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High-Level Political Forum,
9th & 10th Meetings (AM & PM)

Leaving No One Behind is about Empowering People to Decide Their Own Development Priorities, Speaker Tells High-Level Political Forum

The voices of the truly marginalized must be incorporated into public policymaking, the high-level political forum on sustainable development heard today during its consideration of the role of civil society in post COVID-19 recovery and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Women and indigenous communities have subsidized the global North enough, Emilia Reyes, Programme Director at Equidad de Género: Ciudadanía, Trabajo Y Familia, said, during the panel discussion on “Vision of civil society:  Leaving no one behind in recovering better”.  Noting that wealthier States bully small countries at the United Nations, forcing them to align with misplaced priorities, she added that changing these internal dynamics is essential to stop illicit financial flows, cancel debt and limit overconsumption.  She also called for a crisis conference, citing a series of recent scientific papers, known as the “apocalypse papers” that posited that human extinction can happen as early as 2050.

Other expert panellists echoed the call for this paradigm shift, with Wali Haider, Joint Director of Roots for Equity and Focal Point for the Farmers’ Major Group at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), highlighting the importance of not leaving behind small farmers while enhancing corporate participation in sustainable development.  Land access enables food sovereignty, he said, urging removal of the structural barriers faced by small farmers.  Expressing concern about corporate land-grabs, he pointed out that those small farmers who owned land were able to survive the pandemic better.

Svetlana Slesarenok, Founder and Director of the Black Sea Women’s Club in Odessa, Ukraine, said the war in her country is directly linked to oil and gas.  Urging the international community to end its fossil fuel dependence, she stressed that the war is not only against Ukraine, but against sustainable development itself.  Wezzie Chimwala, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at the Voluntary Services Overseas in Malawi, shared an example of an international volunteer in her country who is supporting 10 primary schools with digital learning.  Governments must recognize the contribution ordinary people can make to their own betterment, she said.

Along those lines, lead discussant Saad Alfarargi, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, stressed that leaving no one behind involves empowering people to decide their own development priorities and their preferred methods of reaching those priorities.  Moderator Ajay Jha, Director of the Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society in India, emphasized the need to move beyond the charity model of assistance, while the other lead discussant, Denison Jayasooria, Head of the Secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia on Sustainable Development Goals called on the Economic and Social Council to establish a panel to take stock of civil society participation in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, delivered opening remarks before the panel discussion, reaffirming the role of civil society in evidence-based policymaking for sustainable development.  Grass-roots movements have empowered people around the world to tackle climate change, food insecurity, displacement and conflict, he said, noting that civil society keeps Governments accountable.

“Give answers to our people, not just words,” Mabel Bianco, President of the Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer and Co-Chair of the Coordination Mechanism of Major Groups and other Stakeholders, said in her opening remarks.  What the international community needs is not just another ministerial declaration, she stressed, urging delegates to leave aside selfish interests and honour the memory of all those who suffer.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, delegates analysed various ways to encourage civil society participation, with the representative of France calling for a rethinking of public policymaking, away from the current “top-down” model in which citizens are increasingly pushed away from decision-making.  Jamaica’s delegate described civil society as “the ties that bind”, highlighting the role of 62 non-governmental organizations that partnered with her Government during the pandemic.  The representative of Sudan pointed to the need to mobilize human and financial resources, from the private sector, civil society and academia.

Mexico’s delegate said her Government established an intersectoral committee to ensure consultations with civil society representatives, while the representative of Malaysia stressed the importance of localizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  At the same time, Norway’s delegate expressed concern about the shrinking space for human rights defenders.

On that note, a speaker from a civil society coalition in the Russian Federation highlighted the discrimination faced by hundreds of organizations that work on human rights and climate change in that country.  Even before the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, thousands of activists had left the country due to political repression, she said, expressing solidarity with Ukraine.

Other civil society representatives took the floor to point to interconnecting challenges that face their groups.  A speaker from the Non-Governmental Organizations Major Group called for an end to the fossil fuel era, as he urged a shift to clean and renewable energy, while a speaker from the Workers and Trade Unions Major Group called for universal social protections, debt relief and multilateral coordination on tax reform.

A speaker from the Stakeholder Group on Aging pointed out that even as global population of older persons is growing significantly, elder abuse is increasing.  Older people, especially women, continue to be invisible and marginalized, she said, calling for age-inclusive policies.  Another speaker, from an organization in Mauritania, drew attention to discrimination based on hierarchical descent, noting that many are stuck in temporary slavery.  Pointing to an urgent need for transformational education, he said:  “I was born a slave, but education saved me.”

Women’s rights are being crushed, a speaker from the Women’s Major Group said, calling on the international community to ensure that young girls have access to education and health care.  A future without discrimination does not need to be utopia, she stressed.

After the interactive discussion, Argentina, Ghana, Latvia, the Philippines, Switzerland, Belarus, Eritrea, Eswatini, Gambia, Greece, Mali and the United Arab Emirates presented voluntary national reviews of their progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Also speaking today were the representatives of China, Switzerland, Guatemala, Australia and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as speakers from the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Stakeholder Group and Together 2030.

The high-level political forum on sustainable development will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 July.

For information media. Not an official record.