Global Summits & Global Order — Two Summits

The UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) – A review mechanism for the SDGs:

The HLPF was established under the outcome document of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. It serves as the central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, thus facilitating system-wide coherence and coordination of sustainable development policies. All UN Member States are part of the HLPF. At the HLPF, high-level government representatives and stakeholders come together to evaluate and share recommendations for the current progress of the SDGs and future actions towards realising Agenda 2030. The HLPF replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development which had met annually from 1993 and was responsible for following up on commitments made at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit). The objectives of the HLPF are laid out in UN General Assembly Resolutions 66/288 and 67/290, which state that the forum shall:

  1. Provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development;
  2. Enhance integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development [economic, social, environmental] in a holistic and cross-sectoral manner at all levels;
  3. Provide a dynamic platform for regular dialogue and for stocktaking and agenda-setting to advance sustainable development;
  4. Have a focused, dynamic and action-oriented agenda, ensuring the appropriate consideration of new and emerging sustainable development challenges;
  5. Follow up and review progress in the implementation of sustainable development commitments contained in Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Barbados Programme of Action, the Mauritius Strategy, The Future We Want and, as appropriate, relevant outcomes of other United Nations summits and conferences, including the outcome of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries as well as their respective means of implementation;
  6. Encourage high-level system-wide participation of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and invite to participate, as appropriate, other relevant multilateral financial and trade institutions and treaty bodies, within their respective mandates and in accordance with United Nations rules and provisions;
  7. Improve cooperation and coordination within the United Nations system on sustainable development programs and policies;
  8. Promote transparency and implementation by further enhancing the consultative role and participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders at the international level in order to better make use of their expertise, while retaining the intergovernmental nature of discussions;
  9. Promote the sharing of best practices and experiences relating to the implementation of sustainable development and, on a voluntary basis, facilitate sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned;
  10. Strengthen the science-policy interface through review of documentation, bringing together dispersed information and assessments, including in the form of a global sustainable development report, building on existing assessments;
  11. Enhance evidence-based decision-making at all levels and contribute to strengthening ongoing capacity-building for data collection and analysis in developing countries; and
  12. Promote system-wide coherence and coordination of sustainable development policies.

The HLPF holds two types of meetings. The first type of meeting occurs annually, where the HLPF meets under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The meetings consist of thematic and SDG Reviews, Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), and culminates in a negotiated Ministerial Declaration. 

The 2030 Agenda encourages member states to conduct regular reviews of progress towards achieving the SDGs at the national and sub-national level. The Voluntary National Reviews are presented at the HLPF to facilitate the sharing of experiences with a view of accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The presentation of VNRs are also intended to strengthen policies and institutions of governments, and to mobilise multi-stakeholder support and partnerships to implement the SDGs. Currently, forty-one countries have expressed interest in carrying out VNRs at the HLPF. The HLPF has open channels for stakeholder engagement with nonstate actors, who are known as Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS), and can participate in implementation of the SDGs, through projects, initiatives, advocacy, knowledge-sharing, and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda. 

The thematic focus of the HLPF for the next few years was outlined in the draft of the review of the ECOSOC and HLPF mechanisms – a process that was set in motion following the UNGA’s 78th session in 2023.


Theme: ‘Advancing sustainable, inclusive, science- and evidence-based solutions for the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs for leaving no one behind’

SDGs: 3, 5, 8, 14, 17


Theme: ‘Transformative, equitable, innovative and coordinated actions for the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs for a sustainable future for all’

SDGs: 6, 7, 9, 11, 17


Theme: ‘Scaling up just transitions to achieving sustainable development, poverty eradication and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs.’

SDGs: 4, 10, 12, 15, 17.

Every four years the HLPF convenes as an SDG Summit and meets at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. This Summit consists of dialogues and culminates in a Negotiated Political Declaration. The last meeting  was held in 2023. At this Summit, which took place at the halfway point in the timeline for achieving the SDGs, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a “global rescue plan” for the SDGs

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and increasingly visible impacts of climate change have compromised sustainable development efforts. The UN Secretary-General’s annual report that was released earlier this year, 2024 estimated that only about 15% of the SDGs are on track, while nearly 50% of the targets are moderately or severely off track, and around 30% of the targets have stagnated or regressed below the 2015 baseline. SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), SDG 15 (Life on Land), and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) are particularly off track. Getting back on track to meet the SDGs requires an increased efforts from states. Notable issues at the Summit included calls for the reform of the international financial architecture, addressing the critical challenges of food security and climate change, and prioritizing gender equality and a “leave no one behind” approach. The Political Declaration of the SDG Summit in 2023 highlighted how the SDGs were already off track prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and states needed to renew their commitment to multilateralism to “find new ways of working together and to ensure that multilateral institutions keep pace with the rapid changes taking place”. The Declaration also highlighted the Summit of the Future in 2024 as an “important opportunity to, inter alia, accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs”. 

