Home » General » Speakers Tell High-level Political Forum Unique Challenges of Countries in Special Situations Must Remain Central to Sustainable Development Strategies

The unique challenges of countries in special situations needed to stay at the forefront of efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Agenda speakers said today, as the High-level Political Forum continued.

The Forum held three panels exploring the need for statistics in the monitoring and evaluation of the future development agenda, as well as the particular needs of those countries.  The panels’ themes were “National mechanisms for monitoring progress and reporting on implementation for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”; “Making the 2030 Agenda deliver for small island developing States, building on the SAMOA Pathway”; and “Countries in special situations”.

A profound strategic shift would be needed to fulfil the goal of “leaving no one behind” said David Steven, Senior Fellow and Associate Director at the Centre on International Cooperation, New York University, United States.  “We must do this work urgently”, he stressed, noting that the 2030 Agenda singled out, in particular, African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States and conflict- and post-conflict countries, as well as middle-income countries.  The new agenda was both a promise of what could be achieved and a warning against failing to act now, he emphasized.

Many countries were facing unfulfilled development expectations, said Youba Sokona, Special Adviser on Sustainable Development of the South Centre Least Developed Countries Independent Expert Group.  “The window for action is rapidly closing,” he said, adding that there was room for each country, no matter its condition, to take on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

As the world pursued a more sustainable future, small island developing States had every potential to be left behind, warned Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati.  Climate change put those countries at particular risk, and without concrete action on climate issues, every other development objective would be meaningless.  In that context, he was pleased that climate change and ocean preservation were included as stand-alone elements within the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Recalling that the Millennium Development Goals were a “set it and forget it” exercise, Justina Langidrik, Chief Secretary of the Marshall Islands, said that the Sustainable Development Goals were an opportunity for all to do better and should be seen as a benefit and not a burden at the implementation level.  With a population of 60,000 people spread over an area the size of Mexico, the Marshall Islands grappled with unique data reporting challenges.  Moreover, the islands were almost entirely dependent on bilateral assistance, she said, stressing the need to urgently review those arrangements in the context of the development framework.

David Smith, Coordinator at the University of Consortium for Small Island States and the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies, said there was a need to push forward with an economic transformation to a green economy with more focus on increased markets for goods, services and labour.  The private sector and civil society involvement should be promoted.  Human capital development through education and training should be undertaken, while science and technology should be mainstreamed into policies.

The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 15 July, to continue its session.

Panel I

The first panel of the day was titled “National mechanisms for monitoring progress and reporting on implementation for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals” and was moderated by Johannes Paul Jütting, Manager of the PARIS21 Secretariat within the Development Co-operation Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).   The panellists included Lisa Grace Bersales, National Statistician and Head of the Philippine Statistics Authority; Pali Lehohla, Statistician-General of South Africa; and Georges Simon Ulrich, Director General of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

Lead discussants included Milorad Scepanovic, Director-General from the General Directorate of Multilateral Affairs of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, and Peseta Noumea Simi, Chief Executive Officer at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Samoa.

Mr. JÜTTING said the world had learned a lot over the last decade and much progress had been made with regard to the availability of data.  Many challenges remained, however, including the lack of birth registration, particularly for girls in developing countries.  Even in developed countries, there were large gaps in data availability.  Those realties illustrated the need for more and better data produced at the national level.

Ms. BERSALES said clear governance structures were needed to implement and monitor the Sustainable Development Goals, with national statistical offices playing an active role.  The Philippines had organized a series of workshops at the national level to look at data availability and aggregation and to identify what data needed to be prioritized.  In the statistical community, there were many challenges that existed for monitoring the Goals.  The Philippines would seek to utilize multi-stakeholder partnerships, both globally and nationally, as well as official statistics to generate information for the indicators.

Mr. LEHOHLA said statistics were a conduit of trust and formed the basis of many discussions within the context of international relations.  Statisticians were being pressed to fast track their efforts in order to feed into the Sustainable Development Goals.  Legislation was needed to implement the fundamental principles of statistics.  In South Africa there was a national development plan that was informed by statistics.  There was a demand not only to provide numbers, but also to modernize statistical organizations.  He called for more administrative data about the citizens of the country, which in-turn, needed to be embedded within geographical information.

