Multilateralism in times of COVID-19: the HLPF 2020 goes virtual

Article, 23.07.2020

From 7 to 16 July 2020, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) took place in a virtual setting to review progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With the theme "Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development", the ten remaining years for the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were to be heralded.

However, against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HLPF focused mainly on the consequences of this global crisis on the progress and regression in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the SDGs 

The COVID-19 crisis will have a profound impact on progress towards the targets set for 2030. The pandemic not only poses a risk to public health worldwide. It also threatens to reverse substantial achievements of sustainable development and jeopardize the livelihoods of tens of millions of people due to lack of employment opportunities and the setback of the global economy.

Against this background, the 193 UN Member States and a large number of actors from civil society, academia and the private sector have discussed ways and means to jointly manage the social, economic and environmental impact of the pandemic. A broad consensus has emerged that the 2030 Agenda should serve as blueprint for an inclusive, resilient and sustainable reconstruction that includes all members of society and leaves no one behind. The importance of international solidarity and a multilateral response to the pandemic were also stressed.

Opportunities for virtual participation

Given the existing travel restrictions, the entire event was conducted virtually. This posed a particular challenge for the UN as organizer, since the HLPF, with several hundred participants, is one of the largest meetings of the UN in New York. However, the difficult conditions also revealed opportunities: the Swiss delegation was able to ensure high-level participation with speeches by the FDFA State Secretary Krystyna Marty Lang, SECO State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, members of the Directorates of the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO), as well as the UN Ambassador in New York and the Delegate of the Federal Council for the 2030 Agenda. As in previous years, the delegation was comprised of representatives of various federal offices and also included parts of the Swiss network abroad.

Swiss side event as part of “Road to Bern”

Together with the UN Statistics Division, Switzerland organized a virtual side event on the margins of the HLPF, which was dedicated to the topic "On the way to the UN World Data Forum – why gender data and accountability matter". The focus was on improving the availability of data in the area of gender equality and the relevance of statistics during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was part of the "Road to Bern", a series of events in preparation for the UN World Data Forum, which will take place in Bern in autumn 2021. The event included interventions from the Director of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) as well as from representatives of UN Women, UNFPA and the Bern Network/Paris21.