Trade Unions at the UNECE 2018 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) held its Regional Forum on Sustainable Development on 1-2 March 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. A trade union delegation was present.

Representative from governments and stakeholders from across the UNECE region gathered for the first of the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development (RFSD), organised by the UN Regional Commissions in the build up to the 2018 High Level Political Forum (HLPF). This year the specific theme for the HLPF will be Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies. The Sustainable Development Goals under review will be SDG 6 (water and sanitation), SDG 7 (energy), SDG 11 (cities), SDG 12 (sustainable production and consumption).

Specific roundtables on each of the SDGs under review. Representing PERC, Anton Leppik spoke at the roundtable on SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy). He outlined the role of the Just Transition in achieving a socially sustainable transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies. Representing the ITUC and speaking also on behalf of CSOs, Joan Lanfranco intervened during the roundtable on SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities). In his intervention, he highlighted the need for the concentration of jobs and wealth in cities to be fairly distributed in order to tackle disparities, exclusion and inequalities as well as recommendations on how to achieve this. It echoed previous work by PSI outlining the role of trade unions in making cities and local communities more equitable and inclusive.

A civil society pre-meeting was organised in the build up to the event. Held on 28 February, it brought together 70 civil society representatives to prepare the joint civil society input to the RFSD and exchange and coordinate on the thematic recommendations related to the SDGs under review. This was coordinated through the UNECE CSO Engagement mechanism (in the process of creation since the 2017 RFSD), trade unions contributed to the CSO opening statement and closing statement. The pre-meeting also had a focus on the SDG review process and allowed for participants to commonly identify challenges and lessons learned from the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process and to review the status of institutionalisation of CSOs in SDG related processes within the region.

Trade unions note that the region is encountering significant challenges to achieving the SDGs. The role of representative and democratic civil society organisations must be reinforced if they are to be overcome. The region has a wealth of positive experience with social dialogue as a governance mechanism that has delivered sustainable development. However, threats to social dialogue, freedom of association and collective bargaining are observed throughout the region and governments must renew effort to strengthen it in order for it to continue to deliver lasting development results.

Overall, trade unions reflect positively on the 2018 UNECE RFSD. Some structural issues remain to be reviewed in future editions, such as the role of private sector in the SDGs, the better inclusion of CSOs in VNR processes and a better coordination between EU and UNECE SDG monitoring efforts. Via the UNECE CSO Engagement Mechanism, trade unions will work to ensure that decent work and social dialogue are cornerstones of SDG implementation in the UNECE region.

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