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UN Member States Begin Negotiations on HLPF

30 January 2013: In the first informal meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on establishing the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF), Members States and Permanent Observers convened to discuss its format and organizational aspects.

The consultation took place on 30 January 2013, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, convened by the two co-facilitators for the process, Cesare Maria Ragaglini, Permanent Representative of Italy, and Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Permanent Representative of Brazil. The consultation followed from the decision at the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) "to establish a universal, intergovernmental, high-level political forum, building on the strengths, experiences, resources and inclusive participation modalities of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), and subsequently replacing the Commission."

Noting that the HLPF was one of the key outcomes of Rio+20, Ragaglini said the meeting should allow delegates to express their initial views on modalities and format of the HLPF. He requested, inter alia, conducting the negotiations in an inclusive and transparent manner and avoiding reopening agreements reached in Rio. He said that Major Groups will be engaged in the process and negotiations should be concluded by May 2013, in order for the HLPF to start at the beginning of the 68th session of the UNGA.

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, highlighted the need to seize the opportunity to design a body “that can best advance sustainable development.” On the characteristics of the HLPF, he said it should: be modern and innovative; attract the right participation; have the political weight to influence policies at country level; have a long-term perspective that considers the well-being of new generations and safeguards the planet; and enhance the participation of non-state actors. He added that the Forum should build on lessons learned from the CSD, and noted that a report from the UN Secretary-General on lessons learned from the CSD was being finalized. This report will take into account contributions from Member States, Major Groups and the UN system, he said.

Viotti invited delegates to intervene on any of the points on the agenda, including: the institutional format of the HLPF; the timing, periodicity and duration of HLPF meetings and related preparatory process; the level of participation; the participation modalities of UN agencies, funds, programmes, other relevant multilateral institutions and treaty bodies; the modalities of enhanced consultative role and participation of Major Groups and other relevant stakeholders; and the nature of outcomes of the Forum.

On the institutional format, delegates emphasized building on the experience and strengths of the CSD, and ensuring a good transition between the CSD and the HLPF. Many suggested linking the HLPF to the overall reform of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and to the post-2015 development agenda. Speakers also stressed: ensuring the HLPF is serviced by a strong Secretariat to be placed under the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA); ensuring that there is no overlap with other UN entities; allowing all Member States to participate with an equal footing by using the UNGA as an appropriate framework; and using existing structures in the Secretariat rather than creating new ones.

On the timing and periodicity of the Forum's meetings, several delegates proposed to hold meetings back-to-back with the UNGA's high-level general debate week each September. Some delegates recommended combining the meetings with the existing High Level Ministerial (HLM) meetings held in ECOSOC each July.

Delegates' proposals on the duration and periodicity of Forum meetings ranged from meeting annually to every four years. It was also suggested to hold several inter-sessional meetings during the year with a focus on specific themes. Several countries proposed that decisions on timing and periodicity be flexible, as it may be beneficial for the Forum to meet more frequently in its first few years of work.

On the level of participation in the Forum, speakers noted the importance of: involving and engaging with all relevant UN entities, including agencies that have responsibility on sustainable development issues and regional commissions; ensuring system-wide coordination and coherence; and having the UN regional commissions report to the Forum based on regional modalities. They emphasized the need for participation of the highest levels of governments, specifically Heads of State and Government and foreign ministers. They also called for ensuring participation of and coordination between representatives of the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental), and for involving the international, regional and national levels. Much of the discussion addressed engaging high-level representatives, making the Forum a relevant political body, and ensuring the body's leadership in sustainable development.

The importance of engaging stakeholders was stressed, with speakers highlighting roles for actors from civil society, Major Groups, the business community, academia to local governments. Delegates proposed building on the consultation mechanisms of the CSD by enhancing the existing Major Groups structure. Also emphasized was a need to seek input from the Major Groups during the negotiation process.

On the nature of the outcomes of the HLPF, some delegates called for “concise, action-oriented” decisions. Proposals included: reaching a negotiated final decision; issuing an overall meeting summary of the discussion that took place; producing a global report on sustainable development to inform the discussions at the national level; and developing a declaration to be adopted by the UNGA and implemented by all actors. Some delegates called for a review process to ensure effective implementation of decisions.

Speakers made proposals on the purpose and agenda of the HLPF. They emphasized the need for the HLPF to: follow up on sustainable development and Rio+20 outcomes; have an action-oriented agenda and a flexible programme to respond to new and emerging issues; improve on the CSD and strengthen the integration of the three pillars of sustainable development; provide a basic framework for discussion while taking into account countries' challenges; and review sustainable development progress in the field.

Other issues highlighted during the discussion included: a potential mechanism for addressing the needs of small island developing States (SIDS); strengthening the science-policy interface; the need for less reliance on prepared statements in the Forum; and the implementation authority that the Forum will possess.

In closing the session, Viotti said the HLPF negotiation process will be coordinated with the ongoing ECOSOC reform, and that a summary of discussions will be made available to participants. She said the next informal meeting will be announced in the UN Journal. [HLPF Webpage]  [Publication: The Future We Want] [IISD RS Sources] [Letter from Co-facilitators Convening Consultations] [IISD RS Story on CSD 20 Consultations]