Advocating for Adult Learning and Education at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)

ICAE participated in the 2019 meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the United Nations mechanism reviewing the sustainable development goals under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which took place from 9 to 18 July 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York. This year, the theme of the Forum is “Empowering people and Ensuring inclusiveness and equality”.

More than 2400 participants registered for this year’s HLPF, including representatives of Member States countries presenting national voluntary reviews and Major Groups and other stakeholders.  ICAE participated in the Forum through the Education Academia Stakeholder Group, and has sent a delegation from the Secretariat.

Because SDG 4 was reviewed during the HLPF 2019 for the first time ever since the 2030 Agenda was adopted, the year 2019 is considered a momentous one for the education constituency worldwide. Especially for ICAE, as  civil society must play an active role in the SDG process since we all have a stake in ensuring that all the SDG 4 targets are realised by 2030.

Infographic with the number of countries

Preparing for HLPF 2019

Already months beforehand, Katarina and Ricarda were deeply engaged in the preparations of the HLPF. Katarina is member of the Steering Group of the Coordination Mechanism, while Ricarda co-chairs the Voluntary National Review (VNR) – Task Group, which coordinates the engagement of stakeholders in the VNR processes. Thus both actively participated in weekly calls, prepared processes and documents as well as conducted several webinars (can be found here, in various languages) in the framework of  the MGoS Coordination Mechanism. As one of the organizing partners of the Education Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG) several preparatory activities were done too. Next to preparatory online calls for education stakeholders, EASG drafted a joined public statement on “Empowering people and Ensuring inclusiveness and equality” for the HLPF 2019, which can be read here.

Arriving in New York on Sunday 7th of July, before the official start of the HLPF, ICAE also represented EASG in the first meeting of Steering Group of the Coordination Mechanismof Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS). 

MGoS Preparatory Meeting

On 8thJul, approximately one hundred representatives of Civil Society organisations, already arrived earlier and met for a Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS)[1]Preparatory Meeting, organized by UN DESA OISC and the MGoS HLPF Coordination Mechanism. This orientation and strategy meeting is geared towards supporting representatives of MGoS, individual NGO participants and Civil Society to prepare and coordinate their engagement in the sessions and meetings of the HLPF. 

In the morning Katarina introduced participants to the Coordination Mechanism and the way civil society and other Groups engage in UN and HLPF, and in the afternoon Ricarda was speaking about the Voluntary National Reviews and how it is possible engage in this process. The meeting allowed ICAE, to share expertise with other stakeholders active in advocacy at the global level as well as national level stakeholders in order to ensure meaningful and active engagement in the forum.  

Exhibition: The right to education: for everyone, everywhere, at any time

ICAE brought together a group of education organisations including: ASPBAE – Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in the Asia South PacificDVV Internationaland the Stakeholder Groups of Persons with Disabilities (PwD), Indigenous People (IPMG) and Ageing (SGA) – for a photo exhibition on Lifelong Learning. During the two weeks of the HLPF the exhibition focused on the role played by education as the most sustainable, long-term driver of social, economic and environmental justice and for building capacities and sensitivity, as well as fostering transformation, empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.  The exhibition showed the diversity of learning and education of different groups and how it contributes to the quality of life. It provided a chance to deepen the understanding of learning and education as factors of life and dignity and how the Sustainable Development Agenda should fulfill the aims of education and lifelong learning.

First week and Tuesday, 9th July: HLPF 2019 has kicked off!

During the first week, the Forum reviewed progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including at the regional and sub-regional levels and included numerous panel and roundtables on the theme and on the Six Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under review: 

  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries 
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Every day of the official HLPF starts at 8 am with daily coordination and strategy meetings of the Coordination Mechanism of MGoS, where also the ICAE represents the Education and Academia Stakeholder Groupand actively share information and reflections to the processes with participants.

