By Elena Kosolapova and Lynn Wagner, SDG Knowledge Hub

As expected, 2022 was a significant year for governing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other global environmental frameworks. Negotiations delivered a set of four biodiversity goals to be achieved by 2050 and 23 biodiversity targets to be achieved by 2030, a decision to establish a fund for responding to loss and damage to help vulnerable countries cope with some of the worst effects of climate change, and a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement to discipline harmful fisheries subsidies. Yet, as the multiple converging crises and armed conflict show no signs of abatement, 2023 is no time to rest on our laurels.

In his remarks at the end-of-year press conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “geopolitical divides have made global problem solving ever more difficult,” and expressed determination “to make 2023 a year for peace, a year for action.” “This is not a time to sit on the sidelines, it is a time for resolve … and – yes – even hope,” he underscored.

As the UN and other actors pursue global peace efforts and COVID-19 transitions from pandemic to endemic, environmental negotiations are moving on with, one might say, renewed determination. Even a cursory look at the SDG Knowledge Hub’s calendar reveals that 2023 will be a busy one. And for good reason. Some processes, such as the talks towards a high seas treaty, will be catching up after postponements. Others have been building towards 2023, and for them, it is expected to be a critical year.  

We have identified five areas warranting close attention of policymakers and sustainable development professionals in 2023.

1. SDGs at mid-point of implementation

The year 2023 marks the mid-point in SDG implementation. The multiple converging crises the world is facing have pushed the Global Goals increasingly out of reach. The second SDG Summit will convene in September at the level of heads of state and government under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), to review progress on the Goals. Such meetings take place every four years. The next edition of the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) will be launched during this Summit. This report will provide an assessment of assessments of entry points for transformation and levers for change.

The 11th session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July will support the mid-term review of the implementation of the SDGs and the preparations for the 2023 SDG Summit. The HLPF will also conduct in-depth review of five SDGs: 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), and 17 (partnerships for the Goals).

Regional meetings in preparation for the HLPF will begin in February.

2. Accelerating climate action

Ahead of the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Conference, reports by several actors, including the UNFCCC, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Resources Institute (WRI), sounded alarm over the inadequacy of countries’ climate pledges. In September 2023, the UN Secretary-General will convene a Climate Ambition Summit to “accelerate action at the mid-way point” of the SDGs. The price of entry to the Summit will be “credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis.” These announcements are expected to come in time for the annual UN Climate Change Conference, convening at the end of the year in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

It is expected that the Synthesis Report (SYR) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth assessment cycle, whose approval was postponed from 2022 to March 2023, will inform the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement to enable meaningful and ambitious climate action.

3. “Once-in-a-generation opportunity” for water

In March, a Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Decade for Action – the UN 2023 Water Conference – will convene. It is expected to help “create a consistent drumbeat” to raise attention to water and catalyze action and build partnerships to achieve international water goals, including SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and its targets. As with the Climate Ambition Summit, the UN 2023 Water Conference will also serve as a platform for announcements of new commitments to drive action.

4. Chemicals and waste in focus

Chemicals and waste governance is emerging as a prominent leitmotif of 2023. One of the first meetings of 2023 is the second segment of the first session of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on a Science-Policy Panel to Contribute Further to the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste and to Prevent Pollution (OEWG 1.2). The meeting is taking place pursuant to a UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolution, which decided that a science-policy panel should be established to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution. The OEWG is expected to hold additional meetings throughout the year.

resumed fourth meeting of the Intersessional Process (IP4) for Considering the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) will also convene in early 2023. Delegates will continue the discussions on a possible post-2020 platform for chemicals and waste management, ahead of the fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), scheduled for September. ICCM5 is expected to adopt a global framework or instrument for the sound management of chemicals and waste – three years after the originally planned end date of negotiations.

Having met for the first time at the end of 2022, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international treaty to curb plastic pollution, will hold two meetings in 2023 – in France in May and in Kenya in December. The negotiations are scheduled to wrap up in 2024, for the treaty to be adopted in mid-2025.

In addition, the BRS Triple COP, comprising the 16th meeting of the COP to the Basel Convention, the 11th meeting of the COP to the Rotterdam Convention, and the 11th meeting of the COP to the Stockholm Convention, will convene in May 2023. Regular meetings of the science bodies of the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions will take place back-to-back in the fall. The Minamata Convention on Mercury will hold its fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5).

5. The year of data

The importance of data in supporting policy and decision making cannot be underestimated. Several prominent meetings will convene in 2023 to spur data innovation and build a pathway to better data for sustainable development, including the Fourth UN World Data Forum 2023, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, and the 2023 Data for Development Festival.

At IISD’s Tracking Progress programme, we will continue to help sustainable development professionals track global policymaking processes. We’ll be updating the SDG Knowledge Hub calendar as more event announcements are made, so please check it frequently.