UN Secretary-General issues guidance to post-2015 development agenda process

13 December 2014

World leaders should prioritise six essential elements in their deliberations on a post-2015 development agenda – namely dignity; people; prosperity; planet; justice; and partnership – according to an advanced unedited version of a report released by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Thursday.

The UN chief’s much-anticipated report also notes that the 17 proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs) put forward earlier this year could be maintained, with the possibility of rearranging these in a focused and concise manner, in order to balance the need for a universal agenda alongside national development pathways.

The list of 17 potential goals was put forward in July by a designated UN working group after 18 months of consultations, and features 169 targets associated with those goals. (See BioRes, 23 July 2014)

Presenting the report to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Ban said that the six elements were not intended to cluster the SDGs, but rather to provide conceptual guidance for the year ahead.

The report also draws on other inputs into the post-2015 process including policy options on funding presented by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF).

Governments are due to agree to a new post-2015 development agenda – including a set of SDGs that address social, economic, and environmental challenges in an integrated manner – in time for the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) next year. A high-level summit for adopting the agenda is slated for next September. 

The UNGA in September formally adopted the working group’s July proposal as the main basis for negotiating the final SDGs in the post-2015 development agenda. Divergences have emerged between some UN members, however, as to whether certain goals should be revisited and the list refined. Some observers to the process have also highlighted the importance of developing clear indicators for the eventual goals.

Trade, means of implementation

The synthesis report includes a specific section on the “shared ambitions” voiced during the debate so far. The section highlights, among other subjects, calls to reform international trade and ensure the effective regulation of markets and financial actors. This would serve as part of a transformation of the global economy towards more sustainable growth models, the report says. 

Another mention of trade is made in a sub-section elaborating the partnership element. A call is made to revitalise a global partnership for sustainable development, which has its origins in the eighth MDG, by mobilising support for implementation of the new agenda across a variety of fronts including through “aid and trade, regulation, taxation and investment.”

Furthermore, trade is also included in a specific section on mobilising the means to implement the new agenda, in the context of a paragraph that urges a correction of inequities in the international system.

“We need a more equitable multilateral trading system, a conclusion of the Doha round, and better access to technology, to medicines, and to long-term investments for developing countries,” the report suggests.

A push is also made for a fairer representation of developing economies in international finance and economic decision-making. Finally, the same paragraph suggests a remedying of policy incoherence between international governance related to trade, finance, and investment on the one hand, and labour, environment, human rights, equality, and sustainability standards on the other.

In the final section of the report, the UN Secretary-General urges member states to consider and agree to a series of priority issues, including phasing out “harmful fossil fuel subsidies, both direct and indirect” and removing agricultural export subsidies.

Trade was included across July’s proposed SDGs both as a means to achieve certain goals and in specific areas as a target. Means of implementation (MoI) was one of the tricky areas in the working group’s discussions on the proposed SDGs.

Climate change and sustainable development

The Secretary General’s report includes messages on the threat climate change poses to sustainable development. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting next December in Paris, France – where countries are hoping to seal a global climate deal – is flagged as a key event for the coming year.

The report also welcomes messages from the ICESDF and highlights the Third International Conference on Finance for Development (FfD) due to be held next July in Addis Abba, Ethiopia as part of an effort to set the stage for the pivotal 2015 climate meet. 

Climate change was featured as a stand-alone goal in the proposed set of SDGs, with language calling for urgent climate action, and an asterisk acknowledging the UNFCCC negotiations as the primary channel in this area.

Whether to include a climate change goal had been controversial during the preparations of the proposed SDGs, with some participants concerned that such a goal could overlap with or prejudge the outcome of the UNFCCC process.

Talks on the new climate agreement, set to replace the current Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of this decade, are currently ongoing in Lima, Peru at the Twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention.

Ban attended the climate meet on Tuesday and asked negotiators to resolve three key points: first, to clarify the scope of national contributions that will be the building blocks for the global deal; second, to make progress on the elements of the draft 2015 agreement; and finally, to find a way to formalise a “non-paper” on these elements put forward by the co-chairs of a group charged with sealing the deal.

In a press conference on Monday, however, the US’ lead negotiator Todd Stern said that he did not have any expectations that Lima would result in a significantly slimmed down version of the current non-paper on draft elements, which continues to include options within options for the language of the final deal.

Next steps

The synthesis report, formally titled “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet,” will be issued in the six official UN languages on 31 December and will be formally presented to UN members next January.

The post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations would finalise the elements for the September 2015 summit outcome, potentially including alongside the SDGs a new global partnership and a framework for monitoring and review of implementation of the goals.

Member states have also been working on the dates and process for the intergovernmental negotiations to finalise the new agenda.

The co-facilitators, David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland and Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya, published on 8 December a draft decision on the modalities for these negotiations, involving eight negotiating sessions between January and July 2015, including one five-day session in March set aside for debate around the SDGs and targets, and a further week in May set aside for discussion of Means of Implementation and the Global Partnership.

The co-chairs have said that they hope that UN members will reach consensus on the modalities for the intergovernmental negotiations by an informal consultation scheduled for next Tuesday.  

The synthesis report hints at how the SDG targets might be further developed in the negotiations to come, suggesting that what is needed is a “technical review” of the targets to ensure that they are “framed in language that is specific, measurable, achievable, and consistent with existing United Nations standards and agreements, while preserving the important political balance that they represent.” Members will also need to specify some quantitative targets in some cases, and develop indicators for the final targets.

The co-facilitators have also said that they will ensure synergies between these negotiations and the FfD process and technology facilitation.

ICTSD reporting; “UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report Proposes 6 Elements for Post-2015 Agenda,” INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (IISD), 4 December 2014; “Member States Debate Working Methods, Scope, and Timing of Post-2015 Negotiations,” INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (IISD), 3 December 2014.

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