21 March 2014
The Pre-2015 Agenda: Status of Efforts to Devise the Post-2015 Development Agenda
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Intensive work by UN Member States throughout 2013 laid the groundwork for devising the post-2015 development agenda.

Intensive work by UN Member States throughout 2013 laid the groundwork for devising the post-2015 development agenda. This year, the penultimate before the post-2015 development agenda takes effect, governments and UN bodies are even busier with preparations. This policy update outlines the current status of major processes building up to the summit in September 2015, where the post-2015 agenda is expected to be adopted.

Intergovernmental Tracks

In 2013, UN Member States: approved a “road map” for the intergovernmental process to the post-2015 development agenda; launched the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); established the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF); and launched the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF). In 2014, each of these four tracks is advancing its work and will have input to the intergovernmental negotiations during the UN General Assembly’s 69th Session.

Road Map to 2015

The outcome document of a UN General Assembly (UNGA) Special Event in September 2013 contained a “road map” to 2015,[1] according to which, intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 agenda will start at the beginning of the 69th UNGA session, which opens in September 2014. In preparation, President of UNGA 68, John Ashe, is convening a series of thematic and high-level events between February and June 2014, to “set the stage” for the intergovernmental process that will begin in September 2014 to negotiate the post-2015 development agenda. The events will address: Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy; Women, Youth and Civil Society; Ensuring stable and peaceful societies; Human rights and Rule of law; Role of Partnerships; South-South, Triangular Cooperation and ICT for Development.[2] Ashe has expressed his priority to include a variety of stakeholders and civil society groups in these events, to ensure the discussions benefit from a broad range of perspectives. An additional stock-taking event is being planned for September, with a focus on sustainable development goals and long-term financing for sustainable development.[3]

During the final quarter of 2014, UN Secretary-General is expected to issue a synthesis report – another element of the UNGA-mandated road map – incorporating all inputs to the post-2015 development agenda, such as the output of the OWG on SDGs and the report of the ICESDF.

The road map further stated that a Summit of Heads of State and Government should convene in September 2015 to adopt the post-2015 development agenda. Two co-chairs were appointed in January 2014 to lead consultations on the modalities for this Summit: Ib Petersen of Denmark and Robert Aisi of Papua New Guinea. Finally, as an additional stop along the way, the UN is planning for a Ministerial-level Summit for negotiations on post-2015 development agenda, in March 2015.

Sustainable Development Goals

At Rio+20, governments called for establishing an OWG comprised of 30 UN Member States, and for the OWG to submit a report to the 68th session of the UNGA, with a proposal for SDGs. The Rio+20 outcome document noted the need to ensure coordination and coherence with the processes considering the post-2015 development agenda.

Following extended consultations over the composition of the OWG on SDGs, in January 2013, then-President of the UNGA Vuk Jeremic said the Group’s formation was “long overdue…. Months of consultations were required, often producing deadlocked positions. As a result, we have fallen behind schedule, which is hardly encouraging.” The result of the consultations was a body made up of 30 seats that governments agreed to share through an arrangement that involves a total of 70 countries. Several of the “seats” are organized into two- and three-country constituencies, which coordinate among themselves how to share their place at the OWG negotiating table. Despite its late start, between March 2013 and February 2014, the OWG had completed eight “stock-taking” meetings, during which participants discussed over 58 agenda items, with presentations from 80 experts.[4]

In March 2014, the OWG moved into a “consensus-building stage,” which is scheduled to extend over five meetings between March and July 2014. The aim of this stage is to identify a focused, coherent and limited series of targets, in support of even fewer goals. The Group’s final recommendations are expected to be included in a report by the end of the 68th UNGA session.

