Explanation of Position at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (FULL)

Nicholas M. Hill
Deputy U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council
New York, New York
July 15, 2022


The United States is pleased to join consensus on today’s Ministerial Declaration. We are deeply appreciative of the commitment and creativity brought by Italy and Nauru to reach agreement on this important document, as well as the spirit of consensus upheld by all delegations.

The United States strongly supports the 2030 Agenda and is committed to its full implementation. One of the key insights of the 2030 Agenda is the interrelated nature of the 17 goals; each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) influences the others, demonstrating the need for a comprehensive approach to development. We also note that the five goals currently under review – those related to quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), life below water (SDG 14), life on land (SDG 15), and means of implementation (SDG 17) – appear particularly pressing in the context of the dynamic challenges we collectively face.

Promoting gender equality is a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness – and a strategic imperative that promotes economic growth, inclusion, and strong institutions. Similarly, education is a mutually reinforcing goal: a quality education benefits the individual and contributes to other national development objectives such as economic growth, industry and innovation, and health and well-being. Taken together, SDGs 4 and 5 will advance political stability and foster democracy.

The 2020s are a defining decade for global climate action and environmental preservation and we are glad to see strong language in the Ministerial Document on SDGs 14 and 15. The United States is working tirelessly at home and internationally to address the climate crisis, including promoting ambitious action to keep a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on temperature rise within reach and supporting vulnerable communities to increase their resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

We underscore that the Ministerial Declaration is a non-binding document. We stress our position that, in accordance with established norms, the outcome document should only refer to transparent, Member State negotiated documents, and we therefore disassociate from paragraph 74’s mention of the Kunming Declaration, which was not a negotiated document that reflects consensus. The inclusion of paragraph 35 from the 2030 Agenda does not contribute to this declaration, and it represents an attempt to politicize the important work that Member States undertake in the HLPF. We have consequently voted against its inclusion, and we dissociate from paragraph 131 in this year’s text.

The United States would like to take this opportunity to clarify some concerns with and positions on the declaration as adopted. We underscore that the HLPF Declaration is non-binding and does not create new or affect existing rights or obligations under international law, nor does it create any new financial commitments. We appreciate the opportunity to register our position on these issues below.

SDG5 – Gender Equality: U.S. policy understands gender-based violence to be inclusive of sexual violence, and we support references to “gender-based violence” or “sexual and gender-based violence,” as more inclusive terms than the binary “violence against women and girls.” We regret the omission of the term “intimate partner violence” in the Ministerial Document. It is important to recognize that violence takes place within families and intimate relationships, including in situations in which individuals in a relationship live together in close quarters. We welcome references to eliminating, preventing, and responding to all forms of violence, and note that U.S. policy considers female genital mutilation/cutting, as well as child, early and forced marriage to be forms of gender-based violence.

We are pleased that the HLPF was able to unequivocally reaffirm SDG target 5.6 as critical to accelerating progress towards advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. However, we regret that the final resolution did not more explicitly address themes related to the Beijing Platform of Action and SDG target 3.7 or the linkages between human rights, gender equality, sexual, reproductive, and maternal health, and critical health services, all directly relevant to achieving SDG target 5.6.

SDG 4 – Education: The United States strongly supports the realization of the right to education as outlined in article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and consistent with the scope of that right as recognized under international human rights law. We strongly support the goal of quality education for all. As educational matters in the United States are primarily determined at the state and local levels, we understand that when resolutions call on States to strengthen various aspects of education, including infrastructure and with respect to “quality education,” this is done in terms consistent with our respective federal, state, and local authorities.

Right to Development: While the United States strongly supports sustainable development, we do not recognize a “right to development,” as we note that it has no internationally agreed upon meaning and that it is not recognized in any of the core UN human rights conventions. While the United States supports development as a commendable goal, further work is required to ensure that such a so-called right is consistent with fundamental principles of international human rights law.

