UN group chairs release SDG "chapeau," expanded goals

15 May 2014

The co-chairs of a UN group charged with proposing a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) have circulated a draft introduction for the framework. The text – published after the close of the group’s eleventh meeting in New York, US from the 5-9 May – uses language from the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in June 2012.

That text, entitled The Future We Want, launched the SDG process as part of broader efforts to establish a post-2015 development agenda. The new goals, destined to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) upon their expiration next year, are tasked with balancing and integrating economic, social, and environmental concerns.


The new narrative opens with a strong statement on poverty eradication, as the “greatest global challenge facing the world today,” pledging to tackle it, together with hunger, as a matter of urgency.

Universal commitments made over the last two decades in relation to sustainable development are also restated, as well as broader international norms and instruments safeguarding human rights and international law. 

The assignment of responsibility for action has consistently proved to be a delicate task in international negotiations. Much of the chapeau text reiterates carefully balanced existing agreements, attempting to present the diversity of views around responsibility.

For example, the chapeau refers to all of the principles included in the outcome statement of the pioneer development and environment 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) is highlighted, an approach that has proved controversial in other international forums.

The text also reiterates language from the Rio document that “each country faces specific challenges to achieve sustainable development,” while also reaffirming that “developing countries need additional resources for sustainable development.”

Goals, targets to expand

According to Earth Negotiation’s Bulletin (ENB), discussions last week across each goal and target indicated divisions on how to apply the principle of universality in the new framework.

Some rich nations said that efforts were necessary from all countries to pursue sustainable development, while poor nations stressed that they should not be expected to achieve the same targets as their wealthier peers.

Since the group’s ninth meeting in March, the co-chairs have been guiding the process through a series of focus areas. Discussions at last week’s meeting were primarily driven by a new working document released in April, which pared the list of possible development goals down to 16, with around 140 targets. (See BioRes, 25 April 2014)

At the end of last week however, Co-Chair Macharia Kamau – Permanent Representative of Kenya – said that the next version of the working document would include a separate headline for equality, previously grouped with poverty as an opening goal.

Kamau also indicated that the following iteration would contain many more draft targets, which delegates should prioritise in their discussions at the group’s twelfth meeting. The new text will be released at the end of May.

Co-Chair Csaba Körösi – Permanent Representative of Hungary – reportedly said that consensus was emerging among delegates around the inclusion of “unfinished” MDG challenges such as poverty eradication, food security, education, health, gender, and water, as areas to be included in the framework. Work to reach a common position on some of the “newer” issues – topics such as climate change, ecosystems, and oceans that have climbed up the international agenda in the last decade – was however still required.

Tying together

According to reports, delegates were also concerned last week with how the process would move forward, as well as how the eventual goals will relate to other streams feeding into the post-2015 development agenda, together with other international processes and instruments.

Discussions on the climate change focus area, for example, saw diverging views on whether the issue should be included as a stand-alone goal or not, given the ongoing negotiations to seal a global climate deal under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also by 2015.

Conversations are also underway elsewhere in the UN system around the key question of financing within the post-2015 development agenda period, such as through the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, preparations for the third international conference on financing for development, and ongoing discussions on a technology facilitation mechanism. 

In the April focus areas document that was discussed last week, “means of implementation” was elaborated both in a separate section, as well as included in a phrase across each of the other focus areas.

Trade is posited in the means of implementation headline, with targets referring to an open, rules-based multilateral trading and financial system, including complying with the agricultural mandate of the WTO’s Doha Round negotiations, otherwise known as the Doha Development Agenda.

Other trade targets in the document included the provision of greater duty-free and quota free market access for the world’s poorest countries, and improved market access for agricultural and industrial exports of developing countries. Trade-related targets are also present in other focus areas, namely eliminating harmful fisheries and fossil fuel subsidies.

Speaking last Monday at the opening of “Geneva Week” – an event held annually WTO observers and non-resident missions – WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said that trade had an essential role to play in tackling poverty.

“You will need to start thinking about your priorities for future sustainable development goals and about the role of trade in achieving them,” he said, referring to the post-2015 agenda discussions.

Azevêdo also took the opportunity to outline the progress made by the global trade body in recent months. Last December, WTO members clinched a multilateral deal on select parts of the Doha Round – namely on trade facilitation, along with certain agriculture and development-related components – while also giving themselves until end-2014 to draw up a work programme for concluding the remaining negotiating areas.  

Next steps

Back in New York, with only 10 business days now left on the working group’s calendar, the pressure is on to pull together into a coherent agenda the range of views and inputs currently at play. The body will outline a draft framework by mid-July, to be forwarded to the UN General Assembly for consideration in September. 

The co-chairs have indicated that a week of informal meetings will take place ahead of the remaining two sessions to help iron out some of the outstanding issues.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the Eleventh Session of the UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals,” ENB, IISD Reporting Services, 12 May 2014. 

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