The 2020 meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development is certainly one that will be remembered for a long time to come – it was the first time a meeting of this magnitude was held in an entirely virtual manner at the United Nations. Held over the period Tuesday, 7 July, to Thursday, 16 July, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, the session included a three-day ministerial meeting of the forum from Tuesday, 14 July, to Thursday, 16 July and a High Level segment was held on Friday 17, July.
Due to the devastating global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agenda of the 2020 HLPF was altered to focus on the potential impact of the pandemic on the implementation of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.
The meeting was held under the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
During his opening remarks the Secretary General set the tone for what would become a mantra throughout the session – the world is not on track to deliver the SDGs and the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated this situation.
Speaking at the opening session, the Secretary General noted, “…..The crisis is taking us further away from the SDGs.…The COVID-19 crisis is having devastating impacts because of our past and present failures. Because we have yet to take the SDGs seriously. Because we have put up with inequalities within and between countries that have left billions of people just one crisis away from poverty and financial ruin. Because we haven’t invested adequately in resilience – in universal health coverage; quality education; social protection; safe water and sanitation. Because we have yet to right the power imbalances that leave women and girls to constantly bear the brunt of any crisis. Because we haven’t heeded warnings about the damage that we are inflicting on our natural environment. Because of the shocking risks we are taking with climate disruption. And because we have undervalued effective international cooperation and solidarity.”
These messages remained throughout the session. COVID-19 has laid bare the world’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. While everyone has been affected, the poorest and the most vulnerable, including women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees, and informal sector workers, have been especially affected. Millions of people will be pushed further into poverty and countries now need to look at the existing poor and new poor with targeted policies. No one size fits all approach will be effective.
Building back will involve transforming food systems and strengthening health and social systems. Climate change, biodiversity, food systems, health and social issues can no longer be considered in isolation. The world needs a holistic approach. Resilience must now be a key factor in discussions on sustainability and achieving the SDGs. One positive chorus of the discussions was that Member States reiterated the need for global solidarity and strengthened multilateralism as the only effective way out of the crisis and to achieve the SDGs. As the world moves to the new normal, the discussions were clear, Governments, private sector, civil society, academia, and all stakeholders needed to be involved in the building back better process.
Session on ending hunger and achieving food security held on Tuesday July 7th
The discussions at this session, emphasized that the world is not on track to achieve SDG2 on Zero Hunger. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significantly negative impact on global food security. It has shown how weak the resilience of the food system is, the fragility of high technology corporate food production and distribution systems, while also highlighting the importance of interlinkages between the food system and other sectors of the economy. Ending hunger and achieving food security requires a comprehensive and coordinated global effort involving all stakeholders and financial partners. Building back better from COVID-19 requires understanding the food systems and a multi sector approach including examining health policies. The world needs to create a sustainable food system and enable more equitable access to nutritional food, through policies that promote radical transformation of food systems from production to consumption. Conditions must be set to get agri-business companies to continue to produce and small scale farmers must be considered as relevant social productive actors that play a leading role in the plan to end hunger. Access to technologies, incorporation of local value chains of food are also essential to strengthening production capacity in efforts to transform the system.
Emerging Ag event: Food Systems and Nutrition Patterns: Biodiversity, Resilience and Food Security
Emerging Ag, in collaboration with the National University of Science and Technology of Pakistan held a webinar that discussed the interlinkages between agriculture and biodiversity and, how to increase food production for a growing global population while preserving biodiversity, protecting the environment, mitigating the impact of disasters, and adapting to climate change.
ECOSOC HLPF Special Event on launch of the 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) and Side Event on the findings of the 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World
The report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 (SOFI 2020) presents the most recent and authoritative estimates of the extent of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition around the world .This year, the report includes a special focus on transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. The general consensus is that the numbers of the world’s hungry are going in the wrong direction, a situation, greatly worsened by COVID-19. Speakers and participants agreed that efforts must be made to make food systems more sustainable and resilient and, healthy diets must be made affordable and accessible for everyone. Partnerships between the private sector, NGO,’s scientific community, governments and all stakeholders must work together to achieve this.
In closing, while the usual excitement and raised level of activity which surrounds high level meetings such as the HLPF was missing, with key government leaders and stakeholder meetings, side events bringing civil society and all stakeholders together and the important interaction between individuals were still present, this year’s virtual HLPF undoubtedly enabled much larger numbers of persons to participate and engage with the HLPF and the UN. It brought home to many more individuals, the work of the UN and how it affects their lives. Going forward, it will be hard to see how the UN can return to a situation where such numbers are excluded from its engagements. Unprecedented times continue to lay ahead and how the UN and other high level actors react will continue to be included in the changes the world sees.