Right to Water: The United States understands abbreviated references to certain human rights, including the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, to be shorthand references for the more accurate and widely accepted terms used in the applicable treaties, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international human rights instruments, and we maintain our long-standing positions on those rights. We further note that while the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is not explicitly mentioned in any of the core UN human rights instruments, we understand it to be derived from the human right to an adequate standard of living, recognized in the ICESCR, which is to be progressively realized.

Climate, the Paris Agreement, and the Glasgow Climate Pact: The United States is working tirelessly at home and internationally to address the climate crisis, including promoting ambitious action to keep a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on temperature rise within reach and supporting vulnerable communities to increase their resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Much of this resolution simply repeats previously agreed language from decisions of the Paris Agreement – in particular, the Glasgow Climate Pact – or United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris Agreement and UNFCCC are the appropriate forums to address such issues. Moreover, in certain instances, this resolution distorts the meaning of previously agreed language in a confusing and unhelpful manner, in particular paragraph 122(a).

Planetary Boundaries: It is our strong position that the phrase “fully respecting planetary boundaries” is vague and ill-defined in the text. The United States has opposed this idea since its inception in 2009, given our continued emphasis on science-based decision making. Further, planetary boundaries references are not contained in the instruments referenced in the resolution such as the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC, or the Convention of Biological Diversity.

SDG Measurement: Regarding paragraph 87, the United States regards the approval in February 2022 by the UN Statistics Commission of the new indicator to have been final, so that it is inappropriate to refer to SDG indicator 17.3.1 as “proposed.” We call on Member States to use the relevant UNGA77 Second Committee resolution to affirm the new indicator as fully approved to enable immediate use of the indicator to provide valuable information on finance for developing countries from all sources.

Trade: The United States supports a multilateral trading system that is open, fair, rules-based, predictable, transparent, and non-discriminatory, recognizing it as an important factor in facilitating sustainable development. We underscore our position that trade language, negotiated or adopted by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council or under their auspices, has no relevance for U.S. trade policy, for our trade obligations or commitments, or for the agenda at the World Trade Organization, including discussions or negotiations in that forum. While the UN and WTO share common interests, they have different roles, rules, and memberships.

Regarding paragraph 75 on the impact of policies, including subsidies, on biodiversity, the United States encourages the development and application of incentives for the conservation of natural resources including biodiversity. However, the United States cannot support blanket calls for the elimination, phasing out, or reform of particular subsidies without a rigorous evaluation of potential trade-offs, including with respect to food security implications.

Intellectual Property: The United States understands with respect to this resolution, including paragraphs 98 and 101, that references to knowledge-sharing and transfer of technology and know-how are to voluntary knowledge-sharing and voluntary transfer of technology and know-how on mutually agreed terms. Additionally, this resolution, including paragraph 21(b), does not capture all the carefully negotiated and balanced language in the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, and instead presents an unbalanced and incomplete picture of that language.

Illicit Financial Flows: While the United States acknowledges the UN system increasingly uses the term “illicit financial flows,” we continue to have concerns that this term lacks an agreed-upon international definition. Without an agreed-upon definition, resolutions should be clearer about the specific underlying illegal activities, such as embezzlement, bribery, money laundering, other corrupt practices, and other crimes that produce or contribute to the generation and movement of illicit finance. Equally, all Member States should focus more concretely on preventing and combating these crimes at home.

Consensus Documents: The United States dissociates from paragraph 74 and stands by the commonly agreed norms that have upheld the integrity and effectiveness of the United Nations and multilateral system. The HLPF Declaration should only reference transparent, Member State-negotiated outcome documents from UN conferences. The United States does not support references to the Kunming Declaration, which was a conference host statement and not a negotiated UN declaration or document adopted by consensus.

2030 Agenda: Finally, the United States reaffirms its position on the 2030 Agenda as detailed in its Explanation of Position delivered on September 1, 2015.

We welcome the opportunity to reflect on progress towards and remaining needs of the 2030 Agenda. Thank you for your partnership and your unwavering commitment to this global goal.