Mr. ULRICH said active collaboration between the High-level Political Forum and the United Nations Statistical Commission was crucial and must be based on mutual trust.  Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would require greater cooperation between policymakers and statistical offices, particularly for monitoring development goals.  It was important to establish a cultural of dialogue and cooperation, clearly-defined processes and well-documented decisions, as well as to share knowledge and skills.  The early involvement of national statistical offices was of great importance and would help implement and monitor the future development framework in a scientific, systematic and well-documented manner.  National statistics were the basis of all indicators and could support planned coordination activities.

Mr. SCEPANOVIC stressed the need to fully integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into national policies, plans and programmes.  Montenegro had adopted a National Strategy on Sustainable Development through 2030, which was an overarching national development plan that defined principles, strategic goals and measures for achieving long-term sustainable development.  The strategy not only referred to the economy and environment, but also addressed irreplaceable human resources and invaluable social capital.  The successful implementation of the strategy would depend on the ability to secure strong and integrated support from the United Nations system. 

Ms. SIMI said despite the focus on statistics, there were other factors that needed to be taken into consideration, particularly with regard to the perspective of small island developing States.  Many indicators were not relevant to the unique situations of small island developing States, which meant there was a need to contextualize and localize.  There was also a lack of ownership and political will, as well as a lack of awareness and engagement with stakeholders, all of which resulted in serious challenges to achieve the development targets.  The lack of alignment between global and regional efforts and limited resources created additional hurdles.  Many small island developing States continued to focus on mainstreaming the development goals into national plans, which would inform the regional indicators that covered common priority issues.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Estonia said that in her country, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals was done through a set of indicators that were agreed in an inclusive fashion and renewed on a regular basis.  She noted that every country likely had some challenges with the global indicators, including repetitive reporting requirements.

The representative of China called for steps to help developing countries build their statistical capacities so that monitoring and evaluating could truly contribute to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Monitoring and evaluating should not be a goal in and of themselves.

The representative of the Cook Islands said his country’s national goals resembled the Sustainable Development Goals.  His Government had worked to simplify the goals and engage with all stakeholders to garner their buy-in.  However, the Cook Islands were challenged by the need to disaggregate and reliably collect data, given that the country encompassed a large number of small islands, spread over a vast area.

The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization noted that while Governments had the primary responsibility to collect data at the national level, international agencies responsible for the compilation of the indicators could help ensure that data was comparable between countries, as well as aggregated regionally and globally.

A representative of the major group for children and youth said that the participation of major groups in monitoring and reporting must be considered a best practice.  It was imperative to include diverse perspectives in the sustainable development process, including those of children and youth.

A representative of the European Union said that keeping track of progress in a systematic and transparent way would be essential for delivering on the 2030 Agenda.  In that regard, EuroStat would play an active role across the European Union in monitoring and reporting processes.

A representative of the major group from persons with disabilities noted that the first national voluntary review had taken place but had not used all evidence available.  He asked what steps could be taken to ensure that other national voluntary reviews would be more inclusive.

The representative of Viet Nam said that her country had carried out a review of 230 Sustainable Development Goal indicators through its national statistical indicator system.  The results of that review included evidence that about 141 indicators had no data and 106 were difficult to collect.

Also speaking were the representatives of Malaysia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Chad.

Representatives from the major groups for ageing and non-governmental organizations also participated.

Panel II

The second panel discussion of the day focused on “Making the 2030 Agenda deliver for SIDS, building on the SAMOA Pathway” and was moderated by Elizabeth Thompson, Former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Coordinator for Rio+20 and former Minister for Energy and Environment of Barbados.

The panellists included Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati, and David Smith, Coordinator at the University of Consortium for Small Island States and at the Institute for Sustainable Development of the University of the West Indies.

The lead discussants included Justina Langidrik, Chief Secretary of the Marshall Islands, and Kate Brown, Executive Director of the Global Island Partnership.

Ms. THOMPSON said the discussion would not only revolve around the development needs of small island developing States, but also to what extent the various platforms for development were reconcilable and relevant to small islands.

Mr. TONG warned that small island developing States had every potential to be left behind.  He was pleased to see that climate change and ocean preservation were included as stand-alone elements within the Sustainable Development Goals.  Climate change was the most important and pivotal element of small island developing States’ efforts to achieve development.  Without addressing climate change, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would be impossible.  Those countries on the front line of climate change were the most vulnerable amongst the international community.  If the world could not address climate change, then every other element of development would be meaningless.  Unless something could be done to render small island developing States climate-resistant, the people living there would be forced to relocate.  Already small island developing States were feeling the impacts of climate change, yet the question remained whether they would be able to get the required resources to adapt and build the necessary resilience.  The piecemeal approach was not working and more resources must be made available, including through the Green Climate Fund.

