Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 29 - September 2023 عربى
International Developments

“We Never Want to Be Resilient”: Stakeholder Perspectives at SDGs’ Mid-point

Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGOS), as established at the 1992 UN Environment and Development Conference, are an integral part of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, as enshrined in the UNGA resolution 67/290. They bring forth the voices, sentiments and aspirations of the people, often those who are most marginalized and left behind. They are also experts, rights holders and key actors in the implementation and achievement of the SDGs.

Each annual High-level Political Forum (HLPF) hosts a plenary session to channel messages from the MGOS in sustainable development. This year’s session convened under the theme “Perspectives from major groups and other stakeholders at the mid-point of the SDGs: Toward inclusive transformation,” organized and led by the MGoS Coordination Mechanism. It aimed to reflect the opinions and proposals about how to orient and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at their half-way point.

The session was billed as providing a critical analysis of diverse stakeholders and non-state actors on the challenges and opportunities, as well as demanding a more sustainable, genuinely inclusive of all and a human rights-centric approach to development.

The organizers proposed four guiding questions:

  • What are peoples` perspectives and aspirations, particularly from those that have been left behind, on the systemic challenges and priorities to achieve transformational change in the face of multiple and intersecting crises?
  • What are ways that civil society and community groups are stepping up to address gaps in implementation of the SDGs, and how can their actions be supported and enabled by development partners?
  • How can we restore faith and underpin human rights, equality and equity—particularly intergenerational equity—to advance sustainable development in multilateral global governance; repurpose the global economy and reform finance, aid and trade, as well as promote climate action to genuinely leave no one behind?
  • How can civic space at national and multilateral fora be expanded so that civil society can contribute more meaningfully to upcoming United Nations intergovernmental processes? How should we address the problem of threats against human rights defenders, and unlock the potential of civil society in contributing to just, equal, peaceful and sustainable societies?

H.E. Ms. Lachezara Stoeva, ambassador of Bulgaria and president of ECOSOC, chaired the session. Moderating the discussion was Ms. Rashima Kwatra, Co-chair of MGoS Coordination Mechanism, Senior International Advocacy Advisor, Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Queer Rights (RFSL).

The Panel

Resource persons presented regional perspectives on theme.

Joan Carling, an indigenous Filipino human rights activist and environmentalist, summarized the MGOS assessment of SDG performance as “half-way there, but nowhere near.” For Indigenous Peoples, progress means realizing their rights to their lands, territories and resources. The current trend is characterized by increasingly authoritarian governments, shrinking civic space, and unabated corruption. Other general priorities at this point call for developed countries to meet obligations to ensure equitable development and debt relief. Instead of lip service, she called on true partnership and actions.

Paola Simonetti, of International Trade Union Confederation, focused on the convergence of global crises that is “turning decent work into an illusion,” as the majority of the population lacks social protection and a gender pay gap exceeding 20%. The commitment to commitment, solidarity, financing and action. From the perspective of the world of work, this calls for a new social contract founded on six pillars: (1) decent and climate-friendly jobs premised on rights, not least in care work; (2) universal social protection; (3) equality and inclusion; (4) a multilateral system remedying the current imbalance of power and wealth; (5) debt relief and restructuring; and (6) transparency of financial infrastructures, including fair tax systems.

Mr. Ali Jillani, Karachi Research Chair, Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (Asia Pacific), inventoried the current challenges in the Asia region as increasing the already enfeebled public-service infrastructures, exposing the frailties of economic governance, questioning our collective ability to respond in the absence of political will to remove systemic barriers, decaying economic and ecological systems, policy and fiscal space constraints, illicit financial flows, unfair trade and investment regimes, unscrupulous debt distress, insatiable IFI conditionalities that constrain national capacities to adopt people-centered development approaches. Meanwhile, Asia is vulnerable to the most-catastrophic consequences of climate change, compounded by pollution and biodiversity loss across the region. In fact, during COVID, debt conditions called for further belt-tightening measures, rather than taking the crisis as a wake-up call for systemic change. Therefore, it is no surprise that states are falling behind on their SDGs. The is simultaneous with the demise of public trust in political and thought leadership, amid the rhetoric of transformation, solidarity and consensus in favor of critical considerations, even in the decade of action and delivery. We need development justice now.