On the 9th of July, Ricarda started chairing the regular Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) meetings, which continued to be held through the two weeks of the HLPF. On that day Katarina moderated a session on SDG4 bringing together education stakeholders to strategize and exchange ideas.

Side event “The Invisible Friend – Adult Education and the Sustainable Development Goals”

Also on July 9, DVV International hosted a side event at the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of German, which wasorganised in collaboration with the ICAE, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic  and Adult Education (ASPBAE) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The eventdrew attention to the increased importance of adult education in the context of the educational goal and the 2030 Agendaand was moderated by Robbie Guevara, ICAE Vice-President.

“We must advance education into the 21st century by paying more attention to lifelong learning,” stressed Karin Göbel, Head of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany, at the opening of the event. Christoph Jost, Director of DVV International, explained the municipal anchoring of adult education in Germany in the form of adult education centres (Volkshochschulen), as well as the worldwide fostering of adult education structures by DVV International and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to the 80 interested parties from all over the world. The Hon. Peace Regis Mutuuzo, Ugandan Secretary of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development, and Philany Phissamay, Deputy Director General for Non-formal Education in Laos, reported on experiences from practice and challenges in implementing adult education programmes in their countries. 

Aaron Benavot, Professor of Global Education Policy at Albany University, USA, tackled the challenge that data on non-formal adult education is often insufficiently comparable and leads to a lack of visibility. Werner Mauch, Senior Programme Specialist at UIL, reported on the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE), which regularly evaluates systematic information on adult education. Nani Zulminarni, President of the Asian Adult Education Association ASPBAE, spoke about the links between economic development and gender in Asia. In conclusion, Katarina Popovic used the title of the event to say: “If we want to transform adult education from an invisible friend into a best friend, it must be better communicated and more present on a global scale.”

Wednesday, 10th July 

SDG Learning, Training and Practice Workshop ”Inspire. Change. Together. Innovative approaches and partnerships to strengthen the role of educators & academia to implement the SDGs”

ICAE, the University of Rey Juan Carlos, Carlos III University of Madrid, the International Association of Universities, the Association of Francophone Universities, the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs and the Association of Commonwealth Universities were invitedby the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to organize a three-hour SDG Learning, Training and Practice Workshop.Given the diverse mix of the organisations, the focus of the session was to show how education contributed to the SDG 16: peace, justice and strong institutions and SDG 17:Partnerships for the Goals. The workshop was separated into two panels with five speakers and one moderator each. Overall the message of the workshop was: Education is ready to support Agenda 2030. It wants to be engaged, it wants to be transformed and it is also ready to be challenged. The whole sector is needed and will make a contribution. 

Ricarda started her contribution with highlighting the many different actors that were involved in organsing the workshop and how it was a true example of building bridges across the different sectors. The ICAE is the only civil society organisation working with non-formal adult education, presenting the global voice for the sector. She highlighted how the ICAE uses it voice to make sure that adult education and lifelong learning is included in Agenda 2030 and how they are using different mechanisms to build bridges between the global and the local level. There are many different forms of lifelong learning across the world, which showcases the different needs in different places of the world. Higher Education is important to lifelong learning for providing evidence of the benefits towards policy makers. Ricarda also added that education is still not seen as important as it should be at UN level. She stressed, that it is important for the education sector to cooperate outside the sector, across different working areas. She concluded that “we need many voices in order to achieve the SDGs”. 

Katarina reminded the audience that when points about peace and justice reach the United Nations, it is already too late and we, as educator and activists, have already failed. To highlight what she means, she made three points. Number one was that a big threat comes from the fact that a lot of humanities and social science department are being closed around the world or loose funding. She stressed that this is particularly dangerous, since those departments ask critical questions, engage in critical thinking and does research about the reasons of war and terror. The second point she made was about the role of educators and academics in higher education institutions. She calls for more “socially engaged scholars” and not people sitting in ivory towers who never go out. It is important to go out and see what it actually happening. She calls for transformative learning through active participation. Students need to become “lifelong learners”, also after they finish formal education; to remain curious and continue to learn about the world. Her last point was to tackle the problems that lead to the need for the SDGs at the roots and not only fight the outcomes. Her message was that the SDGs can only be reached through education and lifelong learning. 