Mr. SMITH stressed that the negative impacts of climate change were being felt much earlier in the tropics than the rest of the world.  He recalled that the Sustainable Development Goals were very much in-line with the goals of the SAMOA Pathway.  There should be more emphasis placed on sustainable energy, as doing so would address many different elements of sustainable development concurrently, all of which could improve efficiency.  More attention must be paid to Goal 14 on life below water and the so-called “blue economy”, related to the world’s oceans.  There was a need to push forward with an economic transformation to a green economy with more focus on increased markets for goods, services and labour regionally.  The private sector and civil society involvement should be promoted.  Human capital development through education and training should be undertaken, while science and technology should be mainstreamed into policies.

Ms. LANGIDRIK recalled that for the Marshall Islands, the Millennium Development Goals were a “set it and forget it” exercise, namely because they were not mainstreamed.  The Sustainable Development Goals were an opportunity for all to do better.  The international community must collectively ensure the development goals were implemented in a way that had direct impacts and empowered the most vulnerable.  With a population of 60,000 people spread over an area the size of Mexico, the Marshall Islands presented unique data reporting challenges.  She hoped that the Sustainable Development Goals would be viewed as a benefit and not a burden at the implementation level.  The Marshall Islands were almost entirely dependent on bilateral assistance, which meant that there was an urgent need to review those arrangements in the context of the new development framework.

Ms. BROWN said it had become clear that there were not enough resources for small islands to do everything that was hoped.  It would be useful to consider how to build the business case for investment in small islands and also how to enable those countries to meet their development objectives.  Small island developing States provided an opportunity to learn a great deal about both the green and blue economies.  There were many examples to study to learn about what was actually working for small islands.  Partnerships presented an important means to implement the 2030 Agenda and the SAMOA Pathway.  There were an enormous number of initiatives already under way, but the question that remained was how to gauge the impact of that work in a way that benefitted small island developing States.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States and associating himself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), highlighted the need for a tailored approach to implement the 2030 Agenda for small island developing States by linking to specific commitments identified in the SAMOA Pathway.  Strong national institutions would be critically important to meeting the future development aspirations.

The representative of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community and associating himself with the statement of AOSIS, noted the 2030 Agenda’s holistic nature and deliberate integration of the SAMOA Pathway; both of which accommodated the unique challenges faced by small island developing States for building economic, social and environmental resilience.  The two frameworks were bonded in a symbiosis of purpose.

The representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of AOSIS, said small island developing States had long-since been acknowledged as a unique case in sustainable development.  What was critical now was for adequate mobilization of the necessary means of implementation.  Without focusing on the SAMOA Pathway, small island developing States could not achieve a sustainable future.

The representative of Belize highlighted the risks faced by small island developing States due to their reliance on foreign trade, including the dangers posed by their high sensitivity to external shocks.

A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization said food security and nutrition, agriculture and fisheries production, the protection of biodiversity and responses to climate change could and must be brought together to achieve the promises of the 2030 Agenda.

The representative of Samoa said the 2030 Agenda provided an occasion to explore the specific challenges and opportunities of small island developing States, as well as their unique multi-dimensional view of development and partnerships.

Also speaking were the representatives of Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Kazakhstan.

Round Table

This afternoon, the Forum held a round table discussion on “Countries in special situations”, which was chaired by Hector Alejandro Cerna (Honduras), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council.  Moderated by David Steven, Senior Fellow and Associate Director at the Centre on International Cooperation of New York University, United States, it featured five panellists:  Youba Sokona, Special Adviser on Sustainable Development of the South Centre Least Developed Countries Independent Expert Group; Jean-Marc Châtaigner, Deputy Executive Director of the French Research Institute for Development; Marina Djernaes, Director of the EcoPeace Center of Environmental Peacebuilding of EcoPeace Middle East; Claudio Huepe Minoletti, Professor and Coordinator of the Energy and Sustainable Development Centre of the Universidad Diego Portales, Chile; and Stephen Chacha, Founder of the Africa Philanthropic Foundation and member of the Africa Civil Society Organizations Working Group.