Mr. Kofi Kankam, President and Chief Executive Officer, Elizka Relief Foundation, Africa Regional Mechanism for Major Groups and other Stakeholders (Africa), focused on the need for a new skill set for development professionals that embraces local, regional and global perspectives. Meanwhile, Africa has experienced a growing wave of crackdowns on human rights defenders and advocates. He called on UN Resident Coordinators to lead the support for CSOs to support development of local communities.

Mr. Bruno Ibarra, Representante de The Millennials Movement, Organización Punto Focal Adjunto Global Grupo de NNAyJ MeSLAC (LAC), also calls for a new social contract centered on human rights in balance with nature. The need for a socio-ecological transition calls for alternatives to the current extractivist model and greater civic space, noting that his is the region leading the persecution of environmental and human rights defenders.

Ms. Marianne Haslegrave, Director, Commonwealth Medical Trust, Economic Commission for Europe Regional Civil Society Mechanism (ECE), echoed the 2030 SDG report that global action calls for civil society, science and young people.

Mary Maker, UNHCR goodwill ambassador, spoke on behalf of the 110 million refugees and displaced persons in the world who are evidence of our failure to implement the SDGs. Refugees and displaced persons never wanted to be “resilient,” but to be free. She called for those left behind to tell their own stories to be understood not as a testament to their character, but as an indicator of our collective failure.

Mr. Surya Deva, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, suggested four measures: centering the planet; (2) all efforts should focus first on restoring the dignity of the most vulnerable groups; (3) all decision-making actors should ensure active, free and meaningful participation, especially those from disadvantaged background; and (4) an intersectional perspective and reformed business models are needed to achieve the needed fundamental shift.

General Discussion

Interventions of other participants began with Guatemala, speaking from the floor, emphasizing the importance of education as key to achieve the SDGs. Eleven more states intervened, with statements from civil society partners in the delegations of Finland, Norway, Ireland and Brazil.

Additional to the MGOS speakers on the panel, the session heard from four of the Major Groups, in particular:

LGBTI Major Group

Communities Discriminated against on the Basis of Work and Descent Major Group

Children and Youth Major Group

Major Group on Aging

Academics and Educator Major Group

Business and Industry Major Group


Major Groups and Other Stakeholders plenary at this year’s HLPF involved a mix of MGOS representatives and multilateral organizations and independent experts. It differed from the 2022 session, in which presentations were more coordinated with interlocking main points. This year, the MGOS presentations omitted, or were less explicit about certain critical issues requiring systemic change such as:

  • Wealth disparity within states and between developed and developing countries;
  • Food insecurity amid the industrialization of food systems at the expense of local food sovereignty, as well as the current food and fertilizer crisis created by the war in Ukraine;
  • The refusal of states and industries to combat climate change;
  • Inequitable distribution of land, like other forms of wealth and resources disparity, financializing land and concentrating land ownership at the expense of those who rely on land for livelihood, culture, identity and means of subsistence and survival;
  • Corporate capture remains a threat to democracies in the domestic sphere, but also has severely afflicted the policy space within the UN and its implementation;
  • Conflict, occupation and war are human-made disasters that not only impedes development, as noted in the 2030 Agenda (para. 35), but inflict senseless human costs, devastate natural environments, waste precious resources and reverberate with protracted conflicts and instability that divide humanity;
  • Human rights face a crisis in the UN System, with states evading their treaty obligations and diverting political attention and other resources away from the UN Human Rights System, while human rights defenders, including activists and journalists, facing persecution and murder to silence them;
  • The persistent culture and ideology of the defunct single-minded notion of “growth economy” obfuscates actual economic performance and metrics of economic health by ignoring distributive criteria that actually determine equitable and sustainable development;
  • COVID-19 has pushed “resilience” to the limit, while raising critical interrogation of that notion, amid uneven recovery and the exposure of structural barriers to means of survival and putting the onus of recovery on victims and the most vulnerable.

Watch the MGOS session at HLPF 2023.

Download Discussion papers on the theme of the high-level political forum on sustainable

development, submitted by major groups and other stakeholders

Photo: MGOS Panel, HLPF, 14 July 2023. Source: Earth Negotiations Bulletin.


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