During the Q&A, questions were asking how can education be made more affordable and reach also people who are already left behind? How can innovative work be made more visible than conventional, also at universities? Another question was about linkages between higher education and non-formal education? How can there be a stronger lobby for science that it is also used? How can the curriculum be further decolonized? How can all stakeholders of academia be mobilized better and be better connected?Watch the Full Video:

ASPBAE Side event on “Education to End Inequality and Promote Peace” 

Inequality and challenges to peace in the Asia Pacific region and the transformative role of education in the empowerment of people were at the centre of the discussions during  a side event organised by ASPBAE and the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN (CoNGO) with the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), Asia Development Alliance (ADA), General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), Soka Gakkai International, and the Episcopal Church Center at the Episcopal Church Center. The side-event aimed to inspire participants to lobby for inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all. It also envisaged that SDG 4 will be broadened into one that is transformative, challenging inequality and promoting peace. 

Robbie Guevara, ICAE Vice President for Asia Pacific, launched the civil society spotlight reports on SDG 4 from 16 countries across Asia-Pacific produced by ASPBAE members. The Spotlight Reports highlight the power of education as a critical agent for social change that contributes towards transforming our world to one that is just, inclusive, peaceful, and resilient. The reports also noted that inequity in education remains a serious challenge and has actually widened in a significant number of countries. Many governments tend to overlook the magnitude of inequity and gloss over the impact of such disadvantages on access and quality of learning.

On the 10th of July Katarina also moderated an open session on HLPF Revieand in the evening, we as EASG (Education and Academia  Stakeholder Group, with ICAE, Global Campaign for Education, ESU-European Students’ Union – ESU, and Education International) organized a EASG Strategy and Coordination Meetingfor education stakeholders. We introduced the Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS), the EASG and equipped participants with tools to find their way around the HLPF 2019 and be effective in their engagement.

Thursday, 11 July

Official Session “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality. Perspectives of society.”

MGoS are crucial to the successful implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. In preparation for the 2019 HLPF, MGoS contributed to review processes at all levels, including at the regional forums and through national review mechanisms. 

In line with paragraph 89 of the 2030 Agenda and paragraphs 14 and 15 of General Assembly Resolution 67/290, an official session offered MGoS an opportunity to report on their contribution to the implementation of the Agenda and SDGs and speak to the theme of the HLPF. 

Katarina represented the Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS) and co-moderated the thematic review discussion during this official MGoS session. It focused on the recommendations of MGoS around the implementation, follow-up, and review of the 2030 Agenda, with particular emphasis on addressing the systemic barriers to achieve sustainable development and strengthening the follow-up and review process to best contribute to “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. Katarina gave the final remarks and challenges the audience on how we can make sure that coherence happens between different SDGs.

Also on 11th July, our Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG) colleague, Robert Napier from the European Students’ Union – ESU, spoke during the official SDG 10 Review Session on behalf of the EASG about the importance of education for SDG 10. He underlined that it is our responsibility here today to step up and advocate for more equity within the education system, in our societies and in the world and therefore in striving towards reducing inequalities.

Katarina chaired an open session on SDG 10 with Daniel Perelle from NGO Major Group, which was also attended by ICAE members. This interactive session specifically tackled Reduced Inequalities within and among countries, which have become more at stake.

Further on that day, ICAE, as member of the Steering Group of the MGoS Coordination Mechanism met with the President and Vice President of ECOSOC. Topics of this meeting were the progress and prospects in organizing MGoS contribution to the HLPF, the initial impressions and expectations regarding the current HLPF, the management of VNR Q&A Session and space for MGoS interventions as well as brief reflections on HLPF review.