Mr. STEVEN said “leaving no one behind” represented a profound strategic shift and demanded that the international community work to address the most vulnerable people and countries.  “We must do this work urgently,” he stressed, noting that the 2030 Agenda singled out, in particular, African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States and conflict- and post-conflict countries, as well as middle-income countries.  The new agenda was both a promise of what could be achieved and a warning against failing to act now, he said.

Mr. SOKONA said many countries were facing unfulfilled development expectations.  “The window for action is rapidly closing,” he said, citing in particular the depletion of the global carbon budget.  Aligning climate change and sustainable development offered huge opportunities, but there was no one-size-fits-all solution.  There was room for each country, no matter its condition, to take on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  “We have to start with development priorities at the local level” and move to the national level, he said, calling for the removal of policy, market and social barriers to sustainable development.  Three main groups — the policy, practice and research communities — must work together.  Underscoring the need for political will and adequate resources, he also highlighted the need to link short-term and long-term imperatives.

Mr. CHÂTAIGNER said all countries could be said to be in special situations as each faced its own challenges.  Describing inequalities in the number of research and development professionals between countries, as well as a striking lack of data in some States, he said the international community must pool together its knowledge to bridge those gaps.  There were also major discrepancies between countries in such areas as homicide rates.  Turning to the particular case of least developed countries, he said the world was far from achieving the goal of the Istanbul Programme of Action, which was to delist half of least developed countries by 2020. 

Ms. DJERNAES said her organization worked in environmental peacebuilding in Israel, Jordan and Palestine, aiming to create transboundary environmental solutions through cross-border commitments — especially on water issues.  In conflicts, people tended to grab as much water as possible, and the environment became a hostage to conflict.  Her work brought parties together to develop “win-win” solutions, using bottom-up grassroots approaches as well as top-down solutions.  Local experts, media, politicians and other stakeholders were involved in the process, she said, underscoring the need to speak directly to city mayors and create small groups of local environmental leaders to drive solutions.  Civil society efforts could achieve a lot even in the midst of a conflict, she stressed, calling on participants to support EcoPeace’s new centre in Washington, D.C., slated to open this fall.

Mr. MINOLETTI spotlighted the situation of middle-income countries, noting that category contained a lot variation both within and among countries.  Middle-income countries were facing a growing complexity in their societies in which different groups with different interests could not find a common ground.  In addition, those countries had seen rapid increases in income levels, but their institutions had not had time to adapt adequately.  Finance and trade were both becoming more complex and there were increasing environmental impacts.  Those States also faced the “middle-income trap”, where they were not able to grow further.  He underscored the need to reverse the current thinking that growth was a means for sustainable development, and to instead consider sustainable development as a means for growth.

Mr. CHACHA focused on a wide array of special challenges facing States, calling in particular for more effective mechanisms for conflict prevention and mediation and for the creation of enabling environments that would help States implement the 2030 Agenda.  Drawing attention to the African Union Agenda 2063, he said there was huge potential in the overlap between the two development agendas.  The United Nations system and the African Union should strengthen synergies in their implementation.  “We need to take the sustainable development agenda down to the grassroots,” he said, stressing that raising public understanding and awareness was critical.  Among other things, he proposed the creation of an annual report on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in countries in special situations.  

Mr. STEVEN raised a number of discussion questions, including how context-specific approaches could ensure that countries in special situations were not left behind and how countries in such situations could be better protected against shocks and crises.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers from a number of countries — including those in a variety of special situations — joined representatives of major groups and other stakeholders to explore those questions.

In that regard, the representative of Bahamas spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noting that the Group consisted of small island developing States, least developed countries and others in special situations.  The present dialogue could not be just a “talk shop”, she said, calling for frank and open discussions on the realities of those countries to continue.  Noting that her region was one of the most debt-affected in the world, she said debt relief could create major opportunities for economic growth, job creation and accelerated sustainable development.

The representative of Papua New Guinea said there would not be uniformity in the way the Sustainable Development Goals would be implemented among countries.  The seriousness of climate change, resource constraints and the need for capacity development affected some countries more than others.  For example, small island developing States faced rapidly rising sea levels and other severe impacts of climate change.  The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the SAMOA Pathway and other related international agreements needed to be better translated to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, she said.

The representative of Zambia, speaking as Chair of the Landlocked Developing Countries Group, recalled that the Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries was an important component of the 2030 Agenda.  That document, along with the Addis Agenda and the 2030 Agenda, had recognized the special needs and challenges of countries in special situations.

