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2024 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development: harnessing opportunities in key SDG transition areas

RFSD 2024 opening

The 2024 UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development brought together over 800 participants to generate momentum for a regional push for SDG acceleration. Governments and other stakeholders exchanged and learned from each other on effective policies for speeding up progress towards SDG implementation. The forum took place on 13 and 14 March, with pre-meetings from Youth and Civil Society as well as 40 side events kicking off in the days before.  

The Co-Chairs, Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanyan (Armenia), and Deputy Minister of Regional Development Radim Sršeň (Czech Republic) called on participants to increase momentum for the SDGs as well as use this forum as an opportunity to take strong messages forward to the High-level Political Forum in July and the Summit of the Future in September to underscore the region’s role “as a global champion of sustainable development.” United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed underlined that the UN is committed to supporting the strengthening of institutions, shaping policies, and harnessing pathways to ramp up progress for sustainable development in Europe and Central Asia. She further stressed that the Summit will be an important opportunity to strengthen the role of global cooperation in supporting sustainable development, peace and human rights for all. 

In times of continued multiple crises, the Regional Forum succeeded in creating a space for a renewed commitment to SDG acceleration and implementation, but also for bringing new ideas and concrete proposals for the work on the ground. It further offered a rich opportunity for networking and new partnerships among governmental officials and UN entities, but also civil society and youth stakeholders. 

Backsliding in the Region 

The annual UNECE SDG Progress Report found that progress has worsened again since last year. The UNECE region is on track to achieve only 20 of the SDG targets by 2030, down from 21 and 26 last year and the year before that, with 80 requiring acceleration, and 17 requiring a reversal of trend.  

As the UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean pointed out, while this is alarming, “it is a unique opportunity, for each of us, be it UN institutions, member States, civil society, youth, private sector, all actors, to reverse and to accelerate”, extending an invitation to jointly turn statements into actions. This was echoed by the Deputy Secretary-General, who emphasized that despite the strong headwinds for sustainable development efforts in the region, “there is reason for hope.”  

Regional UN System Expertise in Goals Under Review 

At the centre of the Regional Forum are the peer learning round tables, which bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to share policy expertise, advice, and analysis. UNECE worked with its partners within the Regional UN System to create these spaces for the goals under in-depth review for 2024 - SDG 1, 2, 13, 16 & 17. Some key outcomes of the discussions were: 

  • SDG 1: Social protection plays a key role in responding to shocks, including those from climate change. Significant investment in green and decent job creation is needed. Ensuring universal access to social protection floors requires political will and whole-of-government ownership. 
  • SDG 2: Food systems are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts while contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable agricultural and livestock practices offer solutions for climate and biodiversity. Reducing food loss and waste, adopting innovative solutions, digitalization, and strengthening the role of farmers and multi-stakeholder participation are paramount.  
  • SDG 13: Climate change impacts all facets of society and threatens SDG progress. Risk assessments, response plans and social protection play a vital role in mitigating climate risks. The interconnectedness of climate change and biodiversity loss demands integrated policy solutions, including budgeting and participatory approaches.   
  • SDG 16: Challenges like misinformation around elections, digital development in public services, transparency, and access to justice for all become even more relevant. There is an urgent need for partnerships and innovation to address ongoing interconnected crises and strengthen access to justice, participation and local governance.  
  • SDG 17: Digital divides persist and new ones are emerging. Actions to bridge digital gaps and advance gender inclusion should be core concerns. A human-centric approach should be at the core of digital development. Digital infrastructures need to be robust and resilient, which is a challenge especially in the least connected regions.  


Advancing key transitions towards 2030 

The Co-Facilitators of the Summit of the Future, the Permanent Representatives of Germany and Namibia to the UN in New York, Ambassador Leendertse and Ambassador Gertze, stressed the strong linkages between the Regional Forum and the Summit of the Future negotiations, in particular on SDG acceleration, digital cooperation, innovation and technology, and youth engagement. The Summit of the Future will reinforce the 2030 Agenda, and it will be helpful to inject the “Geneva spirit” of collaboration and technical expertise in the preparatory process.    

To deepen the discussion on advancing key transitions and cooperation towards achieving the SDGs in the region, panellists from science, academia, the private sector as well as voices from youth and civil society were invited to speak by moderator Laszlo Borbély (State Counsellor, Government of Romania). The particular importance of science, innovation, technology, sustainable finance were highlighted by Imme Scholz, Co-Chair of the Independent Group of Scientists of the UN 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report, Professor Dominique Foray, Member of the Swiss Science Council, and Mr. Grégoire Haenni, Chief Investment Officer of the Geneva State Pension Fund. The representatives of youth and civil society emphasised the importance of allowing young people from different professions to engage, and the need to meaningfully include civil society and its energy and commitment to support implementation of the SDGs. 

Steps ahead 

The Co-Chairs’ summary of the Regional Forum will provide the region’s official input for the High-level Political Forum in New York in July. The Summit of the Future in September will accelerate efforts to improve the conditions for delivering on the SDGs, and take concrete steps to respond to emerging challenges and opportunities. 


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