First ever online UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

By Nadège Lharaig, EEB

On March 19, the UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development was held online for the first time due to the Covid-19 crisis. Originally a 1,5 day event, it was scaled-down as a half-day online event and the outcome was rather disappointing.

An online event was indeed needed to prevent more the spread of Covid-19, but the format of the virtual forum didn’t leave much space for meaningful political dialogue. The presentations followed each other without real space for questions or reactions and the content was not solutions-oriented enough.

However, there were some highlights:  

Ms. Outi Honkatukia, Chief Negotiator for Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment in Finland, presented the country’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2035.

Civil society organizations that had gathered the day before delivered two powerful statements.  

Ms. Eva Peena, from EDUACTIVE in Italy, spoke on the behalf of civil society organizations on accelerating action and delivery for sustainable development in the UNECE Region and reminded us that “for the SDG process to have any hope of success all people must be reached by its proposed policies; wellbeing applies to everyone, not the few; long term policy-making based on a commitment to include everyone from all walks of life and age is needed now; implementation of the human rights framework must be at the core of the finance and policy making”. She also highlighted specific demands that civil-society has been advocating for a long time: the need for a cross-cutting human-rights based approach to the SDGs, multidimensional disaggregated data and a shift away from GDP measures, to name a few. She also shared newer requests such as the set up on an intergenerational commission to tackle the rollback of climate justice and oversee implementation of climate agreements.

Ms. Sehnaz Kiymaz from North Macedonia spoke on behalf of civil society organizations on ‘Accelerating SDGs’ progress through Voluntary National Reviews.’ She acknowledged that civil society organizations are more and more involved in the VNR process, as for example in North Macedonia, where 100 CSOs are consulted to draft the VNR, and in Finland where CSOs work jointly with the government to make sure that the state budget is compliant with the SDGs and commitments taken in the VNR. But she also mentioned structural barriers that prevent civil society to play its complete meaningful role in this process, such as lack of funding and shrinking of civic space. She asked for increased time, opportunities and resources for CSOs to engage with the review process of the VNRs, both at the regional and global levels and the need for “follow up” meetings with civil society, after their VNR sessions, to ensure implementation of the SDGs with full engagement of all sections of society.

As this Forum fell short of expectations due to the extraordinary circumstances, we want to continue the discussions between CSOs online and prepare for the High Level Political Forum, if it occurs as planned.  

Save the date and register for a webinar on meaningful CSO participation in VNRs on April 29, 2020 at 14.30 CET. More details coming soon !

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