Stakeholder Insights on the High Level Political Forum: An interview with Marianne Beisheim

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Derek-blog-photo150Marianne Beisheim is a Senior Researcher at the German Institute for International and Security affairs of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), an independent research institute. Marianne’s research focuses on governance issues and the role of non-state actors, in the field of sustainable development. Her work includes research on the design of a follow-up and review process for the Post-2015 SDGs and on transnational partnerships for sustainable development.

1. What is the HLPF and why is it important?

At the Rio+20 conference in June 2012, the decision was made to create a High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The HLPF replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and is designed to mainstream and strengthen sustainable development issues in the institutional structure of the United Nations and to work towards a global transformation to sustainable development. It is expected that the HLPF will be the institutional home for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and be responsible for their associated review and evaluation. This makes the HLPF a key body for sustainable development governance.

All Member States will meet annually at the ministerial level under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to discuss sustainable development, with a focus on action and implementation. In addition, to enhance the political stature of the forum, the HLPF will also convene every four years for a period of two days at the level of t heads of state and government under the auspices of the UN General Assembly.

2. In your opinion, what is the key function of the HLPF?

According to its mandate, next to agenda-setting and regular dialogue on sustainable development, the HLPF is to “follow up and review progress in the implementation of sustainable development commitments” and to provide “political leadership, guidance and recommendations”. Consequently, the review process envisioned in the HLPF, mandated to start in 2016, will be an important element of its work. Member States are offered to voluntarily share their implementation experiences – an open and interactive discussion in that context could provide for an evidence-base for the political guidance expected from the HLPF. As stated above, the HLPF is considered to be the “institutional home” of the future SDGs, with the HLPF review providing the cornerstone of the follow-up process.

3. What role will civil society and the Major Groups play in the HLPF?

Major Groups, and stakeholders, including civil society organisations enjoy a number of participatory rights, inscribed in the UN General Assembly resolution 67/290 on the “Format and organizational aspects of the high-level political forum on sustainable development”. Major groups and other stakeholders are asked to autonomously establish effective coordination mechanisms for their participation and are allowed to attend all official meetings, have access to all official information and documents, may intervene in official meetings, present written and oral contributions, and make recommendations, even on the agenda of the HLPF. They should make good use of these privileges –especially in the context of the future review process.

4. In your opinion, what would the HLPF review mechanisms have to look like to contribute to the implementation of sustainable development at the national, regional and global levels?

Most Member States are in favor of a voluntary and state-led Post-2015 review process. In my view, it is crucial to ensure multi-stakeholder participation in a multi-tiered monitoring and review framework. The review needs to be based on a multi-level process. While governments may have a problem accepting and practising the term “accountability” at the international level, they are accountable to their own citizens at the national level. In that context, national parliaments are important for the oversight. National parliaments should play a role by holding regular hearings on the implementation of national sustainable development strategies. In addition to this, civil society and other stakeholders should be involved in drafting and discussing national commitments, strategies and reports. To do so, they must have full access to information. Consultations and dialogues need to be informed, timely, and include stakeholder consultations for meaningful input. The outcomes of participatory monitoring and accountability processes, like citizen reviews, should be taken into consideration. All Member States should be urged to establish national sustainable development councils or similar multi-stakeholder bodies, which could help coordinate national post-2015 strategies.

At the international level, written reports by civil society and other stakeholders should be an integral component of the review process. Moreover, stakeholders must be allowed to speak during the HLPF’s sessions. These discussions should give priority to comments from the national level, i.e. from civil society organisations, national sustainable development councils, and other stakeholders. To achieve the greatest possible transparency and participation, the UN should open up an internet-based discussion and broadcast review meetings by UN Web TV. An ombudsperson could mediate in cases of complaints concerning problems of adequate participation rights in the the Post-2015 review.

5. What role will the HLPF play in the development of multi-stakeholder partnerships and how will it hold these partnerships accountable?

The resolution on the HLPF stipulates that the HLPF Review “shall provide a platform for partnerships.”. What this means precisely still remains to be negotiated and specified. In the preparatory process, there was an emphasis on the need to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of partnerships and to ensure accountability through both an enabling institutional environment and relevant reporting requirements.

In my view, a basic option to improve the overall UN framework for partnerships would be to enhance the level of transparency with a self-reporting mechanism. First, while welcoming and building partnerships with non-state actors, the UN should consider developing and defining ex-ante minimum criteria that partnerships would be expected to fulfill before being allowed to register with the UN’s “SD in Action Registry”. Second, it would be advisable for the UN to require all registered partnerships to submit an annual report of activities along a standardized template. Partnerships that fail to submit reports should be reminded, and if they still fail to respond within a certain period, be excluded from the registry. All incoming reports should be published on the “SD in Action” website with a comment function. This would enable civil society and other stakeholders to act as watchdogs, pointing out discrepancies. Moreover, larger transnational initiatives could be asked to participate in the HLPF review and the UN could ask its specialized agencies, commissions and subsidiary bodies, funds and programs to assess “their” thematic partnerships in a consistent format and report the results to the HLPF.

6. Anything else you would like to add?

2015 is the crucial “formative” year for the HLPF. It is key that the HLPF will be able to deliver on its most important functions from 2016 onwards. Therefore, the 2015 HLPF meeting with its programmatic title “Strengthening integration, implementation and review – the HLPF after 2015”, taking place June 26th – July 8th at the UN headquarters in New York. The meeting needs to address the design of its future review process. To assist these discussions, Major Groups and other stakeholders should be prepared to present their own well-founded recommendations and demands.

For further reading by Marianne on multi-level review at the High-level Political Forum. Please see here:

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