Friday, 12 July 

On 12th of July, ESAG had prepared two statement for the official thematic review sessions, which unfortunately were not delivered due to time constraints. However these statement will be available on the HLPF website. Our ICAE President, Robbie had a statement on SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact ready.He underlined that the climate crisis is urgent. It is a cross cutting issue, beyond scientific question, and we must respect our commitment to common but differentiated responsibilities. We need to learn and call to account those who are more responsible for contributing to climate change. Beathe Øgård, from the Global Campaign for Education, aimed to comment on the SDG 16 – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable developmentand emphasise that the SDGs can never be reached without active civil societies, and critical voices from academia as watch dogs and drivers for new policy and research. Thus, she urged governments to strongly condemn the recurring attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities, which impair the realization of the right to education and cause severe and long-lasting harm to individuals and societies.

EASG Side event  “Education and lifelong learning at the gateway of the Global Agenda.”


This side-event by the EASG reiterated the understanding of education as an important human right as well as an enabling right – and, thus, a precondition for the dignity for human life. Education and lifelong learning are considered being at the heart of decent work, equality, environmental sustainability, and peaceful, just societies.

This side-event explored elements and approaches that can contribute to the significant improvement of the quality and completion of education at all levels and across the globe, the preconditions, the musts and must not’s in education as well as in other sectors, for fostering sustainable development and human rights as a way of life. The questions discussed were: What data are needed and what kind of financing? What are important target groups? What is the role of teachers and why do we need public education? What are the good practices and solutions that have been proven to work?

Building on critical and intersectoral approaches and promoting dialogue and coordination in the education sector, this side-event has busted some myths around the implementation and monitoring of SDG4, recognising the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights across the 17 SDGs, with the special focus on the strengthening public education and lifelong learning.  


The interactive session stretched from the question of quality education to efforts that have been made to achieve inclusion. The panelists invited participants to get involved in the discussion and interaction was arranged by Ricarda Motschilnig, ICAE Policy Officer. The introduction was made by Madeleine Zuniga from Global Campaigne for Education (GCE). The talks started with Dr. Katarina Popovic of ICAE, who introduced two important topics – financing of education and digitalisation, by busting some myths around them (domestic resource mobilisation and use of ICT as ‘silver bulets’ for all problems in education). Dr. Silvia Montoya of UIS, who has taken a leadership around monitoring and indicators for SDG4, explained why the collection of reliable data is the way to make the case for education. Antonia Wulff of Education International (EI) and an OP of Education and Academia Stakeholder Group identified the challenges of teachers as experts in education, their working condition, and the growing privatization in education. Lastly, Manos Antoninis, Director of Global Education Monitoring Report, offered data from the last GEMR and looked at the equal opportunities that should be offered to migrants and displaced people, who are considered to be most at risk to be left behind. In the monitoring aspect, he shared that both qualitative and quantitative data matters. The discussion was moderated by Robert Napier from European Students’ Union (ESU), also an OP of Education and Academia Stakeholder Group. In the closing words, Madeleine Zuniga summarised all elements, steps and measures mentioned and needed for achieving SDG4 and goals related to it.

Since recent UNESCO data shows that we are lagging behind and that we will not be able the achieve the SDG4 targets without a radical change of approach, business as usual will have ’the usual’ results: hundreds of millions of children out of school, eight hundred million illiterate adults, poor infrastructure, unqualified and unsupported teachers. Thus, education will not be able to unlock all its power needed for sustainable and just development. Moreover, huge number of people will be left behind.

Saturday, 13th July

An education caucus, organized by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), held on Saturday 13th July, was a great opportunity to convene and feedback thoughts about the HLPF, and suggest ideas and ways forward, keeping in mind the upcoming SDG Summit in September.

