxiv]
Community leaders continuously seek to prioritize constituent’s access to services and housing. They advocate for policies of inclusion over exclusion from services, resilience over vulnerability, prosperity over deprivation and stability over insecurity.[xxxv]
Cities are the epicenter of innovation. They test strategies on the ground and challenge one another to do better. The Global Mayor’s Challenge is one way that cities are recognized for thinking outside the box, accelerating recovery from COVID 19, and accelerating strategies to reach SDG 11. In 2022 an award was given to the city of Hermosillo, Mexico for its green employment program for women, who were negatively impacted by COVID 19 at a rate 2x higher than men.[xxxvi]
Data collection accelerates local action[xxxvii] and is essential to informed decision-making.[xxxviii] Urban data disaggregation is key to leaving no one behind and no place behind. Participation in decision-making by people of all genders, disabilities, ages, cultures, socioeconomic status, etc. are essential to change the discriminatory rhetoric that harms progress toward the goal.[xxxix]
Multinational groups and Member States support localization of the SDGs. The European Union calls for more LOCAL voluntary reviews. The UN Representative for ECOSOC in the Asia Pacific Region calls for local voluntary reviews that engage women and other marginalized groups. [xl] UN Habitat claims that humanity’s future is urban and that we need increased efforts to localize SDGs.[xli] The Council of Europe calls for localization for implementation of the SDGs because local initiatives uphold democracy, rule of law and human rights. [xlii]
Volunteers are powerful partners and an accelerating force in policy decision-making in many urban communities. Volunteers contribute to social cohesion and a stronger, more resilient community. Trust in government diminishes when community leadership fails to reach out to marginalized groups and excludes volunteers from decision-making. [xliii]
Communities that reduce inequalities show promise for all people in the community, especially regarding improved education and health laws, access to nondiscriminatory legal processes, equitable access to digital technology, and galvanized will to “leave no one behind.” [xliv] In many urban communities’ migrants and displaced persons comprise the largest minority group. Their voices are needed to develop an inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable city. [xlv] Women’s voices are heard in Canadian municipalities, partly because of its national initiative to increase women’s participation in municipal decision-making [xlvi] and, partly to effectuate an Early Learning and Childcare Initiative that ensures women have real choices about how and when to work. [xlvii] But alternative voices counter those of marginalized individuals and raise the specter of outdated and unjust beliefs.
By way of example, the speaker from C-FAM drew attention to the mural on the wall in the UN Security Council Chamber and argued that it stood for the principle that a family is only comprised of a man, woman, and their children.
The C-FAM speaker claimed that binding international human rights laws should not be interpreted to meet today’s inclusive and just societal norms, but rather followed by the exact text of the document. [xlviii]
A. Cities for CEDAW Exemplifies the Pillars for Acceleration of SDG 11
The three pillars underpinning acceleration for achieving the SDGs are: economic, environment and social justice reforms.[xlix] Cities for CEDAW provides advocacy tools and educational materials targeting these pillars. Cities for CEDAW mobilizes local political will to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. These initiatives are critical now. There has been backsliding on democracy and human rights and opportunities for women and girls over the past several years as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, political crises and lack of political will to make sure that no one is left behind. Gender equality targets set forth in SDG 5 are the farthest behind of all 17 SDGs. [l]
Cities for CEDAW adopts the premise of the HLPF on Sustainable Development that localization of SDG initiatives drives success. Cities for CEDAW highlights the prophetic words of Eleanor Roosevelt, the Chairperson of the first UN Human Rights Commission, who said “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home-so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in, the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” [li]
Cities for CEDAW recognizes that inclusive and sustainable development cannot be achieved without the full participation and empowerment of women. City and county resolutions and ordinances in support of CEDAW across the US call for gender equity studies to assess the degree of discrimination and exclusion of women from employment, decision-making bodies, scientific and technological advances, health care, housing, safe and affordable transportation, justice reforms reducing violence, green spaces, clean water, and sanitation management. Cities for CEDAW spotlights women and girls advocacy at the center of the green and blue movements.
Countries that focus on gender equality have stronger economies and stimulate economic growth, boost public and private sector performance, and reduce income inequality. [lii] Cities for CEDAW highlights this conclusion in its local educational and advocacy initiatives, most of which are driven by outstanding dedicated volunteers working in tandem and trust with elected leaders.
