ICAE at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2020 on the UN Sustainable Development Goals

As every year, ICAE participated in the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) (7 to 16 July 2020), which has the task to review the progress of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Members States were reporting, experts, civil society representatives and other actors met, discussed, reviewed and made plans for the next steps in the implementation. ICAE represented the ‘Education and Academia’ sector and was very active, doing our best to make sure that education, especially adult education and lifelong learning are visible and loud there, and the civil society is recognized as important partner. Although the conference is over, time for reflection and analysis lies ahead of us.

This year’s HLPF was supposed to be different, because of the ‘milestone moment’ – 5 years passed since the adoption of the Agenda 2030 and SDGs, and the HLPF review was announced. Therefore, the expectations were high and the preparations started early. The main theme was “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development ” and 47 countries announced the presentation of their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the ECOSOC Bureau to changed the plan, so all meetings, official session, presentations of VNRs, side and special events were held virtually. The program can be found here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/26157HLPF_2020_PROGRAMME.pdf and all documentation can be found in the Outcome section of the 2020 HLPF website. 

As Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG), we did our best to adapt to the new situation and to make the best out of it. Since the beginning of 2020 we took part in all preparations, meetings and actions of the Steering Group and Task Groups of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS) , we shared with the colleagues from other MGoS and faced the challenge of virtual HLPF as much as we could.

There were plenty of advantages: more people could follow the sessions online (streamed on UN WebTV), although the number of registered participants was far smaller than in 2019 (reason being that registration wasn’t a precondition to be able to participate in most of the session). We didn’t face travel restrictions, delayed approvals and visa constrains, and most of all – we didn’t have to pay huge amounts for flights and stay in NYC. Unfortunately, this democratic potential wasn’t used enough – the most important reason were not the technical difficulties (they were expected under the circumstances), but it was harder to make interaction. Also there was the lack of interpretation, which is mandatory at all official session in the UN  and translation was only provided sporadically, by initiative of single countries and organisations. This actually has political meaning and consequences and clearly goes against the spirit of understanding and collaboration that the UN Charter foresees. Another missing aspect was the lack of informal communication and exchanges during various meetings and sessions, as opportunity for our advocacy work for education. But this is understandable and we can only hope that we will have an opportunity to make it up.

Summarizing our achievements, we could list several sessions the members of ICAE and EASG spoke, our own events which attracted more than 100 participants each (see reports below), several other events (both formal and side-events) were we spoke, numerous sessions we attended, interventions we made, submission of an EASG sectoral paper and contributions/suggestions to various documents, including the Ministerial Declaration and Ministerial General Debate. ICAE played the main role in coordinating civil society around the globe to submit questions and comments to the VNRs, and this role was highly appreciated by all our colleagues. 

But we were not so much focused on ‘ticking the box’ and counting the interventions we made, but more on the strategic and systemic issues. Namely, HLPF has a specific format, underlying the strict and extremely formalised rules of UN procedures, especially when it comes to the civil society. Although our right to participate, speak and intervene is guaranteed by the UN General Assembly Resolution 67/290, in the reality we are facing difficulties in assuming this role. This year it was more difficult than ever – we were excluded from some processes where we were supposed to be invited and many of our interventions were very limited.

Since HLPF deals with broad range of issues, education has the difficulty to ‘compete’ with ‘heavy’ topics of war and peace, climate change, trade etc, as if education has any links to those issues. So, couldn’t go for advocacy for detailed and specific subtopics within the education sector and couldn’t represent the variety all issues that are important for our constituencies. The efforts had to be focused on:

  • keeping education high on the agenda,
  • fighting for the most important aspects and messages related to education,
  • securing the position of EASG within the UN DESA system and
  • actively engaging in the MGoS structure. 

Therefore we have exchanged with civil society and other colleagues about the problems we observed in the whole process of monitoring the implementation of Agenda 2030 and in the shrinking role of strategic partnership. 

Here are some of the most important issues we were dealing with:

  • This year, no SDGs have been selected for in-depth review, instead, the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) provided six “entry points” as a framework for thematic reviews. The GSDR doesn’t recognize single SDGs as such, but rather group them. Although this might be a good approach to overcome the ‘silos’ way of thinking, there is a danger of losing education from the radar.
  • We are concerned about the HLPF format and its potential to fulfil the task to ‘monitor the progress, gives recommendations and guidance.’ We are off track in advancing the 2030 Agenda and confronted the pandemic crisis, so the HLPF 2020 wasn’t fully able to analyze the situation and provide guidance to resolve systemic barriers. Therefore, the forthcoming HLPF review (now moved to 2021) is crucial. ICAE is member of the HLPF review task group, which has done quite a bit of work so far. But we need to consolidate, put together and prepare for the General Assembly 2020 and for the HLPF 2021.
  • Further concern is the fact that HLPF doesn’t have much impact and seems to be disconnected from other multilateral fora. Since by design it is not binding, no action-oriented outcomes could be expected. The Ministerial Declaration (MD) belongs to the highly discussed issues every year and this year it even had to be adopted by consensus (since no virtual voting was foreseen), so in order to come to an agreement, the ambitions had to be very much reduced and the language of the MD was made very mild. The President of ECOSOC will prepare a summary to capture the key messages of the discussions, but it’s not ready yet.

