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Reflecting on the Outcomes of the SDG Summit: A Reconfirmation of the Global Commitment for Sustainable Development

Opinion article by Stefanos Fotiou, Director of the Office of Sustainable Development Goals in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu delivering a statement during the launch event for the new High Impact Initiative on Food Systems Transformation: Transforming food systems for a world without hunger. 17 September 2023, United Nations, New York, USA

©FAO/Roberto Schmidt


The recent SDG Summit held in New York on September 18-19, 2023, has once again demonstrated the world's commitment to the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite the challenges and setbacks over the last number of years, the adoption by consensus of the negotiated Political Declaration, which was subsequently endorsed by the UN General Assembly, reaffirms the SDGs as our primary roadmap for achieving sustainable development and addressing the multifaceted crises of our time.

This dedication was vividly underscored by the strong presence of Heads of State and Government from around the world at the SDG Summit. Representatives from 145 different countries proved their accountability to the 2030 Agenda as they took the floor to report on their progress at this midpoint juncture, including 57 heads of state/vice presidents, 30 heads of government, 58 deputy prime ministers and ministers. One of the most encouraging aspects of the Summit was the substantial participation of leaders from the Global South who turned out in force to reaffirm their protagonist role on accelerating the SDGs.


While we can celebrate this renewed commitment, the Summit also confronted the stark reality that the progress towards achieving the SDGs has been slow. Eight years into the agenda, only 15% of all SDG targets are on track to being achieving, with significant setbacks in crucial areas such as agriculture and food security. A recent FAO report, Tracking Progress on food and agriculture SDG indicators 2023, launched on the eve of the SDG Summit, revealed that chronic hunger increased to 9.2% in 2022, up from 7.9% in 2015, highlighting our slip backwards on food-related targets.


FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu delivering a statement during the launch event for the new High Impact Initiative on Food Systems Transformation: Transforming food systems for a world without hunger. 17 September 2023, United Nations, New York, USA.


In the face of these challenges, a focused approach is needed. While the SDG Summit and its Political Declaration were not as action-oriented as some had hoped, this focus was found at the SDG Action Weekend preceding the Summit, which introduced twelve new ‘’High-Impact Initiatives’’ (HII) for bringing the SDG Solutions to scale. These initiatives provide tangible pathways for progress and act to consolidate the UN’s efforts, with agencies and other stakeholders coming together in a dynamic new model of cooperation.

One of these initiatives is on “Food Systems Transformation”. Led by FAO, it will have a focus on developing tools and models for supporting national food systems transformation, innovative partnerships and new financial instruments to drive transformative change. The FAO Director-General Dr. Qu Dongyu launched the HII, highlighting that “Agrifood systems are at the nexus of all SDGs” and he further emphasized that we must “use science, agricultural innovation, tech, finance, partnerships and enabling policies as key accelerators in this quest”.

Following the keynote of the FAO Director-General, several countries and actors provided input on their work on food systems transformation. Highlights of these inputs include but are not limited to the following:

  • Ireland and the United States have developed a new joint program in Malawi with small holder farmers and the private sector to support food systems transformation. Ireland will invest at least 42 million euros in this program over the next four years.
  • Ireland announced an investment of 2.5 million euros in a new women’s economic empowerment initiative, in partnership with IFAD and the Irish league of credit unions.
  • Ireland further announced its contribution of 4.5 million euros in the new window on Food Systems of the UN Joint SDGs Fund
  • Germany also committed to finance the new window that catalyzes transformation processes in partner countries.  At the UNFSS+2 the German government committed 5 million euros to this window.
  • The World bank has committed 45 billion over the past 15 months, however World Bank SM Director announced that it has not been enough to achieve results. 
  • IFAD has an ongoing portfolio of about 8 billion US dollars to contribute to inclusive and resilient food systems at a local level.

FAO is also co-leading with UN-Habitat and UNDP the HII on Localizing the SDGs and is participating in Initiatives on: Nature driving economic transformation; The global accelerator on jobs and social protection; and Unlocking the power of data.


Stefanos Fotiou, speaking at the SDG Summit Media Zone event on Sustainable Food Systems and Traditions. 19 September 2023, , United Nations, New York, USA.


The SDG Acceleration Agenda is evolving in other aspects too, with a growing emphasis on financing for development and broader public investment. Discussions at the SDG Summit highlighted that substantial reform of the international financial architecture is now urgent, as developing countries grapple with the choice between disaster recovery and long-term development while trapped in debt. The international community must swiftly translate words into action in this regard.

Moreover, the interventions of many countries at the SDG Summit have placed climate change mitigation and adaption as central within the sustainable development agenda. Sustainable food systems transformation and the climate agenda are intertwined, and addressing one is pivotal to the success of the other. As we chart our course towards achieving the SDGs, we must continue to recognize and act upon this undeniable interdependence.


With our commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs reignited and these new priorities to the fore, expectation have now been raised for upcoming meetings, including the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in October 2023, UNFCCC COP 28 in November 2023, the next HLPF in July 2024 for which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has asked countries to report on their progress towards new commitments made at the SDG Summit, the Summit of the Future in September 2024, where leaders are poised to adopt a far-reaching "Pact for the Future" and finally the next Financing for Development Conference in 2025.

The SDGs Summit reignite a sense of hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the 2030 Agenda. It showcased that the path to achieving the SDGs may be arduous, but with steadfast determination and global cooperation, progress is indeed within our reach. And progress will depend on how we use the means of implementation, and particularly finance, to walk the talk of the SDGs.