HLPF 2021: A Spotlight on Local Leadership and Action for SDGs

During the HLPF 2021, many events presented a focus on local strategies and implementation of the SDGs. The ongoing pandemic stresses the importance of the local perspective for inclusive and resilient recovery and development.

Taking place both virtually and in-person at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from the July 6 to July 15 2021, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) reviewed the progress towards nine specific SDGs out of the 17 existing and discussed 42 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). The conclusions of these processes show the importance of renewing and strengthening engagement of all stakeholders for inclusive and resilient development. The need for innovative solutions to address current social and environmental challenges is clearer than it has ever been.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing crisis has devastating impacts on poverty, hunger and combating climate change. The HLPF 2021 Ministerial segment showed that the concerns of international actors are strictly linked to the pandemic recovery in terms of addressing the digital divide strengthening social and economic inequalities, and of financial reforms. Actors that are more fragile towards crises, specifically Small island developing States, stressed the need to move away from the traditional GDP framework for measuring wellbeing and towards a multidimensional vulnerability index. Especially at local level, the effects of the pandemic have shown fragility, lacking structures and tools to address crises such as the pandemic. The adopted Ministerial Declaration affirms the importance of involving stakeholders at all levels in the processes of the VNRs and of empowering local actors to work towards SDGs using the Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) and Voluntary Subnational Reviews (VSRs).

In fact, in the past years, the local perspective has been gaining progressively more attention on the global stage. Examples are the Grand Bargain Agreement for the localisation of humanitarian aid and the increasing focus on local governance and development, also through the creation of VLRs and VSRs to complement the reporting of VNRs. These mechanisms aim at amplifying the impact of local action and giving visibility to local authorities, communities and other stakeholders on the global level. During one of the main events, namely “Going local: How can we support local authorities in implementing the SDGs and how can we best build on voluntary local reviews”, the interventions focused on the importance of extensive local action and on VLRs for reaching the SDG targets. Several experiences were presented and showed that VLRs can concretely advance SDGs, enable direct engagement between global and local authorities and organisations, thereby helping local communities identify and overcome blockages and silos.

Several HLPF side-events concentrated on local action including the UNECA’s and UN-Habitat’s “Scaling up Voluntary Local Reviews in Africa” and UNDESA’s VNR Lab on “Enhancing the dialogue between the VNRs and the VLRs”. With the Executive Office of the Secretary General (EOSG) and UNDP, UN-Habitat also co-organised the side event on the UN-wide SDG localisation initiative, Local 2030.

The Local and Regional Governments (LRGs) Day and Forum special events were organised by the Global Taskforce of LRGs, UN-Habitat, UCLG and UNDP. During this occasion the Global Taskforce presented its 4th LRGs report to the HLPF pointing out the relevance of localising action and partnerships for reaching the SDGs.

The first edition of the VLR-VSR Days was held between July 14 and July 16, co-organised by UCLG and UN-Habitat. Among others, the five sessions were the occasion to launch the Second Volume of the Guidelines for VLRs as well as the VLR Communiqué. The sessions showed how reporting on local progress towards the SDGs can effectively lead to resilient and inclusive strategies.

It seems clear that the attention on supporting action at local level is exponentially rising. Political, financial, development and humanitarian actors are aware of the importance of local action for recovering from the COVID-19 crisis and ensuring that we reach the SDGs as well as effectively tackling climate change. However, the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the end of the HLPF was considered by the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders to have “failed to come up with bold and transformative recommendations for action” in this global context of crisis. Some actors advocated for States to put human rights and economic, racial, climate, and gender justice at the center of pandemic recovery and SDG implementation. The attention on local developments can support these processes and create more integrated and inclusive strategies. As UN ECOSOC’s President Munir Akram put it in his opening speech for the LRGs Forum “we need the leadership of local decision makers and their capacity to innovate, to drive change, to connect communities, in order to support the path towards a more sustainable resilient future where no one is left behind”.

For detailed reports on the different sessions and outcomes on the IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin website, please click here.

To read more about the HLPF 2021, visit the IISD news page.

Here you can find the VLR-VRS Days report.

You might also want to check out the UN-Habitat new page on VLRs, containing the main resources on VLRs, examples of technical cooperation and the complete list of available VLRs.

You can find the VSR-VLR Days recordings at the following links.

Other HLPF articles that you might find interesting are IISD’s More Inclusive Means More Complete: Report Shares Findings on SDG Data Partnerships and Side Event Features SDG 11 as Chance to Spearhead Sustainability in Cities as well as Metropolis’ The UN High Level Political Forum highlights the role metropolises play in local transformation towards sustainable development.