The representative of Bangladesh called on the international community to facilitate the sharing of best practices and the mobilization of financing.  However, support should never encroach into domestic policy space.  Noting that the General Assembly was planning a study on the special vulnerabilities of least developed countries, he stressed the need for the international community to focus more on those countries.  Those States were not the polluters, but they were among the main victims of climate change, he said.

The representative of the major group for women, who hailed from Fiji, welcomed the language on special circumstances in the SAMOA Pathway outcome.  There was a need for clearer synchronization between that document and the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, adding that there was not yet enough real support for small island developing States to address the challenges of climate change. 

Responding to those comments, Mr. CLAUDIO said the elements of development were interrelated, which presented a number of opportunities.  For example, low rates of job market participation on the part of women brought up issues of economy, equality and health. 

Mr. CHÂTAIGNER responded to the representative of Bangladesh, agreeing that countries themselves needed to establish projects and carry them out.  However, they required capacity-building and technical training. 

The representative of the major group for children and youth said context-specific plans would be effective when a country’s young people were active in creating them.

Mr. SOKANA said climate change was one element that was resonating throughout the discussion.  Nationally determined contributions addressed that issue at the national level.  The fact that energy systems of least developed countries were not yet in place offered major opportunities to institutionalize sustainability.  In that regard, he recalled that Africa had gone to the Paris Climate Change Conference with a specific and very ambitious proposal — the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative — on the table.

Mr. CHACHA, asked about ways to harness the potential of young people in the implementation of sustainable development, said the goal of the 2030 Agenda was to make a better world for current and future generations.  Youth naturally needed to be involved in such discussions.

The representative of Chile, noting that hers was a middle-income country, emphasized the need to find new measurements of development that went beyond gross domestic product and which took into account social and environmental issues.  She asked the panellists how progress could be made towards developing such new measurements.

Meanwhile, the representative of Rwanda, a country emerging from conflict, said trade barriers and lack of economic diversification were among the main challenges impacting her country.  Like hers, many countries required structural transformation and diversification in order to become more resilient to shocks.

The representative of the European Union spotlighted development cooperation as an important way to share knowledge and catalyse progress.  The bloc would continue to support its partners around the world, especially those most in need, to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

Asked about the role of the United Nations in supporting countries in special situations, Mr. CHÂTAIGNER called for an “agenda of coherence” through which policies were better aligned to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.  He agreed with the representative of Chile that a new composite indicator was needed at the United Nations level to measure development progress.

Mr. MINOLETTI agreed a new indicator was needed, noting that gross domestic product (GDP) had not been meant to measure development.  The example of the Human Development Index had been interesting but even more “rethinking” was needed.

Asked about ways to involve a wider array of stakeholders in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, Mr. CHACHA said civil society’s contribution had been “lost in the cracks” of the Millennium Development Goals process.  This time around, African countries had instituted national civil society platforms in order to document their contribution.

Ms. DJERNAES said the contribution of civil society was particularly important in conflict areas, and that the United Nations should support such engagement.

Mr. SOKONA stressed that, in order to widen the participation of diverse stakeholders, the kind of dialogue taking place today must be brought down to the local level.  That would also serve to focus discussions on local priorities, he said.

Mr. STEVEN agreed with speakers that aid presented a major opportunity in the new sustainable development agenda.  In particular, aid could help to broker relationships and financing could be used as a catalyst in the coming years.

The panellists were then invited to spotlight one important issue in brief closing remarks.

Mr. MINOLETTI said greater efforts were needed to bring the sustainable development agenda to the practical “business level”.

Ms. DJERNAES said her organization hoped to bring its experience to a larger community, because success depended upon wide participation.

Mr. CHACHA, recalling that none of the countries in special situations had achieved all of the Millennium Development Goals, said “we have a lot to learn” from that experience.

Mr. CHÂTAIGNER said the challenges facing the world had never been so many and so serious.  There was only one choice: to innovate, to invest and to find solutions.

Mr. SOKONA, stressing the need for a stronger collective commitment to the sustainable development agenda, said there was a need to innovate new institutions for its implementation.

Also participating were the representatives of Zimbabwe, Chad, Belarus, Iran, Canada, Sweden and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as those speaking on behalf of the major groups for indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and non-governmental organizations.

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