2nd Week and Monday, 15th July 

Voluntary Reporting from the National Level

The Ministerial Segment convened from 15-18 July and included sessions where 47 countries presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)on their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Infographic with presenting VNRs per region

Logistical and planning challenges left little time for interaction during the discussions for CSOs. Nevertheless, due to ICAE´s and EASG´s efforts in the preceding coordination mechanisms and in being very active in coordinating this process with the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders, we were successful in making interventions and giving statements for Adult Learning and Education. As a result there were several questions to the member states by education stakeholders and other MGoS colleagues referring to education.  

Specifically for EASG, Katarina reacted to the report by Serbiaand Ricarda to the VNR presented by Liechtenstein.Our colleagues Tahirou Traore responded to the VNR of Burkina Fasoand Semia Gharbi to Tunisia. All these statements can be watched here

UNESCO Side event “Relevant, equitable and inclusive quality education for all: an imperative for the 21st Century”. 

Robert Napier from the European Students’ Union – ESU spoke on behalf of the Education and Academia Stakeholder group at the event organized by UNESCO, the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning and the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee on15thJuly. 

 “Education is a fundamental right and the supporting structure for the entire 2030 Agenda,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, opening the event.  “It is urgent that we act together and step up efforts to invest more in education. Governments hold the primary responsibility but civil society, multilateral and international actors must join their efforts to achieve this common goal,” she said, asserting that UNESCO will continue to make education a top priority and to fulfill its global coordination and monitoring role.

Government representatives gave examples of how SDG 4 is influencing national policy, demonstrating its relevance to all contexts.  The Minister of Research and Higher Education of Norway, Ms Iselin Nybo, highlighted measures to reduce drop out in upper secondary, make lifelong learning more accessible, and integrate sustainable development across all school subjects and in university programmes. To achieve the SDGs and build better societies, she called for the “democratization of knowledge” to ensure that the fruits of research are widely shared. Likewise, Argentina has placed priority on ‘leaving no one behind” through affirmative actions at all levels, from investment in early childhood education and schools with lower results to innovations in teaching and more flexible pathways to the world of work, explained Oscar Ghillione, the country’s deputy Minister of Education. 

This holds urgency in light of the “simmering education crisis.” To address it, Jaime Saavedra, head of Education Global Practice at the World Bank, called for a “completely different level of political commitment,” warning that “many kids are in learning poverty” as proven by assessments showing that over half cannot understand a simple story. “This is morally unacceptable,” he said. To accelerate progress, Stefano Manservisi, the European Commission’s Director-General for International Cooperation and Development stressed the need to  “articulate the global and local level in more effective ways and to avoid harmful competition.”  Global action can help to mobilize and sustain national commitment, while impact has to be measured at local level, making support to public policy and plans a starting point for progress.

Professor Kaz Yoshida, co-chair of the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee, urged countries to pay more attention to the nature of interlinkages with other goals in order to accelerate progress. “We need to go beyond the education sector to reinforce dialogue with other sectors and stakeholders,” he said. This is all the more true in highly disadvantaged contexts. Maggie MacDonnell, laureate of the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize for her work in indigenous villages of the Canadian Arctic, gave a sense of what it means to teach in communities that have been structurally oppressed for generations, struggling with poverty, insecurity and high levels of suicide. “How do you build self confidence? You have to teach to their heads, to their bodies and to their hands to pass on skills, but most importantly to teach to their hearts, to inspire hope, to help them to dream again and become a generation of change makers.”

Training teachers is a top priority to achieve SDG4, stated Robert. If leaving no one behind requires inclusive policies, he warned that “the biggest threat to education is privatization and commercialization. Market needs are driving education rather than education being based on the skills needed to promote sustainable development.”  He stressed the social dimension of higher education, urging for more political focus on equity, inclusion and lifelong learning. Moderating the event, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini wrapped up the event by stressing urgency, accountability, solidarity and political engagement to accelerate global action for education.

