UN member states begin post-2015 development agenda negotiations

6 February 2015

The post-2015 development agenda is due to be adopted by world leaders at a high-level summit in New York in September. 

A series of talks between UN member states geared towards agreeing on a post-2015 development agenda kicked off in January with a three-day session reviewing the preparatory efforts undertaken over the past two years. Delegates welcomed the work of a dedicated UN group to craft a list of proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs) to include in a new agenda.

The talks also addressed possible key messages that should be included in an eventual declaration on the post-2015 development agenda. Some remaining gaps were reportedly apparent in member states’ views around how to achieve equitable development and associated responsibilities.   

Born out of a high-level UN meeting held in 2010 on the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are set to expire at the end of this year, the new agenda would design a new vision for sustainable development out to 2030. The SDGs, following the mandate set at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012, are slated to replace the MDGs.  

Trade tools for sustainable development

During the January discussions, several member states pointed to the role of trade as a means of implementation – through acting as support – for achieving the proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs).

According to Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), Benin on behalf of the least developed countries (LDCs), said that given the limited potential for domestic resource mobilisation among this group, other sources should be tapped for implementation. These could include aid, trade, private capital flows, and debt relief, Benin suggested.

Niger also reportedly told the meeting that trade could play a “catalytic role” in helping landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) mobilise the resources they need for sustainable development. Aid for Trade, a WTO-led initiative geared towards helping developing countries better integrate into the global trading system, was also cited as a useful tool. The WTO is set to hold the Fifth Global Review of Aid for Trade from 30 June-2 July. This year, the biennial event will focus on the theme of “Reducing Trade Costs for Inclusive, Sustainable Growth,” given the post-2015 development agenda context.

Trade tools feature across the proposed set of SDGs put forward last July by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). The group’s proposed SDGs include trade targets deployed as means of implementation (MOI) for meeting specific goals, such as aid for trade in support of economic growth. In other cases these are posited as targets within a goal, such as eliminating fisheries subsidies to support the sustainable use of marine resources.

Several more systemic trade-related targets are included under a final proposed goal on MoI for the entire framework. In that section, language is included referring to the promotion of a “universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory, and equitable multilateral trading system under the WTO,” including the conclusion of the current Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations. (See BioRes, 23 July 2014)

More generally, a number of UN member states said in January that delivering the eventual SDGs would be impossible without sufficient MoI and partnerships, underlining the interconnections between the SDGs and the Third Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) due to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Some observers have suggested, however, that these important links between the post-2015 and FfD3 have not yet been clearly defined.

Suggestions were reportedly provided in January on how to manage the overlap between the two processes including, for example, using FfD3 outcome document language in the post-2015 agenda text. Some other member states, however, voiced a preference for establishing a firewall between the two negotiations in order to minimise work duplication.

The year ahead

“We now begin a seminal year, which should kick-start a new era of sustainability for all humankind,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening the post-2015 stocktaking in January, drawing attention to three important meetings in the coming months: FfD3 in July, the September post-2015 summit, and the Paris UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in December.

In December, Ban issued a synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda process to date and suggested that UN members should prioritise six essential elements when crafting the outcome document: dignity, people, prosperity, planet, justice, and partnership. (See BioRes, 13 December 2014)

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, however, Ban said that the meeting, along with the Group of 20 (G-20) summits of major developed and emerging economies, had failed to take sustainable development seriously. The UN chief warned that a lack of focus on green investment in global governance conversations remained troubling.

Some climate sceptics argue that stringent green policies and reform can affect energy costs and export competitiveness, among other concerns. Others suggest growth and environmental protection can co-exist. A report released by a group of leading economists last year, dubbed the New Climate Economy Report, found that it was possible to reconcile economic growth with a shift to a low-carbon economy. For example, cutting the near US$600 billion in fossil fuel subsidies provided per year could release resources for other purposes, the authors contend.

Next steps for the post-2015 agenda

This past December, the UN General Assembly adopted a decision outlining the modalities for negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda. According to the resolution, the outcome document prepared over the coming months may include four key components: a political declaration; a set of SDGs and targets; means of implementation and partnerships; and follow-up and review systems. The next four sessions will in turn look at each of these components. Two meetings in June and July are then scheduled for intergovernmental negotiations on the draft outcome document for September.  

Among the work that still needs to be done is developing a set of indicators for the SDGs. During the closing session in January, David Donoghue – a Co-Facilitator of the negotiations and Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations – said that the UN Statistical Commission will present a draft set of indicators before the March session that will focus on the proposed SDGs. Others, including Ban in his Synthesis Report, have called for a “technical review” of the proposed goals and targets by experts within the UN system. This idea met with mixed reactions in January, according to ENB, with some delegates not willing to re-open the OWG outcome document.

In preparation for the next meeting, which will focus on the post-2015 declaration, Donoghue and Macharia Kamau – Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN and also a Co-Facilitator – will soon release a list of possible items to include in that section.  

ICTSD reporting; IISD Reporting Services

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