25 November 2014
The Sustainable Development Landscape: Journey to the Post-2015 Development Agenda
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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When the 69th UN General Assembly opened in September, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda remained an abstract concept in many ways.

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When the 69th UN General Assembly opened in September, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda remained an abstract concept in many ways. Organizational issues for the September 2015 summit to adopt the agenda were not settled. The co-facilitators for negotiations on the agenda were not yet appointed, and the timeline for even initial consultations on organizing the negotiations was unknown. In Second Committee sessions, delegations expressed uncertainty about how negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda would be handled alongside the Committee’s annual agenda.

Following several events in late October and early November, the sustainable development landscape started to come into sharper focus, with many pieces falling into place in rapid succession. This policy update will give an overview of the journey to the post-2015 development agenda thus far, including: the people guiding the way, checkpoints that must be cleared, and translations of a few key terms.

Who’s Who

The President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Sam Kutesa, Foreign Minister of Uganda, is responsible for the broad decisions that guide Member States toward intergovernmental negotiations. This includes appointing co-facilitators, setting their mandate, and creating opportunities for high-level, thematic discussion. Kutesa has appointed the following sets of co-facilitators:

  • Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya, and David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland, appointed on 17 October, to lead “lead open, inclusive, and transparent consultations on the post-2015 development agenda, including the organization and modalities for the intergovernmental negotiations and the remaining issues related to the Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda.” On 17 November, Donoghue and Kamau released a proposal for modalities for the negotiations, including the dates for up to ten negotiating sessions, along with other proposals for the parameters of the negotiation process.
  • Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark, and Robert Aisi, Permanent Representative of Papua New Guinea, appointed on 30 October to continue consultations to finalize the draft resolution on the organizational modalities for the UN summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, which they began during the 68th session of the UNGA. A draft resolution on the Summit has been prepared, but the proposed dates are being renegotiated. According to participants in informal-informal consultations on 19 November, agreement is not yet in sight.
  • Geir Pedersen, Permanent Representative of Norway, and George Talbot, Permanent Representative of Guyana, appointed on 8 October as co-facilitators of “open, inclusive and transparent consultations” on all issues related to the third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) and its preparatory process. Pedersen and Talbot compiled a “road map,” including sessions with expert panels in late 2014 to inform Member States about substantive issues related to FfD, followed by three “drafting sessions,” in the first half of 2015, starting on 27 January. The expected structure – stocktaking and negotiating– is similar to the process followed by the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Amina Mohammed, the UN Special Adviser for Post-2015 Development Planning, is responsible for the synthesis report of the Secretary-General on all the inputs that have been produced so far related to the post-2015 development agenda. This report is due out by the end of 2014, and is expected to play an important role in starting the intergovernmental negotiation process in 2015.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has consistently sought to raise the profile of the post-2015 development agenda process over the past few years, and the new agenda will be adopted under his watch. But the bulk of the new agenda’s implementation period will fall during the next Secretary-General’s term, which is expected to run from 2017-21, with the possibility of renewal to 2026.

Finally, Martin Sajdik, Permanent Representative of Austria, serves as President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In 2015, ECOSOC will hold the next session of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF 3), which was mandated by the outcome of Rio+20 to replace the Commission on Sustainable Development with a body to follow up on the implementation of sustainable development.


Governments will make their way toward agreement on the post-2015 development agenda through a series of key decisions over the next eight months.

  • First, they need to finalize Summit modalities, specifically the date for the event.
  • Second, they must decide on modalities and organization of work for the intergovernmental negotiations on the agenda itself. Two plenary meetings took place on 4 November and 10 November. Among the main issues raised by governments were: openness of the process, what kind of elements the agenda will include, and the number and frequency of negotiating meetings. On the scope and elements of the agenda, delegations are considering, among other questions: whether they will establish indicators in the course of the intergovernmental negotiations or leave this to the UN system; what kind of accountability/monitoring mechanism will be used; the scope of a potential political declaration or other type of narrative to accompany the goal set; and how to handle MOI. The co-facilitators’ paper suggests that an outcome document for adoption at the September 2015 summit will contain four main components: an introductory declaration; SDGs, targets, and indicators; MOI and a new Global Partnership; and a framework for monitoring and review of implementation. On the negotiation schedule, some governments called for three meetings, perhaps held back-to-back with FfD drafting sessions, while others envisioned many more: the African Group suggested a seven-day meeting each month, for seven months. The co-facilitators’ proposed road map lists negotiation sessions on: 19-21 January, 3-6 February, 17-20 February, 9-13 March, 23-27 March, 20-24 April, 18-22 May, 22-25 June, 20-24 July and 27-31 July 2015. This schedule is up for discussion by Member States at the 3 December and 16 December consultations on modalities for negotiations.
  • By the end of 2014, the Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report is due to UN Member States. Much anticipation surrounds the release of this document, and the role it might play as the basis for negotiations in 2015. Many are watching to see how the synthesis report will handle the SDGs. Some have suggested that the proposed 17 goals and 169 targets should be reduced, “streamlined,” or at least organized in some way, such as in “clusters.” Others are concerned that this approach would reduce the scope of the agenda in practice.
  • The intergovernmental negotiations are expected to begin in January 2015. The co-facilitators have proposed that the first negotiation session should take place from 19-21 January.
  • In February 2015, the UNGA President will hold a high-level thematic event on Means of Implementation for the post-2015 development agenda. In March, he will convene one on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 development agenda.
  • The third session of the HLPF will convene on 26 June-8 July, and is expected to explore the “review” component of the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Finally, the FfD conference will convene on 13-16 July 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Preparations are underway, with Member States informally discussing substantive issues per the road map outlined by Pedersen and Talbot.


