The High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF) is a central element in the emerging governance architecture for sustainable development. Established at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio 20), the HLPF has a dauntingly expansive mandate, including setting the sustainable development agenda; enhancing integration, coordination and coherence across the UN system and at all levels of governance; and following up on all sustainable development goals and commitments.

Yet it has been granted limited authority and few material resources. In these circumstances, the HLPF must rely on the governance strategy of “orchestration”: working indirectly through intermediary organizations, and using soft modes of influence to support and guide their actions. Indeed, the design of the HLPF suggests that states intended it to pursue this approach. We identify potential intermediaries and techniques of orchestration for the HLPF, and consider whether it can satisfy the conditions for success as an orchestrator.

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