UNGA 68 Takes Stock of Input to Post-2015 Development Agenda
story highlights

The UN General Assembly conducted a stock-taking on the post-2015 development agenda, with a high-level meeting to gather contributions to the forthcoming synthesis report of the UN Secretary-General.

UNGA12 September 2014: The UN General Assembly conducted a stock-taking on the post-2015 development agenda, with a high-level meeting to gather contributions to the forthcoming synthesis report of the UN Secretary-General.

Opening the event on 11 September 2014, in New York, US, UNGA President John Ashe said the Secretary-General’s synthesis report will provide a launching pad for Member States’ negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda during the 69th session, and the new agenda “must represent our collective commitment to end poverty and ensure that sustainable development becomes the norm for all nations, societies and economies.” He also shared the key messages he believed had emerged from the thematic and high-level events he organized during the 68th session, and his resulting suggestions for a new policy “tool kit” for development. He called for a single and holistic approach to financing development, and “concrete steps” to promote the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited three priorities to achieve by the end of 2015: a final push to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); agreeing on and launching a new development agenda that builds on their legacy; and a meaningful, universal climate change agreement. He recalled that, at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), Member States made clear that they want to be “in the driver’s seat” in planning the new development agenda. He noted the ongoing consultations on accountability by the Regional Economic Commissions, as well as UN system consultations to seek people’s voices, and said all inputs to his synthesis report will need to “coalesce in a way that meets the expectations of all Member States and all citizens of the world.”

Giving one of five keynote addresses, Martin Sajdik, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said the new agenda will “necessitate a complete rethinking of accountability.” The HLPF should facilitate engagement, while clearly setting out a political vision for the future we all want, and facilitating lasting political leadership to guarantee success of the post-2015 vision, he said. He added that the Third SIDS Conference had demonstrated the potential of partnerships, and that he will “capitalize on the Samoa momentum” by convening an event on the role of partners in the post-2015 context.

Helen Clark, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, noted that “agreement on the ‘what’ of the agenda also has to consider the ‘how’ – the means of implementation.” She said that the UN development system is conducting consultations to build broad constituencies who can help translate the global agenda into local action. She further highlighted the need to invest in governance capacity, involve the private sector, and engage people in monitoring progress.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women, asked Member States for caution when streamlining the agenda, to avoid compromising on the substance. She highlighted that gender mainstreaming remains important, and partnerships with youth, men and boys, and the private sector will help achieve greater gender equality. She also noted the need for gender disaggregated data.

Achim Steiner, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), identified food security, energy security, climate change, and water and sanitation as major challenges for the post-2015 development agenda, and also said taxation needs to move towards resource efficiency. Noting UNEP’s location in Nairobi, Steiner said this foreshadowed the inevitable convergence of environment and development.

Finally, Ahmad Alhendawi, Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth, outlined the process to solicit youth views on the post-2015 development agenda, which were presented in a statement at the ECOSOC Youth Forum in July 2014. He stressed youth as partners in development, not just beneficiaries, and called for strengthening national youth policies. He echoed the words of a youth representative, that youth are not just important because they are the future, but simply because they are young right now.

The private sector was represented by Karen Hamilton, Unilever, who highlighted her company’s sustainable living plan and its decision to set ambitious goals. She suggested the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be similarly ambitious, while also matched by action. She welcomed the proposed SDG on climate change, but suggested that the Goals be fewer in number, preferring them to drive change effectively, rather than be “perfectly thorough and comprehensive.”

Representing civil society, Debora Souza Batista, Engajamundo Youth Association and the Brazilian Youth Coalition, welcomed the inclusion of free education, youth employment, and universal health coverage in the Open Working Group (OWG) outcome document on SDGs, and proposed goals on sustainable consumption and production, oceans, and biodiversity. However, she said civil society had also witnessed that: decision makers have stuck “to a paradigm that obsesses over growth and ignores our planetary boundaries;” sexual and reproductive rights and the right to a comprehensive sexual education are being overlooked; the carrying capacity of the Earth is not being respected and has been removed from target 12.2; the means of implementation have been weakened under SDG 17; and the agreed language on the human right to water has been “hidden away in the chapeau.”