So, ICAE made our best to ensure broad participation of our members and constituencies, as much as possible, but we were also strategizing around systemic issues and perspectives for the future.  We will inform you when we start with the planning of the next steps.

All documentation can be found in the Outcome section of the 2020 HLPF website.


Education: the pathway for transformation during and after a crisis

9th of July, 8 am – 9 am NY time

ICAE as part of the UN Education and Academia Stakeholder Group co-organized this official side event at the HLPF, together with the Global Campaign for Education and the European Students Union.

Education is widely recognised as an important human right and precondition for the dignity of human life. At the same time, education and lifelong learning are at the heart of decent work, equality, environmental awareness, and peaceful, just societies. The COVID-19 pandemic has left a huge impact on education across the globe: At least 850 million children and youth are classless due to suspensions taken in more than a hundred countries to combat the coronavirus outbreak, according to the latest balance of the UNESCO.

This context requires accelerated action, transformative pathways and additional budgetary effort, deepening development cooperation according to the commitments made, South-South and triangular cooperation to achieve the education goals of the 2030 agenda with the active commitment of States, multilateral organizations and bilateral, private sector, unions, and the experience role of CSOs play in dealing with emergencies.
This event gathered experts to discuss measures to mitigate the negative consequences of crises on education, particularly for the most vulnerable groups and educators. 


  • Pablo Gentili – Secretary of Educational Cooperation and Priority Actions of the Ministry of Education of the Argentine Republic
  • Reem Rabah  –  International Council for Adult Education
  • Refat Sabbah – Global Campaign for Education
  • Robert Napier – European Students Union

Speakers discussed the trends, gaps and main features of education as well as the awareness of human and civil rights in crisis contexts. Educational strategies that can help people find urgent and short-term measures to protect themselves, their families and to allow “caring for those who educate” will be elaborated: during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can watch the recording on our youtube-channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5YOZbexcfE&t=278s

Find the PPP here:

Global Citizenship Education –  Response to Global Crises

14 of July, 8 am – 9 am NY time

ICAE co-organized this official side event at the HLPF, together with the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and Bridge 47.
Please find the flyer here.

In times of crisis, we often turn to education and learning for the answers. Lifelong learning has certainly played a key role in supporting Sustainable Development Goal 3 during the global pandemic, ensuring the health and well-being of citizens by providing the knowledge, information and skills needed to cope with the new challenges. 

But quality education and lifelong learning have the potential to tackle broader global issues and offer sustainable and inclusive solutions, through Global Citizenship Education (GCE). Included in Target 4.7 of Agenda 2030, GCE is a lifelong learning process, which emphasizes critical thinking, political engagement and civic action. Through the lens of GCE, we can identify further educational priorities related to global challenges. From the importance of respecting human rights and democratic principles during the pandemic, to the way we participate in democratic societies and decision making, GCE has a valuable role to play in how we respond to global crises.

This side event discussed the ways in which GCE can be used to share information and raise awareness on the global issues of sustainable development, anthropogenic climate change and environmental degradation, which has the potential to cause or encourage the spread of new diseases.

• Werner Mauch – UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL)
• Katarina Popovic – International Council for Adult Education (ICAE)
• Rilli Lappalainen – Bridge 47

• Robbie Guevara, International Council for Adult Education (ICAE)

You can watch the recording on our youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NzLR_IrLCQ

Find the PPP here:

Teaching, Learning and integrating SDGs at universities and beyond – linking to the Decade of Action

On 13 July, ICAE co-organized a Training-Workshop, together with SDG Academy, International Association of Universities (IAU), L’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) & Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) on the topic “Teaching, Learning and integrating SDGs at universities and beyond – linking to the Decade of Action”. 

Speakers from ICAE were Carole Houndjo and Katarina Popovic.

You can watch the recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nxil6SuNdU

Find further information on the event here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?page=view&type=20000&nr=6906&menu=14

The High-Level Segment and Ministerial Meetings

The second week of the HLPF was dedicated to the ministerial meetings and the Voluntary National Reviews by the member states on their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

ICAE was very active in coordinating this process with the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders, in making interventions and giving statements for Adult Learning and Education.

Carole Houndjo, ICAE Vice-President, gave feedback to the VNR by the Government of Benin, David Jim Kumie from ASPBAE reacted to the reporting of the Voluntary National Review from Papua New Guinea and Ricarda Motschilnig, ICAE Policy Officer ICAE responded to the Austrian VNR on behalf of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders.

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