Tuesday, 16th July

2ndEASG Strategy and Coordination Meeting for education stakeholders 

On 16th of July we organized a second EASG Strategy and Coordination Meeting for education stakeholders. During lunch time, we updated newcomers, discussed possible engagement in the VNR processes as well as relevant documents, such as the MGoS Statement and a draft document on MGoS position on the HLPF review. Further topics were possible cooperation and contact with members states, UNESCO, Education 2030 and “friends of education”. A statement on behalf of the education stakeholders for the official session during the final general debate was prepared during this meeting. 

Reception Celebrating 4.7.

On July 16, Bridge 47 and ICAE organized ab evening reception to celebrate the importance of SDG 4.7. SDG, which is essential to achieving the behavioural and attitudinal changes needed to achieve the Agenda 2030 while leaving no person behind. This evening’s reception is a celebration of all the work that is undertaken by NGOs, universities, schools, teachers and member states working to achieve SDG Target 4.7. In particular, the evening commemorated the work that many actors including CSOs and member states are doing to advance Target 4.7 as a key to achieving the other the SDGs. 

Wednesday, 17thJuly

Cooperation with other MGoS

ICAE, as Organizing Partner of the Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG), works closely together with other groups, such as the Women Major Group and NGO Major Group. Among several other activities and meetings during the HLPF, Katarina actively contributed to an event organized by the Stakeholder Group on Ageing and spoke about the fact that SDG4 and Lifelong learning are being systematically reduced to children and youth, despite the fact that the body of evidences that education in later life has numerous positive effects, is constantly growing. Further EASG had an informal meeting with the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities (SGPwD) focused on a cooperation on inclusive education. In this framework it was underlined that adult learners and lifelong learning in all communication around inclusive education should not be forgotten. 

EASG Meeting with Robert Bissio

On Wednesday, 17th of July, education stakeholders met with Roberto Bissio, coordinator of the Social Watch International Secretariatfor an exchange on the HLPF, criticisms and suggestions how to move forward, such as with the review of the HLPF itself. It was pointed out that despite massive engagement and political declarations, the acceleration concept and multilaterlism itself need to be challenged. 

Thursday, 18th of July

Bridge 47 side event “Global Citizenship Education – Why is it Important? Insights and Cross-Cutting Practices

On July 18 Bridge 47 together with the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations, hosted a side event discussion panel, where speakers took delegates on a journey through the different dimensions of Global Citizenship Education and discuss how it connects to achieving Agenda 2030.

This side event was dedicated to exploring Global Citizenship Education as a key to transforming societies in a meaningful and sustainable way. Target 4.7 underlines the crucial role of Global Citizenship Education in promoting the skills and knowledge necessary for sustainable development and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

There was an active dialogue on the integration of Global Citizenship Education as a fundamental part of formal and non-formal education practices and policies. The aim was to exchange best practices, consider challenges, and forge new partnerships for the implementation of Global Citizenship Education and Target 4.7. 

The event was organised by Finland, Fiji, Bridge 47, an international network in support of target 4.7. of the Sustainable Development Goals, UNESCO Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) and Fingo, Finnish Development NGOs.

Ministerial Segment, Friday, 19thof July

In parallel during the second week, the ministerial segment of the HLPF took place. During the opening session, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s reported on the theme of the 2019 hLPF ECOSOC session and said: “As we look to the future of work, we will need massive investments in quality education, rooted not only in learning, but learning how to learn and being able to do so across the span of a lifetime…“

Over the three days Ministers, and other high-level representatives of Member States delivered statements as part of the High-level General Debate. In this framework, our EASG colleague Rilli Lappalainen, from the Bridge 47 Networkdelivered a statement on behalf of the Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (ESAG) during the ECOSOC High-Level Segment General debate, on 19th of July. 

Achievements, Challenges and Lessons Learned

The 2030 Agenda has been in many ways a game changer. Its universal application requires all countries to report on their progress in achieving the SDGs, not only programme countries or development assistance recipients.  Thus, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs have captured the attention member states, civil society as well as of many parts of the UN system, which are slowly restructuring their work plans towards their achievement. Member States have taken ownership of the SDGs and many have integrated them into their national planning and budgets.  