How the OWG will achieve its mandated goal and what its final report will contain remain to be seen, as our report from OWG 6 notes, “the road from the inclusive and transparent airing of views to a set of agreed SDGs is in uncharted territory for an intergovernmental process.”[5] Further to this point, a delegate at OWG 9, in early March 2014, observed that the Group is playing host to the first genuinely intergovernmental process that has been mandated to elaborate a development process.[6]

International Governance of Sustainable Development

Following another extensive consultation process, UN Member States established the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). This body was created as a result of the call, through the outcome document from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, to follow up on the implementation of sustainable development. Heads of State and Government, Ministers and other leaders at the inaugural meeting of the HLPF in September 2013 made a number of proposals for its role, including that it should include stakeholders, emphasize accountability, review the post-2015 development agenda and the implementation of the SDGs, and examine issues from scientific and local perspectives. The first meeting convened under UNGA auspices, but UN Member States have yet to finalize a decision on its working methods and scope. The HLPF will meet under ECOSOC auspices for the first time in July 2014 and hold a thematic discussion on ‘The MDGs and charting the way for an ambitious post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs.’

A separate, parallel consultation process resulted in reforms to and strengthening of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which will host annual sessions of the HLPF. The reforms, which were also called for in the outcome from Rio+20, include: a focus on a single major theme each year; an integration segment to promote and monitor the balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development throughout the work of the ECOSOC system; convening of the HLPF under ECOSOC’s auspices; spreading the Council’s segments throughout the year, rather than concentrating them only during an annual meeting in July; convening ad hoc meetings on urgent developments in economic, social, environmental and related fields; and promoting cross-ministerial engagement and engaging directly with international and regional bodies.

Taken together, the reforms “address some of the drivers behind the passive ECOSOC culture,” according to one expert.[7] Some hope that ECOSOC is now positioned to play a larger role in implementing sustainable development and the new development agenda, and to “provide a platform for dealing with such external environmental, social and economic threats in a similar manner to that which it has developed to address external military threats.” This change has the potential to move ECOSOC from a soft “coordination” role to a “management” role of the UN system.[8]

Financing for Sustainable Development

In June 2013, following on another mandate issued by Rio+20, the UNGA established the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF), to propose options on a sustainable development financing strategy. This Committee’s report will comprise another major input to the UN Secretary-General’s synthesis report on a post-2015 development agenda. In August 2013, the ICESDF began its work, with Committee members dividing the agenda into three clusters. Each cluster has subsequently been scheduled for consideration between the ICESDF’s formal sessions.

Responding to concerns from both governments and civil society groups regarding its closed meeting format, the ICESDF has organized a number of briefings on its work. On 5 March 2014, the OWG and ICESDF convened for a joint meeting, during which the participants and Co-Chairs for each group briefed the other and raised questions regarding the other’s focus. The ICESDF’s Co-Chairs have also highlighted their communication and coordination with the Co-Chairs of the OWG, and the latter set of Co-Chairs have called on OWG members to leave discussion on financial means of implementation to the ICESDF.[9] The ICESDF began consideration of its third and final cluster in March 2014, will meet again in May and August 2014, and plans to complete its report to the UNGA by August 2014.

Also in the financing arena, speakers at the OWG have highlighted that a number of upcoming intergovernmental processes will feed into their assessment of this topic. The meetings include the upcoming First High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in Mexico and the OECD’s ministerial meeting on reforming development financing.

In addition, the UNGA is holding informal consultations, facilitated by the Permanent Representatives of Guyana and Norway, on the forthcoming Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD). This conference is expected to be convened in 2015 or early 2016, to address new and emerging issues, including in the context of synergies between financing objectives across the three dimensions of sustainable development and the need to support the post-2015 development agenda, according to a UNGA resolution of December 2013.[10]

UN System Initiatives

In addition to these four intergovernmental tracks, the UN system has also prepared a number of substantive contributions on priorities for the agenda. These contributions include reports from the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and consultations lead by the UN Development Group (UNDG).

The High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP), which was appointed by the UN Secretary-General, issued its report in May 2013, titled ‘A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development.’[11] The report recommends a post-2015 framework that pursues five “key transformations”: leave no one behind; put sustainable development at the core; transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; build peace and effective, open and accountable public institutions; and forge a new global partnership. It recommends that “deliberations on a new development agenda must be guided by the vision of eradicating extreme poverty once and for all, in the context of sustainable development.” It notes the “glaring” need for a single agenda, including with regard to sustainable development and climate change, and it puts forward an example set of 12 goals as well as six cross-cutting issues, and calls for the post-2015 development agenda to additionally provide a narrative reflecting policy goals that require treaty implementation or are difficult to measure.

