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Ensuring That No One Is Left Behind: A View on an Inclusive World in 2030


Motto: "We can redream this world and make the dream come real. Human beings are gods hidden from themselves".

Ben Okri, The Famished Road (winning novel of The Man Booker Prize in 1991)

Between 11 and 20 July 2016, the UN Headquarters in New York hosted the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). HLPF is the most inclusive and participatory forum at the United Nations, bringing all UN States Members and of specialized agencies together.

Its theme was generous and challenging: "Ensuring that no one is left behind". Being the first HLPF meeting after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, the expectations for political guidance were high and generated vivid discussions among Member States - a proof that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are taken very seriously. The Forum included voluntary reviews of 22 countries, 20 sessions, several general debates and thematic reviews of progress on the SDGs, cross-cutting issues and reviews by the ECOSOC functional commissions and other inter-governmental bodies, as well as a Ministerial Declaration.

The concept of inclusion is at the core of the 2030 Agenda. Inclusive societies are those that do not discriminate irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, and economic or other status. Several SDGs are directly related to "inclusiveness": Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 8 (sustainable economic growth), Goal 9 (sustainable industrialization), Goal 11 (sustainable cities and human settlements), and Goal 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies). I would add to this list Goal 10 (reduce inequalities within and among countries), because inclusion cannot be defined outside of the national social context, and social inequality cannot be separated from economic inequality.

Having the privilege to be a panelist in the session devoted to envisioning an inclusive world in 2030, and to present Romania's priority actions in the HLPF ministerial segment, I had a first-hand confirmation of the complexity and interdependency of this topic. Progress has been made in the last decades in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, but this has been accompanied by widening inequalities within and among countries, undermining the principle of ensuring that no one is left behind. To correct this, effective policies should ensure that growth is inclusive, sustained and equitable, and that the economies are at the service of all people, and not focused exclusively on promoting economic growth.

Time and time again, we have heard that the 2030 Agenda can realize the principle of leaving no one behind. Yet, its implementation depends heavily on ensuring that inclusive institutions exist at the local, national, regional and global levels. A strong national ownership and leadership of the 2030 Agenda is of a critical importance.

In Romania, this is conducted on five key priority actions: First, a mapping exercise of existing national policy frameworks is undergoing, in order to identify gaps and challenges towards localizing the SDGs at national level. Second, as sustainable development requires a government and cross-sectoral approach, an inter-ministerial committee responsible with the SDGs implementation was created.

Third, the Government commitment is vital but insufficient on its own, and therefore we need broad coalitions and partnerships around the SDGs. Civil society, business community, academia and media have to be convinced to join their efforts in raising awareness, planning, implementing and monitoring progress. National parliaments can also be powerful agents of change, bringing the SDGs to the attention of the public - the Romanian Parliament adopted in April a comprehensive declaration on the SDGs, the first of its kind, and co-hosted, together with International Parliamentary Union, a regional seminar on the 2030 Agenda.

Fourth, promoting peaceful and democratic societies based on the rule of law and respect of human rights is an essential pillar of the new development agenda. And fifth, the access to financial resources. Money exists, we only have to reorient our economies towards sustainable development and to recalibrate the interaction between the social pillar with the economic and environmental dimensions.

The Ministerial Declaration adopted by the HLPF begins with: "We, the Ministers and high representatives, having met at United Nations Headquarters in New York, pledge that no one will be left behind in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development".

In the fight against poverty and for achieving prosperity for all there may be alternative ways forward - some already tested, some to be discovered. As the Nigerian writer Ben Okri wrote in his poem A New Dream for Politics: "There's always a new way, a better way that's not been tried before."

Solutions may be alternative, but their outcome must be unique: achieving sustainable development and inclusive societies for all by 2030. This outcome lies now in our hands.

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