United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2018 and participation predicament – an academic’s dilemma!


Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, who is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

The High-level Political Forum (HLPF), is United Nations central platform to follow-up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the global level.  It supports the member states to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven” (paragraph 79). The forum meets annually with a mandate to follow-up and review the General Assembly resolution 70/299. The HLPF 2018 theme is ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’ and it reviews the progress of SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17, with voluntary national reviews from 47 countries. A brief digression here before I plunge into the HLPF history.

This spring and summer I cancelled my participation/presentations in the Climate Change: Impacts and Responses conference at UCLA Berkeley and the World Finance Conference in Mauritius, due to my air-travel carbon footprint concerns! It was a mindful decision. Before deciding to travel to New York, I bundled up multiple tasks including an invitation as a visiting scholar at the United Nations – Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN), participation in HLPF 2018, lecturing in an economics graduate course at Columbia University, seminar presentation at UN SDSN, participation in IAFFE annual conference at State University of New York and collaborative research with our partners at the Stern Business School, New York University. However, it is the HLPF 2018 Carbon-Neutral effort that enabled me to travel and participate with a lighter conscious! According to the estimates, 98% of the carbon emissions at HLPF 2018 will be from air travel. This is equivalent to over 3.5 million kilograms of carbon or 13,805,650 kilometers driven by an average passenger vehicle or the consumption of 8,103 barrels of oil. Each participant at HLPF 2018 will emit on average of 1,246 kilograms of carbon from air travel that is equivalent to 33 tree seedlings grown for 10 years in the USA. However, if each participant flying in at HLPF 2018 would donate around USD 5 to a certified carbon-offsetting project, all air travel to the HLPF would be carbon-neutral! The process is uncomplicated! First, one estimates the emissions from the trip using the ICAO’s air travel carbon emissions calculator.  Second, one can compensate those emissions by purchasing an equivalent amount of carbon credits recognized under the United Nations Climate Change Convention. A must-do for the globe-trotting tribe!

The establishment of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was mandated in 2012 by the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), ”The Future We Want”and its format and organizational aspects are outlined in General Assembly resolution 67/290. In 2013, its focus was on ‘Building the future we want: from Rio+20 to the post-2015 development agenda’ to ‘Achieving the MDGs and charting the way for an ambitious post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs’ in 2014. The HLPF has been facilitator in enabling the transformation from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The emphasis in the 2015 HLPF was on ‘Strengthening integration, implementation and review- the HLPF after 2015’. This was followed with a series of review HLPFs,  ‘Ensuring no one is left behind’ in HLPF 2016 and a review of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14 in  ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’ during HLPF 2017. The  ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres emphasizes that ”The 2030 Agenda is our roadmap and its goals and targets are tools to get there.”Others, more forcefully argue that Agenda 2030 is perhaps our last and only shot at stopping climate change.

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain who is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

Follow Ranjula on Twitter: @ranjbali


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