As governments began their discussions of the key issues in the informal plenary sessions earlier this month, they expressed different interpretations of key phrases and elements of the process.

OWG: Core of Agenda, or Ground for Moving Forward?

One set of delegations has referred to the OWG report as a “solid platform” and “good ground for moving forward,” which the intergovernmental negotiations should “build on” in establishing the goal set for the post-2015 development agenda. This position connects with an interest in a shorter set of goals and targets. For example, one delegation has said the proposed 169 targets “will not be manageable by any country, developed or developing,” while another has called simply for a short number of goals. Another set of delegations has cited the OWG proposal as “the main basis” for integrating SDGs into the post-2015 development agenda, as was agreed in a UNGA resolution at the end of the 68th session, and some have even embraced the OWG’s proposed SDGs as “the core of the whole agenda.” One delegation, acknowledging that “We can’t cut the SDGs to fit on a fridge magnet,” suggested that the “marketing” of the goals should be done by other parties and processes, not intergovernmental negotiations. Co-facilitators Kamau and Donoghue suggest that they envision “technical proofing” the proposed targets.

Many Shades of Open and Inclusive

Delegations have voiced a number of interpretations of an “open and inclusive” negotiating process. First, there have been calls for the negotiations to foster the participation of civil society and other stakeholders, with many citing the openness of the OWG as a factor in its success. Hungary’s delegation, led by OWG Co-Chair Csaba Korosi, said on 4 November that having stakeholders on board will not undermine, but increase, governments’ responsibilities, and help the process to stay evidence-based and implementation-oriented. Another delegate noted that transparent and inclusive modalities helped achieve ambitious outcome and sort out thorny issues. And others said the success of the agenda will depend on ensuring meaningful participation of wide range of stakeholders. The second interpretation of “open and inclusive” is that the negotiations must focus on the 193 UN Member States as the decision-makers. For example, the African Group stressed “the need to ensure that the negotiations and their results are really intergovernmental.” Large states from other regions have expressed similar views. Another angle on inclusiveness, expressed by a few delegations, is that the preparatory process should include consultations held outside of New York. Others have highlighted regional processes that are seeking to inform the agenda, such as the Common African Position.

Coherence with FfD: Which Goes First?

While numerous government statements have called for the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda to have “coherence” with the Financing for Development process, two distinct visions for this coherence seem to be emerging. According to the first vision, FfD commitments will become an input into the post-2015 development agenda. This is what seems to be expressed by calls for the framework agreed in Addis Ababa to “feed back” into the negotiations on post-2015, among other statements. In the second vision for post-2015/FfD coherence, some say negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda cannot wait for the conclusion of the FfD process and must be pursued now.

70th Anniversary of the UN

In September 2015, the UNGA will open its 70th session. The governments that repeatedly have drawn attention this milestone have indicated an interest in using the 70th anniversary to address all three pillars of the UN Charter, as well as institutional reform. Co-facilitators Kamau and Donoghue note that some Member States proposed a further element on “implications of the post-2015 agenda for the UN system and its institutions (‘UN Fit for Purpose’),” but that this “will require further discussion.” (“Fit for Purpose” refers to ongoing efforts to prepare the UN system to respond to the post-2015 development agenda.) Observers are watching to see how this element evolves alongside the development of the agenda itself.


Having been introduced to some of the guides on this journey, as well as the necessary checkpoints and translations of important concepts, can we see where we are pointed? Wrapping up the second plenary meeting on the modalities in New York on 10 November, a delegate recalled that the various working tracks of the post-2015 development agenda originated in a common source – the Rio+20 process. Indeed, the outcome document of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), titled ‘The Future We Want,’ set out the mandates for agreeing on the SDGs, for establishing the HLPF, for a report on sustainable development financing, for a discussion of technology facilitation, and for an international conference on small island developing States. After two and one-half years of following up the Rio+20 mandates, he reflected, the next challenge is for governments to “converge the tracks again,” in order to produce the post-2015 development agenda.

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