Respectfully submitted by:
IAW UN Representative to the July 2023
High Level Political Forum on
All photos on this page attributed to Jill Follows
[i] Assistant Secretary General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/profiles/maria-francesca-spatolisano
[vii] UN Assistant Secretary General, Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
[viii] LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND is a universal value and transformative promise of the UN Sustainable Development Goals https://unsdg.un.org/2030-agenda/universal-values/leave-no-one-behind
[x] Coordinator of 5 Regional Commissions for Sustainable Development and UN Representative ECOSOC for the Asia Pacific Region, 14th and 15th meetings of the HLPF Side Event-Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, July 18, 2023
[xi] USA representative statement during the High-Level segment of ECOSOC, 2023 Session on Tuesday July 11, 2023
[xii] Minoru Takada, Team Leader (Sustainable Energy), Division for Sustainable Development Goals, UN DESA https://sdgs.un.org/panelists/mr-minoru-takada-29255
[xiii] Confederation of NGOs of Rural India, statement at the 41st ECOSOC General Session of the UN HLPF on Sustainable Development, July 20, 2023
[xvi] Statement of Assistant Secretary General for Policy Coordination and Interagency Affairs ECOSOC,(Maria-Francesca Spatolisano) speaking at the 42nd meeting of the High Level Segment of ECOSOC, 2023 Session, July 2023
[xvii] Statement on behalf of the Group of 77 (G77) and China by H.E. Mr. Alejandro Gil Fernandez, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Planning of the Republic of Cuba, at the General Debate of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Under the Auspices of ECOSOC ( July 17, 2023) https://www.g77.org/statement/getstatement.php?id=230717 ; statement supported by the Representative from Belize, speaking on behalf of the 14 Member States of the Caribbean area (CARICOM)
[xviii] Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism supports this concept in its statement to the 41st ECOSOC General Session at the HLPF on Sustainable Development on July 20, 2023
Co-chair Coalition for the UN We Need, https://c4unwn.org/ ,
at the HLPF Session Wednesday July 12, 2023 “Toward the Summit of the Future: Aligning Agenda 2030 to Agenda 2063 https://www.un.org/pga/73/about/biography/
[xxii] Remarks of Executive Director of UN Human Settlement Program at the July 2023 HLPF 6th Local and Regional Government Forum
[xxiii] H.E. Ms. Amelia Saiz, Secretary General UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments) Statement during the UN HLPF on Sustainable Development Side Event-Rescuing SDG 11 for a Resilient Urban Planet on Friday July 14, 2023, https://uclg.org/
[xxiv] Delegate from the USA speaking on July 18, 2023 at the 39th Meeting of ECOSOC Ministerial Meeting on the HLPF for Sustainable Development
[xxv] Remarks of UN Deputy Secretary General at the 6th Local and Regional Government Forum convened during the July 2023 HLPF
[xxvi] Speaker representing the Statistics Division (UN DESA) during the HLPF session on Thursday July 13, 2023 on SDG 11
[xxviii] Women’s Major Group, statement at the 41st ECOSOC General Session at the UN HLPF on Sustainable Development, July 20, 2023
[xxix] Ambassador Njambi Kinyunga, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kenya to the UN speaking at the HLPF session on Wednesday July 12, 2023, on “Toward the Summit of the Future: Aligning Agenda 2030 to Agenda 2063.”
[xxx] Chiagozi Udeh, Member of the African Union ECOSOC Infrastructure and Energy Cluster Committee speaking at the HLPF session on Wednesday July 12, 2023, on “Toward the Summit of the Future: Aligning Agenda 2030 to Agenda 2063.” https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/profile/chiagozie-udeh/
[xxxi] Representative from Switzerland speaking at the 39th General Session of the July 2023 HLPF on Sustainable Development, July 18, 2023
[xxxii] Dr. Soon-Young Yoon, UN representative of the International Alliance of Women, speaking at the HLPF session on Wednesday July 12, 2023, on “Toward the Summit of the Future: Aligning Agenda 2030 to Agenda 2063. https://womenalliance.org/author/soonyoungyoon/
[xxxiii] Ms. Amelia Saiz, Secretary General UCLG, UN HLPF on Sustainable Development, Side Event on Rescuing SDG 11 for a Resilient Urban Planet, Friday July 14, 2023
[xxxiv] The female ruby-throat hummingbird builds the nest and feeds the babies on her own. https://www.birdsandblooms.com/birding/attracting-hummingbirds/the-life-of-a-female-hummingbird/
[xxxv] Comments by the representative of UN Habitat at the HLPF side event on Thursday July 13, 2023
[xxxvii] Comments from the speakers from the World Blind Union and Sweden during the HLPF side event on SDG 11 on Thursday July 13, 2023.
[xxxviii] Ms. Aissata M.B. Camara, Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Chief of Staff NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs statement at the UN HLPF on Sustainable Development Side Event – Rescuing SDG 11 for a Resilient Urban Planet on Friday July 14, 2023
[xxxix] Representative from Thailand during the HLPF side event on SDG 11 on Thursday July 13, 2023.
[xl] UN Representative for ECOSOC for the Asia Pacific Region, statement at the 14th and 15th meetings of the July 2023 HLPF-Regional Forum on Sustainable Development
[xli] Representative from Poland, speaking on behalf of the 50 Member States affiliated with UN Habitat, at the HLPF side event on SDG 11 on Thursday July 13, 2023.
[xlii] Representative from the Council of Europe during the July 2023 HLPF session of the 6th Local and Regional Government Forum
[xliii] Representative from UNV (United Nations Volunteers) during the HLPF side event on SDG 11 on Thursday July 13, 2023.
[xliv] Representative from Cuba speaking on behalf of Pathfinders at the July 2023 HLPF General Session on Monday July 17, 2023
[xlv] Representative of the Volunteers Stakeholder Group during the HLPF side event on SDG 11 on Thursday July 13, 2023.
[xlvii] Canadian Minister of Families, Children and Social Development speaking at the July 2023 HLPF General Session on Sustainable Development on July 17, 2023
[xlviii] C-FAM representative, 41st General Session ECOSOC, UN HLPF General Debate July 20, 2023
[xlix] International Labor Organization Statement at the 41st Meeting of ECOSOC General Session at the UN HLPF July 2023, Thursday July 20, 2023
[l] Statement of Iceland’s Representative to the 39th ECOSOC General Meeting at the July 2023 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on July 18, 2023.
[lii] Statement of Finland’s Representative to the 38th ECOSOC General Meeting at the July 2023 High Level Policial Forum on Sustainable Development on July 17, 2023