In a video message, Al Gore said we are at an historical fork in the road and must choose the future direction of human civilization. One path will lead to a sustainable and prosperous world filled with renewal and hope, abundant jobs and access to clean water and healthy food guaranteed for all its citizens. The other will lead to a fearful future of short-sighted thinking and uncontrolled exploitation of the planet’s resources – a “dead end” for civilization. He said the world must move away from the heavily polluting, resource-intensive policies of the past and seize opportunities to build a sustainable future.

Also speaking by video, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, argued that development needs to be anchored in human rights to achieve success, and must address inequalities and discrimination. He underlined the need for an effective monitoring framework and sound indicators.

Richard Curtis referred to his experiences as a screenwriter and director, noting that the SDGs must not be only a sequel of the MDGs, but a more mature set of goals that address the deep and complex nature of poverty. He said the new goals will pose a big communication challenge, and more effort will be needed to make them understandable and emotionally resonant. He called for ensuring that the SDGs: reach every person on the planet; are passionately expressed and emotionally engaging; have a parallel name that makes sense to every man and woman; go to the heart of every classroom; and are branded in every campaign.

Participants then turned to a discussion of ‘Outcomes and key messages of various post-2015 development-related processes occurred during the 68th session of the General Assembly.’ Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, said the new agenda will not be legally binding; its power will lie in its ability to guide, inspire and persuade. He also highlighted accountability, thanking the Regional Commissions for quickly organizing consultations on the topic. On the synthesis report, he said the Secretary-General plans to “respect…the balance found” by the OWG, while meeting expectations and hopes for an ambitious agenda, and seeking to avoid trade-offs and lowest common denominators. He added that the post-2015 agenda will find its legitimacy in finishing the work started with the MDGs, and sustainable development is key to making poverty eradication irreversible.

The second discussion segment focused on the OWG. Simona Mirela Miculescu, Vice-President of the General Assembly, moderated a session in which Csaba Kӧrӧsi, OWG Co-Chair, said the OWG was a “learning process,” and that civil society and academia broadened the scope of Member States’ understanding of different processes. He stressed the need to translate the new agenda into the language of economy. He said national agencies and ministries currently serve “mono-dimensional” goals, but starting in 2015 will need to serve “tri-dimensional” goals.

In government statements, Member States said the post-2015 development agenda will need a robust monitoring and accountability framework, built on sound indicators.

Regarding the OWG outcome, Bolivia for G77, Brazil, China, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and others expressed their views that the SDGs should not be re-opened, and should form the core of the post-2015 development agenda. Bangladesh expected the Secretary-General’s synthesis report to attach due weight to the reports of intergovernmental processes.

Australia, Ireland, Israel, and Norway said the agenda will lose power if it is not simple and compelling. The current framework should be “not unraveled, but consolidated” and made easy to communicate and implement, delegates suggested.

Brazil, China, India and Morocco mentioned the importance of CBDR, with India noting that “eradicating poverty and sustainable development are the same.” He further suggested that sustained growth, full employment, energy access, and rationalizing consumption patterns should be the focus areas of the new agenda, and that development should not be subsumed into human rights discussions. China identified eradicating poverty and hunger, promoting social progress, and economic growth and development as key areas. Indonesia said ending poverty is the primary reason for the post-2015 agenda.

Australia, Ireland, Israel, Lichtenstein, Mongolia, Norway, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Turkey said rule of law is a key enabler for sustainable development. Australia, Ireland, Israel, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and Timor-Leste further stressed the importance of gender equality for the success of the new agenda. The UK said it will continue to fight for including sexual rights.

