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The High-Level Political Forum and Climate Change

Written by Alvin Leong (LLM, JD), Fellow at the Pace Center for Environmental Legal Studies.  He can be contacted at aleong@law.pace.edu. 

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is a newly formed intergovernmental platform intended to provide high-level political leadership to implement sustainable development on a global scale.  Its creation was one of a number of important decisions made at the “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.[1]  The HLPF will meet every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly and every year under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).[2]  The ECOSOC meetings will also conduct regular, voluntary and State-led reviews on the follow-up and implementation of sustainable development commitments and objectives, including those related to the means of implementation, within the context of the post-2015 development agenda.[3]

The HLPF has the potential to play a leadership role in addressing the challenge of climate change. At the first meeting of the HLPF on 24 September 2013, the Prime Minister of Norway stated that the inauguration of the HLPF is a chance to put climate change at the top of the international agenda and called for a focus on carbon pricing, climate financing and emissions cuts to reduce global warming.[4]  To successfully do so, the work methods of the HLPF would need to be carefully crafted so as not to duplicate or conflict with the mechanisms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  This design imperative will be important to counteract opposition from certain States that wish to confine international action on climate change to the UNFCCC “silo”.

The co-chairs of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have recognized that climate change and development are interlinked.  The OWG’s “zero draft” of SDGs proposes a goal of promoting actions at all levels to address climate change and specifies a number of climate-related targets.[5]

Notably, the HLPF’s responsibilities include providing political leadership and guidance for sustainable development and following up and reviewing progress in the implementation of sustainable development commitments.[6]  Accordingly, regardless of whether climate change remains a stand-alone goal, is merged into another goal, or is mainstreamed into the other goals,so long as the SDGs do contain climate-related targets, the HLPF would be responsible for providing political leadership and guidance and following up and reviewing progress on climate objectives and commitments.  The HLPF’s responsibilities also include enhancing integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development in a holistic and cross-sectoral manner at all levels.[7]  Because climate change is inextricably intertwined with all three dimensions of sustainable development, this responsibility would arguably justify the HLPF taking substantive action with respect to climate objectives and commitments, regardless of the final outcome of the OWG’s draft of SDGs.

In this light, the HLPF could be designed to provide, among other things:

(1) monitoring and accountability mechanisms to track progress on climate objectives and commitments, including the means of implementation; and

(2) hubs for knowledge, experience and best practices sharing and mutual learning[8] with respect to climate mitigation and adaptation.

In terms of monitoring and accountability mechanisms, current UN processes provide two examples: the Universal Periodic Review process of the Human Rights Council and the Annual Ministerial Review process of ECOSOC.  The hybrid nature of the HLPF (General Assembly-ECOSOC) may lend itself to a hybrid formulation of review and monitoring processes – the universality and legitimacy of the General Assembly and the convening power and experience of ECOSOC are naturally advantageous.  In terms of hubs for knowledge, experience and best practices sharing and mutual learning, the HLPF could establish formal links with organizations such as the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network[9] to focus on pragmatic pathways for climate mitigation and adaptation.

The possibility nevertheless exists that the HLPF could become just another “talk shop” that is unable or unwilling to take substantive actions regarding global sustainability.  Whether or not this happens will depend on the level of political will, leadership and resources dedicated to this endeavor.  With the emergence of the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda, the world could be arriving at an inflection point in global development.  As such, the international community has a unique opportunity – at this inflection point – to leverage the full array and power of the global processes and mechanisms for sustainable development, including the HLPF, to address climate change.


[1] The Future We Want, G.A. Res. 66/288, ¶ 84, U.N. Doc. A/RES/66/288 (Oct. 11, 2012), available athttp://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/futurewewant.html.

[2] G.A. Res. 67/290, ¶¶ 3, 6-7, U.N. Doc. A/RES/67/290 (July 9, 2013), available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/67/290&Lang=E.

[3] Ibid. at ¶ 8.

[4] Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Sep. 27, 2013), http://www.iisd.ca/vol33/enb3301e.html.

[5] Introduction and Proposed Goals and Targets on Sustainable Development for the Post 2015 Development Agenda, ¶ 13, http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html.

[6] The Future We Want, ¶¶ 85(a) and (e); G.A. Res. 67/290, ¶ 2.

[7] The Future We Want,¶ 85(b); G.A. Res. 67/290, ¶¶ 2, 19.

[8] The Future We Want,¶ 85(i); G.A. Res. 67/290, ¶ 7(d).

[9] See The High-Level Advisory Panel, “The United Nations in the Age of Sustainable Development” (Sep. 9, 2013), http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/67/statements/statements/September13/hlap_sus_dev09092013.shtml.



2 thoughts on “The High-Level Political Forum and Climate Change

  1. i believe that HLPF should not focus on only one issue, even if that is the critical and multidimensional challenge of climate change. This new body provides an opportunity for a fresh, inclusive start, following the disappointing experience with CSD, which focused primarily on the environment and engaged mainly environment ministers. The Forum should bring together high-level political officials and experts who deal with all aspects and challenges of sustainability, including the environment but also poverty, disease, employment. It is the comprehensive view of today’s interconnected challenges that is missing, and ways to address them systematically, rather than duplicating work largely done on a specific challenge (e.g. climate change) in a dedicated forum (UNFCCC).

    Posted by Georgios Kostakos | June 28, 2014, 7:41 pm
    • Obviously no one is suggesting the facile notion that the sole purpose of the HLPF should be to address climate change. This article merely points out the common sense notion that the ineffective UNFCCC process should not be the sole international forum to address climate change, and that the HLPF can play an important role given that climate change and sustainable development are inextricably intertwined.

      Posted by Alvin Leong | July 5, 2014, 3:15 am


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