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In October 2018, I attended the World Investment Forum in Geneva, Switzerland and an IPU workshop on the SDG’s, on behalf of the BGIPU. The theme of the 2018 Forum was ‘Investing in Sustainable Development’, and the IPU event was titled ‘Financing the Sustainable Development Goals: How can Parliaments bridge the gap?’. I attended several sessions of both events, including the tripartite dialogue between Parliamentarians, policymakers and business leaders. I also met with a number of other organisations when opportunities arose, and with the UK Mission to the UN in Geneva.
The main focus of both events was Agenda 2030, the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The purpose was both to promote Agenda 2030 and to make a direct link between the Sustainable Development Goals and the important role of the private sector in investment and trade.
The World Investment Forum is organised by UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. While there was a disappointing lack of prominent attendance and speakers from governments of the more developed economies, there were significant private sector speakers and some high-level Ministerial speakers, from Africa and Asia in particular.
The main purpose of the IPU event, alongside the Forum, was to share the experience of how parliamentarians were engaging with their governments and with the private sector to deliver the Global Goals. Many speakers at both the main conference and at the IPU event stressed the critical importance of private investment, as the gap between the cost of delivering the Global Goals and the Overseas Development Assistance likely to be available from developed countries was so significant.
The Forum was very well attended, with over one thousand participants and was undoubtedly useful in raising the profile of Agenda 2030 with this audience.
There were some very perceptive and interesting presentations by private sector leaders who clearly understood the Sustainable Development Goals and were implementing the culture and detail of the Goals within their business planning and decision-making. However, too many of the speakers from governments – mainly senior Ministers – and the speakers from various multilateral organisations were disappointing. They seemed to have very little grasp of Agenda 2030 and almost no concrete examples of implementation. The panels were also very imbalanced, with several all-male panels and very few women speakers throughout.
The IPU event, while poorly attended in parts, did include a number of very interesting panels – particularly on innovation, accountability and gender equality. There were some practical sessions, including from the new SDG Hub at the United Nations, highlighting opportunities from which the UK could learn. We should be using that best practice in preparing our Voluntary National Review to the UN in 2019 and the on-going efforts to improve the Government’s strategy and delivery of the Goals between now and 2030.
Overall, I left the Forum more concerned about the delivery of the Goals than I had been in advance. It is certainly the case that the lack of urgency and clarity in the UK is replicated elsewhere, but also that many of those most involved are not yet – four years into the timescale – embodying the culture and details of the Goals in their vision for the years ahead.
Alongside the main events, I took the opportunity to discuss the Global Goals bi-laterally with UNICEF and UNITAID, and with a couple of specific country delegations. While the Forum itself could have been much more productive, I think it was useful for the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to be represented, particularly in the absence of representation from the UK Government.