UN talks review post-2015 development agenda “zero draft”

1 July 2015

UN negotiators gathered in New York last week commented on a “zero draft” for a new global development agenda and engaged in substantive discussions on key sections including a declaration, a planned associated set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), means of implementation, and how to monitor progress in the coming years.

The co-facilitators of the process charged with crafting this post-2015 development agenda released the zero draft of the text in early June. The agenda is scheduled to be adopted by world leaders at a UN summit in September, outlining a broad vision of international sustainable development priorities for the next 15 years.

According to Earth Negotiations Bulletin, several countries said last week that the co-facilitators’ zero draft provided an “excellent basis” for intergovernmental negotiations on the final outcome, though some called for strengthening the environment and climate change language in the document’s declaration.

Some aspects of the zero draft, however, saw past disagreements between countries re-surface. Among others, these areas include the relationship between the post-2015 development agenda and ongoing UN financing for development talks; how best to monitor both processes; and whether to revise the targets in a proposed set of SDGs put forward by a UN working group last year.

Trade tools and rules are set to feature in the new agenda both as targets and means of implementation (MoI) for some of the planned SDGs. A proposed final goal on systemic MoI for the overall SDG framework includes a trade section with references to concluding the WTO’s Doha Round; significantly increasing developing and least developing country (LDC) exports; and implementing past WTO decisions geared towards improving LDC market access. (See BioRes, 23 July 2014)

A  draft for the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3), scheduled to be held in from 13-16 July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, also includes a section on trade as an engine for growth and sustainable development.

The use of trade in both documents offers one example of the complexities, synergies, and interactions between these processes that delegates must address as they seek to finalise a comprehensive sustainable development to-do list and the means to achieve it.

Financing for development ongoing

Delegates remain at odds on the relationship between the post-2015 development agenda and the FfD3 outcome. Developed countries largely favour using the financing talks as the MoI for the post-2015 agenda – an approach generally opposed by developing countries. (See BioRes, 29 April 2015)

The current post-2015 zero draft currently includes a section on means of implementation, though a footnote clarifies that this language is a placeholder pending the Addis Ababa summit.   

The 15-22 June drafting session for the FfD3 outcome document ran late, with the final draft for Addis not yet released. Key sticking points in those talks initially included areas such as trade, debt, tax, follow-up, international public finance, and technology.

On trade, there has reportedly been some haggling over text related to welcoming plurilateral initiatives, such as those on liberalising environmental goods trade, as well as language on Aid for Trade allocations and multilateral duty-free, quota-free market access for landlocked developing countries (LLDCs). Sources say, however, that the trade section has been less difficult than others during these final negotiating stages.

The full content of the FfD3 draft remains to be seen, with no further information yet available on when this document would be circulated, though a session could be scheduled later this week. The co-facilitators of that process said on Monday 22 June that some issues of “great sensitivity” would need to be handled at the political level through bilateral consultations. 

Tracking progress

During last week’s post-2015 discussions, developed and developing countries also disagreed on whether the follow-up and review process should be integrated for both processes. The EU, Switzerland, and Japan were among those reportedly pushing for the first option, while some developing countries pushed for the second.

Delegates also debated a three-tiered follow-up and review proposal included in the zero draft. The suggested text posits a voluntary review process, implemented at national, regional, and global levels. The High Level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF), which meets annually under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), would serve as the “apex” body of a global review process.

While several delegates welcomed the zero draft’s proposal in this area, some including the G-77 and China, Australia, and the US said it was too prescriptive. Other players such as the EU called for the active engagement of stakeholders in the follow-up and review process.

This year’s HLPF is currently ongoing in New York until 8 July and will likely include discussion on the body’s relationship with the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda.

The post-2015 zero draft also included an annex with proposed target revisions for the SDGs, specifically where “X%s” instead of numbers were left in the UN group’s proposal last year. As with previous co-facilitator attempts to address these areas, various developing countries expressed concern that “technical tweaks” would shift the balance of the text. Further complicating the discussion, some countries supported making amendments to some targets, but not to others.

Systemic conversations

Last week’s post-2015 session also saw some substantive discussion around “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) in relation to environmental protection and development.

This principle recognises that common effort is needed to ensure integrity in the earth’s ecosystem, alongside differing levels of responsibility with regards to global environmental degradation.

The zero draft includes a section in the declaration on commitments and shared principles, which reaffirms the CBDR principle first enshrined in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit declaration.

The CBDR principle is also present in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), acknowledging that the global challenge posed by climate change requires common action in line with differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, given varying social and economic conditions.

The principle has created friction between so-called developed and developing countries, particularly in the multilateral climate change context, where emerging economies such as China are now among the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.

A majority of developed country players, including the EU, Canada, Japan, and the US, have called for the removal of the CBDR reference in the zero draft, a move which is opposed by most developing nations, including the G-77 and China negotiating group, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka.

The US reportedly said that the CBDR principle was a concept “steeped in the North-South divide” and should not apply to a universal sustainable development agenda. Japan suggested the term “shared responsibility” might be more appropriate.

Meanwhile, India held that universality did not necessarily mean uniformity, and that the concept could be seen as underpinning equity in the relationship between countries and how they tackle global challenges.

The topic will likely surface again later in July as delegates return for a final round of talks on the post-2015 outcome and will be closely watched by stakeholders for a signal of the shift in the dynamics of global cooperation. 

A test for multilateralism?

During last week’s closing session, the post-2015 talks’ co-facilitators – David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland and Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya – said they would do their best to distil input from the meeting in order to produce a final zero draft within the next couple of weeks.

Negotiators will reconvene from 20-31 July in an effort to secure a final outcome document and find compromises on the remaining differences, a goal which co-facilitators say they are confident of meeting. The session will take place after the FfD3 summit.

Many experts have suggested the post-2015 and FfD3 processes could usher in a significant change in global cooperation around economic, environmental, and social issues under a new sustainable development architecture.

Other analysts have also cautioned that the global challenges ahead are substantial – with some one billion people around the world continuing to live in extreme poverty, rising unemployment figures, and the urgent need to respond to climate change – and comprehensive efforts will be required.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the Sixth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Process on the Post-2015 Development Agenda: 22-25 June 2015,” ENB, IISD REPORTING, 28 June 2015; “Summary of the Third Drafting Session of the Outcome Document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development,” ENB, IISD REPORTING, 24 June 2015. 

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