The Summit of the Future:

The stated purpose of the Summit of the Future is to “strengthen international cooperation so it delivers fully and fairly on existing agreements, while responding effectively to new threats and opportunities for present and future generations. In so doing [it is hoped that these actions] restore trust in multilateralism and in each other”. Shaping the agenda of the Summit of the Future will be the 12 commitments that were contained in the UN’s 75th anniversary Declaration that kickstarted the process leading to the Summit in September 2024. These 12 commitments also guided the proposals in the Our Common Agenda report:

  1. Leave no one behind;
  2. Protect our planet;
  3. Promote peace and prevent conflicts;
  4. Abide by international law and ensure justice;
  5. Place women and girls at the center;
  6. Build trust;
  7. Improve digital cooperation;
  8. Upgrade the UN;
  9. Ensure sustainable financing;
  10. Boost partnerships;
  11. Listen to and work with youth; and
  12. Be prepared.

The Report contained proposals in response to the 12 commitments and made recommendations across four broad areas: 

  1. A renewal of the social contract, anchored in human rights, to rebuild trust and social cohesion;
  2. A focus on the future, through a deepening of solidarity with the world’s young people and future generations;
  3. Urgent action to protect and deliver global commons and global public goods through a more networked, inclusive and effective multilateralism;
  4. An upgraded UN that is fit for a new era and can offer more relevant, system-wide, multilateral and multi-stakeholder solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

Overseeing the preparatory process of the Summit, which consists of intergovernmental consultations, negotiations for the outcome document, and engagement for stakeholders will be representatives from Germany and Namibia, Antje Leendertse and Neville Melvin Gertze.

High-level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB)

In preparation for the Summit, the Secretary-General appointed a High-level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB) to provide suggestions on ways to improve governance of key issues of global concern that can support Member State deliberations at the Summit. A key suggestion by the HLAB is the evolution of global governance towards a more networked system that distributed decision-making to better harness the efforts of a large number of different actors. The Report by the HLAB outlined ten principles for effective multilateralism: people-centered, representative, transparent, equitable, networked, resourced, mission-focused, flexible, accountable, and future oriented. 

These principles are integrated into “six transformative shifts” that would advance the evolution of global governance: 

  1. Rebuild trust in multilateralism through inclusion and accountability.
  2. Deliver for people and planet by regaining balance with nature and providing clean energy for all.
  3. Ensure sustainable finance that delivers for all.
  4. Support a just digital transition that unlocks the value of data and protects against digital harms.
  5. Empower equitable, effective collective security arrangements.
  6. Strengthen governance for current and emerging transnational risks.

Additionally, the Secretary-General issued policy briefs that provided more details on certain proposals in the Our Common Agenda report. The policy briefs, informed by the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, analysed the proposals’ impacts on the implementation of the SDGs, with gender equality as a cross-cutting theme. These briefs cover topics such as managing global shocks, the meaningful inclusion of young people, building statistical and data capacities, an open and secure digital future, a global financial system that works for all, and a new agenda for peace. 

The scope of the Summit of the Future will cover the following areas: 

  1. Sustainable development and financing for development;
  2. International peace and security;
  3. Science, technology and innovation and digital cooperation;
  4. Youth and future generations;
  5. Transforming global governance;

The Pact for the Future: Zero Draft 

The first version of the Pact for the Future: Zero Draft, released in January 2024, acknowledges that “multilateral institutions – especially the Security Council and the international financial architecture – have struggled to address the scale of the challenges they face and live up to the world’s expectations of them” and that, “too often, international that are made, remain unfulfilled”. Member States have stated their commitment to “meaningful changes” to global governance to “re-earn the trust of our people and each other”. 