The EU, Japan and UK echoed the need for clear goals and targets, and good communications tools. The EU called for ensuring universality will be applied in a meaningful way, and for further deliberations on ensuring global transformation while accounting for national circumstances. The UK and Japan expressed concern about the ability to implement 17 goals and 169 targets.

Malawi, for the African Group, cited the OWG’s uniqueness in having the full participation of all Member States, civil society, the scientific community, business sector and media. He said climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, stressing the urgency of adaptation, and said environmental issues should be prominent in all upcoming processing on post-2015. He also said the current composition of the UN Security Council amplifies historic injustices against Africa.

Turkey said establishing a technology bank for LDCs will be a significant step towards building productive capacity for implementing the goals and targets, and that they support it financially and politically.

The Group of Friends of Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) highlighted ISID’s role in addressing the global unemployment crisis, and said it requires a strong enabling environment. In addition, a framework for good governance will promote broad-based innovation, technology and development, ensuring higher productivity.

Singapore and Montenegro said oceans and seas, and the rule of law were among those issues taking their rightful place in the goal framework.

On Friday, 12 September, the Stocktaking Event resumed with a discussion on the means of implementation (MOI) of the post-2015 development agenda, focusing on financing and a technology facilitation mechanism. The Co-Chairs of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF), Pertti Majanen and Mansur Muhtar, briefed participants on the Committee’s recommendations.

Majanan said we are approaching a situation in which donors turn into recipients and vice-versa, and that financing sustainable development now benefits everybody, due to its “good rate of return.” He noted the package of 115 “action-oriented” recommendations aimed at transforming the present financial framework, and said this toolkit approach represents a radical change, in which national specificities are accounted for, along with the interplay of various financial sources. He emphasized the idea of “Busan for business,” in which the bulk of financing for sustainable development will come from private sources.

Muhtar said the options presented for countries draw on basic principles such as national ownership, exploiting synergies, and relating options to each country’s context. He said the Committee had emphasized domestic tax reform and the use of ODA to support capacity-building for domestic resource mobilization.

In statements following these remarks, governments commented on the report of the ICESDF. Brazil noted that the report falls short of providing a strategy for financing the agenda, thus Member States will have to fulfill this task in negotiations for the Third Financing for Development (FfD) conference. Bolivia, for the G77 and China, called for, inter alia: concessionary and preferential treatment for developing countries; just economic and financial international systems; improvement of global economic governance; coherence and effective integration of fiscal policies; commitment to a new phase of cooperation in accordance with CBDR; debt relief and sovereign debt management; capacity building for developing countries; implementation of the WTO agreements on trade facilitation; adequate technical support and new financial support for developing countries.

Australia, Canada, the EU and Japan underlined that each country has primary responsibility for its development, the role of ODA remains crucial for countries in vulnerable situations, and domestic public finance is the key to sustainable development. They emphasized the roles of the private sector and intellectual property rights to foster innovation, and the need to mobilize all actors and all flows for means of implementation. Switzerland stressed that while each country has the primary role in its development, it is a global responsibility to foster domestic resource mobilization to reduce the dependence on international aid.

On technology transfer, the EU expressed its support for an online platform for knowledge-sharing, for improving synergies between UN mechanisms, initiatives and instruments, and for addressing existing gaps through further research. EU member states do not see the purpose of continuing the dialogue on the fourth option that emerged from the structured dialogues, the delegate noted.

Indonesia said the success of the new agenda will lie in the provision of adequate policy space and enabling environments. Nauru, for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said paragraph 13b of the OWG report does not reflect the understanding in the Group, as it prioritizes the needs of one particular group, and said SIDS must also be included. In addition, the ‘SAMOA Pathway’ must be an integral element of dialogue on the post-2015 development agenda. She also drew attention to the overlap between climate financing and sustainable development financing, and said many climate successes will be realized through project-level investments for sustainable development.

South Africa said it is troubling to see domestic resource mobilization “elevated” even in post-conflict countries and others where there is no capacity to generate domestic resources, with or without reforms to the tax regimes.

