UN group revises SDG zero draft ahead of final session

3 July 2014

The co-chairs of a UN working group charged with drafting recommendations for a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) have released a revised version of a “zero draft” text to be considered at the group’s final session later this month.

The revised draft, which would ostensibly serve as a basis for the upcoming SDG deliberations, maintains a total of 17 proposed goals, as seen in an earlier version released last month and discussed at the group’s latest session. The revision, however, includes fewer targets and more succinct draft goals.

A structural change has also now been made whereby these targets, along with those referring to specific means of implementation (MoI), are differentiated under each goal using a system of numbers and letters.

The co-chairs’ efforts reflect calls made throughout the process by countries and civil society alike to ensure that the new goals are easily communicable and manageable in order to galvanise broad support.

The decision to draw up a set of SDGs to replace the current eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due to expire at the end of next year, was a major outcome of the landmark Rio+20 conference on sustainable development held just over two years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The SDG effort has been ongoing for the last 18 months through the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG), as the UN body is formally known.

Following an initial stocktaking phase in the OWG’s first eight sessions, countries moved this past March to considering the concrete shape of the new goals, first through working documents presenting a series of “focus areas” and then a zero draft of a proposed framework of goals and targets. (See BioRes, 9 June 2014)

Means of implementation structure revised

The latest revision contains a reworking of the means to achieve each goal. MoI has historically proved a divisive issue in multilateral discussions of this nature and has been a particularly tough topic for the OWG to navigate.

During the past few sessions, group members have been divided as to whether to include relevant MoI under each goal, as a separate category, or both. Earlier working documents have tried various formats, with the previous zero draft grouping all MoI targets into the final goal, albeit organised under subheadings reflecting each of the other goals. This meant that trade-related MoI were allocated to support a wide range of issues across the SDG framework.  

In the latest draft, the subsections in proposed goal 17 now focus on cross-cutting means of implementing development goals. These include trade; finance; technology; capacity building; policy and institutional coherence; multi-stakeholder partnerships; and data, monitoring and accountability. Several targets are then posited under each subsection. This structure for a separate MoI goal is closer to the approach used in a working document presented for the group’s eleventh session held in May. (See BioRes, 25 April 2014)

The current draft, however, also posits several MoI under each goal. The distinction likely represents a desire to distinguish between systemic or cross-cutting MoI and those more specifically related to achieving individual goals.  

Trade’s evolution in the SDG framework

Trade-related considerations have featured throughout the OWG process. However, their position in working documents and drafts has evolved, as described above, as has their formulation.

In the latest version, the first target under the trade subsection of the final MoI goal emphasises the importance of promoting a “universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system.” This formulation drops earlier language referring to the conclusion of the WTO’s ongoing Doha Round talks and the implementation of the decisions taken at the global trade body’s most recent ministerial meet last December in Bali, Indonesia. (See Bridges Daily Update, 7 December 2013)

The second trade subsection target now refers to improving market access for developing country exports, including doubling the poorest countries’ share of global exports by 2020. The equivalent target in the original zero draft had specifically referred to agricultural, fisheries, and industrial exports of developing countries.  Experts suggest this new formulation could be interpreted more widely as covering all developing country exports.  

The final trade target calls for the timely implementation of duty-free, quota-free (DFQF) market access for poor countries consistent with past WTO decisions, and remains almost unchanged in terms of the language previously used. The June zero draft had placed this target as a MoI under the document’s leading goal of poverty eradication.

At the recent Bali ministerial meet, WTO members urged developed countries to continue efforts towards granting DFQF access for at least 97 percent of products originating from least developed countries (LDCs), with developing countries in the position to do so also augmenting such market access.

In the June zero draft, the first two of these trade MoI subsection targets were identified as a means of support for the proposed goal on sustainable economic growth and decent work. In the current document, improving aid for trade support remains as the only specific MoI listed under that goal.   

An MoI target on respecting the principle of special and differential treatment for LDCs in international agreements, with a specific mention of the WTO, is a new addition in the revised zero draft under proposed goal 10 – reducing inequality within and between countries.

The technology subsection of the current draft’s cross-cutting MoI goal maintains previous language encouraging the full use of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities in relation to the dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies. Use of TRIPS flexibilities is also included in a goal-specific MoI under the health goal, which combines two previous targets referring to increased research and development on communicable diseases and providing access to affordable essential medicines.

A key text in the 1994 Uruguay Round documents establishing the WTO, the TRIPS Agreement brought intellectual property rules into the multilateral trading system for the first time. The flexibilities gives countries some room to adopt the agreement to their development needs.

The latest version drops language used in the June zero draft setting a target of reducing distortions in international trade under the ending hunger goal. The equivalent goal in the latest version includes a slimmed down MOI target calling for a “phase out of all forms of agricultural export subsidies,” removing language previously used referring to the objectives set at the WTO’s 2005 ministerial conference to remove all forms of agricultural export subsidies.

Climate, energy, oceans

The climate goal in the latest draft remains as a stand-alone goal and now reads “tackle climate change and its impacts.”

The phrase includes an asterisk specifying that the targets under this goal may be “part of and complementary to” targets defined in the climate negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the June zero draft, the goal was composed of two phrases allowing for a mention of the UNFCCC outcome.

Governments are currently in the process of hammering out a legally binding global climate deal with the aim of reaching an agreement by the end of next year. (See BioRes, 17 June 2014)

The climate goal has been labelled as one of the more complex “21st century” issues being considered by the working group. During the OWG’s penultimate session last month, the co-chairs circulated an unofficial slimmed down list of 15 goals, merging climate change with the sustainable consumption and production goal, as well as combining those addressing poverty and inequality. The move was met with resistance among group participants for a number of reasons. (See BioRes, 24 June 2014)

Elsewhere, international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy technologies remains an MoI target under the “ensure sustainable energy for all” goal but now makes mention of “including advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies” and promoting “public and private investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technologies.”

Recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) work on the role of investment in acheiving the SDGs more generally includes a focus on enhancing the role of private sector contributions in order to bridge an identified annual investment gap of around US$2.5 trillion in development-relevant sectors.

The sustainable energy goal also maintains a target to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2030. The previous iteration of the target had placed this in the context of wasteful consumption while the latest version refers to both fossil fuel production and consumption subsidies.

The oceans and terrestrial ecosystems goals also remain separate in the latest draft, with many of the targets and MoI largely unchanged. The former retains its target on eliminating and refraining from introducing any new subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing by 2020.

Eight working days

The OWG will meet for its final round from 14-18 July. The group has agreed that the session will be preceded by informal sessions taking place 9-11 July.

This gives group members a total of eight working days to finalise a set of SDG recommendations that will then be considered by the UN General Assembly this autumn.

Over the next year, the UN system will face the challenge of pulling together and building coherence between various streams of work related to the post-2015 development agenda. This includes work on sustainable development financing, technology facilitation, and sustainable development indicators, as well as development recommendations put forward last April by a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons. (See BioRes, 11 April 2013)

Other UN bodies are also adding their voices to the post-2015 debate. The inaugural UN Environment Assembly took place last week – another mandated outcome from Rio+20 – with a day dedicated to a high-level ministerial dialogue on the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda.

Back in New York, the second meeting of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) – also a result of the Rio+20 conference – is underway this week and next under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The body will take stock of the MDGs as well as examine how to achieve an ambitious new development framework. The HLPF is expected to play a critical role in reviewing the implementation of the international community’s eventual sustainable development commitments.

ICTSD reporting.


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