Under the goal of transforming global governance, the Zero Draft mentions a commitment to reforming the intergovernmental organs of the United Nations, “including the Security Council, so that they can deliver on their mandates in a changing world, and to strengthening the human rights pillar of the Organization”. States have also committed to reforming the international financial architecture. By acknowledging that “the well-being of current and future generations and the sustainability of our planet rests on our willingness to make these changes and to continue to ensure that the multilateral system, with the United Nations at its centre, is fit for purpose”, the UN recognises that the failure of multilateralism is due, in part, to the unwillingness of Member States to take greater action. 

The first version the Zero Draft contained an emphasis on: human-centred technologies, establishing a Declaration on Future Generations, a plea to refrain from unilateral economic and trade measures, and commitments to strengthen the voice and participation of developing countries in international economic decision-making, norm-setting and global economic governance. The first revision of the Draft that was released in May saw a draft that was reframed to underline that it was an action-orientated document, and consisted of 52 Actions that member states committed to in the areas of: sustainable development and financing for development; international peace and security; science, technology and innovation and digital cooperation; youth and future generations; and transforming global governance. 

What was notably absent was the initial language for reform of the Security Council. Here, the Cofacilitators included a note that said, “[It is clear from Member State and stakeholder inputs that reform of the Security Council remains a priority for the Summit of the Future, and we are committed to achieving an ambitious outcome in the Pact for the Future. We will present initial language on this issue in June 2024]”. 

This note was repeated in the first revision for the Pact for the Future. This points to the contentious nature of the issue and explains the difficulty in transforming global governance in a meaningful way. Any reform to the UN Security Council can shift the balance of power between states in multilateral institutions, with far-reaching effects on global decision-making. Yet it is precisely this redistribution in power that is required to make global governance more reflective and responsive to the complex issues the global community faces. The recent voting on UN Security Council resolutions to implement a ceasefire in Gaza and accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid demonstrates once again how the balance of power in the UN enables 1 state to obstruct the decision-making of the collective. Beyond US interests in Israel, the US is also regarded by some metrics – Index of support to UN-based multilateralism – (UN-Mi) as having the lowest commitment to global cooperation. [1]

Renewed Global Governance Efforts Towards Achieving the SDGs

The Global Summitry Project (GSP) has discussed what the future of international cooperation may look like, with one of the suggestions being that cooperation may move away from a multilateral approach to state participation and move rather to a more ‘plurilateral’ approach. “Plurilateralism” entails, initially, smaller groups of states and substate and nonstate actors. It promotes action by “Coalitions of the Willing”. This approach relies on efforts to advance global governance with discrete groups that then can attract a larger representation and that also recognises that nonstate and substate actors have roles in driving action towards achieving the SDGs. This is a view that is shared by the UN in its lessons taken from the MDGs to improving the SDGsOther experts have proposed reforms for global governance that includes closer collaboration between the UN and the G20, upgrading the UN Peacebuilding Commission to a Peacebuilding Council, the creation of an International Artificial Intelligence Agency, an Earth Stewardship Council to manage the global commons, and repurposing the multilateral development banks (MDBs) for international finance reform. These kinds of global governance innovations can hopefully address needed improvements in the UN system, and capitalise on the opportunity provided by the Summit to advance changes in global governance. The question remains how to achieve agreement to undertake such reforms. 

The Summit of the Future is a unique opportunity to put sustainable development back on the global governance agenda and refocus collective efforts. However, many of the ambitions have been proposals that have been raised for years, with little success. The question remains open on what might come out of the Summit of the Future, given this inertia.  

Global governance has evolved over time. The limitation of states to address issues in their borders, as well as their unwillingness to commit greater action, has created pathways for new actors to fill these gaps, and widened the network of global governance for sustainable development. However, the global system was built on the primacy of national sovereignty, and the current institutions that drive global governance preserve this norm. This means that national governments remain at the heart of global governance and the efforts to achieve the SDGs. International institutions may be cheerleaders of certain global goals but, ultimately, state action is needed. This explains why present geopolitical issues are a major concern for all states as they detract from collective efforts. In this current moment, a refocusing of state interests on a common agenda, and evolving global governance through the reform of existing institutions, is sorely needed if we are to realize the SDGs. 

[1] According to the 2024 Sustainable Development Report by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), this metric gauges countries’ support to UN-Based Multilateralism through 1.) Ratification of major UN treaties; 2.) Percentage of votes aligned with the international majority at the UN General Assembly (UNGA); 3.) Participation in selected UN organizations and agencies; 4.) Participation in conflicts and militarization; 5.) The use of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs); 6.) Contribute to the UN budget and international solidarity.