The UK looked forward to the FfD Conference as a clear track for taking the MOI discussion forward. He concurred that ODA remains critical, but said the ICESDF was right to set out a comprehensive approach making use of all financial flows, not just ODA.

In the fourth discussion, on Monitoring and Review Framework, Amina Mohammed, UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, said the open SDG process was a departure from the methods by which the MDGs were created. She stressed that accountability must go beyond a mere “review of results,” and all stakeholders must be held accountable for the implementation of sustainable development. The Secretary-General’s synthesis report, she said, will offer a compelling narrative to tie the different work streams together, while looking to “fill the gaps and provide the building blocks” for 2015.

Thomas Gass, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), recalled that after the May 2014 UNGA discussion on accountability, President Ashe “passed the baton” to the UN system to consider further ways to advance this issue, resulting in the Secretary-General asking Regional Economic Commissions to convene consultations with all regional entities and relevant stakeholders. Gass shared some preliminary outputs of these consultations, including that the accountability framework must: be comprehensive, multi-layered, and multi-stakeholder; advance integration and coherence; have a bottom-up approach; and be incentive-based, with strong country ownership. In addition, reviews should be state-led but engage stakeholders. HLPF has been mentioned by many as the platform to oversee the overall accountability framework at the international level, he said, and ECOSOC is expected to have a role in launching and monitoring partnerships and cooperation.

Responding to these presentations, governments noted that monitoring is a highly political issue and needs to take into account local circumstances. India and South Africa stressed the need for national sovereignty and the voluntary character of the evaluations in a monitoring framework, and underlined that developing countries will need adequate MOI to build sound monitoring systems.

Brazil called for a Member State-driven governance system to ensure the transparency and full accountability of multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Finland, Italy and Spain cautioned that the lack of accountability of the MDGs was one of the key obstacles to their success, and highlighted the need for a data revolution, data disaggregation and viable indicators. The US also highlighted the need for quality, actionable and relevant data, as well as for capacity-building at the national level.

Egypt, Liechtenstein, Norway, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, and Peru highlighted the importance of an efficient review mechanism for the SDGs and post-2015 development agenda overall. They said the HLPF is the key forum for such a review mechanism.

Japan called for building an accountability mechanism by mobilizing existing mechanisms, and said the HLPF should be the forum to follow up on implementation.

The US cited four elements for accountability: participation, data, partnerships and capacity building, to bring national governments’ systems up to international standards. She also noted that on technology, it is broader than transfer, noting the importance of a legal regime to protect innovations, and help motivate the sharing of new technologies.

Canada said a definition of “accountability” would be useful, and suggested the synthesis report could provide this.

Closing the two-day event on behalf of President Ashe, UNGA Vice-President Collin Beck outlined key messages emerging from the stocktaking session. While the statement suggested that consensus had been expressed on the synthesis report of the Secretary-General serving as the “basis for negotiations” leading to the post-2015 development agenda, several Member States clarified from the floor that this had not been agreed.

The President’s statement also noted different views expressed on the way forward with the OWG outcome. Some had cautioned against reopening the carefully crafted, balanced outcome, he said, while others wished to further enhance it by reducing the number of goals and targets, giving greater attention to some issues such as rule of law, peaceful societies, human rights, access to justice, and gender equality, among other issues. He also said that on the ICESDF recommendations, perceptions differed on whether the report “strikes the right balance” on the importance of different sources of financing.

An informal summary of the event is now available from the UNGA President. [IISD RS Sources] [Event Programme] [UNGA President’s Opening Remarks] [Statement of UN Secretary-General] [Statement of Deputy Secretary-General] [Statement of Helen Clark] [Statement of ECOSOC President] [Video Message from Al Gore] [Closing Statement of UNGA President] [UN Press Release, 11 September] [UN Webcast, 11 September] [ICTSD Summary] [Youth Envoy Press Release] [PGA Informal Event Summary]

related events