As a result, the HLPF has become the go-to forum for the last four years. It has a global constituency among Member States, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector. In particular civil society organizations have maintained a commitment many demonstrated during the drafting of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs into the tasks of monitoring and contributing to their implementation. VNRs are being analysed by civil society groups to see the extent to which they are focused on leaving no one behind and tackling the furthest behind first. CSOs have shown a range of self-organizing and diverse ways of working from community to global level, often demonstrating a blend of experience and expertise. Their autonomy is recognized by the rights of participation spelled out in the HLPF resolution (A/RES/67/290), which set the minimum standard for the UN as a whole including the General Assembly.

Nevertheless, a main challenge seen is unfortunately still the involvement of CSOs and MGoS in the VNRs and the HLPF processes itself, as the opportunities for engagement are still limited, even though Agenda 2030 foresees meaningful participation of civil society. Due to the high interest from the Member States, civil society, academia and the private sector, the already limited timeframe of the HLPF becomes overloaded by bite-size snapshots. So many countries have volunteered to report on their progress through the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at the annual HLPF session (some for the second and even third time) that the session is staggering under the weight of not enough time – and not enough substance, too much talk and not enough (inter)action.

These developments place pressure on the HLPF review process, which will take place in 2019-2020 and be ‘launched’ at the SDG Summit in September 2019, to break out of its time management, coordination and working methods mindset to pioneer a new generation of governance. With one third of the SDG implementation period to 2030 already over, 2019 is the time for serious ‘lessons learned’ from this first phase. 

In establishing the HLPF, the Rio+20 conference mandated that it be held at Summit level every four years. In 2019 this will take place in September in conjunction with the annual UN General Assembly high-level debate. This is inadequate to the task; rather, it should convene a two to three-day conference every four or five years, not a day tagged on in September for speeches. Furthermore, Summit leadership should be charged not to reflect and put a stamp on earlier meetings and declarations, but to drive the agendas forward, flag major concerns and emerging issues, and kick-start related action plans.

The SDG implementation phase since 2016 has certainly spun off many initiatives, studies, meetings and reports. At the HLPF alone there have been a total of 158 VNRs over four years. The first phase of SDG monitoring has concentrated on quantity – of countries reporting, on processes and institutions and constituencies hitching their flags. The second phase must show quality as well as seriousness in addressing the obstacles to achieving the SDGs. It must break the ’domestication only’ approach currently dominating the reporting in the VNRs and address the trade-offs across goals and spill-over effects across borders. Many goals cannot be achieved in country isolation but are dependent on international cooperation. A new reporting framework needs to be developed to measure the power imbalances and be an obligatory chapter in VNR reporting.

Thus, the SDG Summit and theHLPF review process should be opportunities to reposition the HLPF and the 2030 Agenda more firmly in the General Assembly machinery. The remaining decade to 2030 needs to build in cycles of quality and independent oversight, and robust accountability. 

Generally, ICAE was very successful in raising the voice for Adult Learning and Education at the HLPF, and able to be present and active in connecting with various stakeholders and players from a range of regions and fields (also outside of ALE) as well as with supporters and allies of ICAE.  We approached government representative, as well as key allies from Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS). We learned that it is essential to engage and coordinate even more with other MGoS, national and global CSOs as well as (ministerial) representatives on national level, already before the start of HLPF. Similarly, during the HLPF, information flow and support is crucial. 

[1]Major and Stakeholder groups are the main channel for civil society engagement in the UN sustainable development agenda. The Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG) is open to all organisations working for the full realisation of the right to a quality education, the implementation of Agenda 2030, and of SDG 4 in particular. The EASG brings together human rights-based education and academia organisations and networks to engage with the monitoring and review of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Group is organised by the Global Campaign for Education, Education International, the International Council for Adult Education and the European Students’ Union. More under

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