In June 2013, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) also submitted a report to the Secretary-General, containing agenda proposals from academics and researchers.[12] ‘The Action Agenda for Sustainable Development’ argues that a sustainable development path must be based on four related normative concepts: the right to development for every country; human rights and social inclusion; convergence of living standards across countries; and shared responsibilities and opportunities. It identifies ten “priority challenges,” which it says are interconnected and contribute to “four dimensions of sustainable development” – the traditional three dimensions of economic development, social development and environmental protection plus “governance including peace and security.”

For several months in 2012 and 2013, UNDG led a series of national and global consultations on various themes related to the post-2015 development agenda, surveying over 1 million people globally on their development priorities.[13] A report of these consultations was launched in September 2013.[14] In follow-up to this process, UNDG announced a new round of consultations, called ‘Dialogues on Implementation’, which will address: 1) Localizing the post-2015 development agenda; 2) Helping to strengthen capacities and institutions; 3) Participatory monitoring, existing and new forms of accountability; 4) Partnerships with civil society and other actors; 5) Partnerships with the private sector; and 6) Culture and development.[15]

The outcomes from the HLP report, UNDG-led consultations and SDSN report were among the inputs for a “synthesis report” by the Secretary-General, which was issued in August 2013 and was titled ‘A Life of Dignity for All.’[16] The report points to an emerging consensus for an agenda that: is universal yet responsive to regional and national capacities and priorities; is ambitious yet simple in design; prioritizes ending poverty and reducing inequality; protects the planet, including its biodiversity, land and water; and is rights-based. It calls for 14 transformative actions to bring this emerging vision to life, also making recommendations on financing and implementing the agenda, including through monitoring and accountability frameworks and improved data and statistics.

Parallel Intergovernmental Processes

Two other major intergovernmental events taking place in September 2014 are expected to feed into the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.

Sustainable Development of SIDS

In preparation for the Third International Conference on SIDS, which the Rio+20 conference agreed to hold in 2014, SIDS in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and South China Sea (AIMS) regions produced an outcome document during an interregional meeting, to serve as a basis for the Conference in Apia, Samoa. Subsequently, the intergovernmental preparatory process held its first meeting, in February 2014, and is scheduled to meet two more at UN Headquarters in New York, before the September 2014 event in Apia. Speaking at the UN, Conference Secretary-General Wu Hongbo said he expected world leaders, through the SIDS 2014 Conference, to renew their political commitment to SIDS, tackle challenges through partnerships, and agree on SIDS’ priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.[17]

Climate Change

The post-2015 development agenda is not the only reason that the international sustainable development community is focused on decisions that are scheduled to be taken in 2015. Based on the outcome of the 2011 Durban Climate Change Conference, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was created with a mandate “to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties,” and to complete its negotiations by 2015. To contribute momentum to the 2014 Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, and the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, the UN Secretary-General has announced that he will convene a Climate Summit at the Heads of State and Government level in September 2014.

Putting Sustainable Development at the Core

The heavy lifting that UN Member States undertook in 2013 to establish the dialogues and processes towards the post-2015 development agenda has led to even fuller workloads in 2014, as delegates narrow down the options they explored in 2013 and begin to focus on the choices that will go into reaching consensus outcomes. OWG Co-Chair Macharia Kamau predicted that 2014 would be “amazingly hectic,” and the number of ongoing processes and decisions outlined in this policy update will certainly prove him right.

One key question regarding the post-2015 development agenda was effectively settled in 2013, however, bringing the path to 2015 into greater focus. In mid-2013, an open question remained: Should the SDGs form the centerpiece of the post-2015 development agenda, or do the MDGs have enough ‘unfinished business’ that a second generation of goals dedicated to more traditionally-defined development aspirations would be needed, and should be pursued on a parallel track to the “sustainable development” agenda? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave his answer to this question when he asserted in his August 2013 synthesis report that “the separate strands must come together with the goal of a single, coherent global agenda,” and that sustainable development – “enabled by the integration of economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship” — must become both a global guiding principle and operational standard.[18]

Based on many statements in the OWG and other meetings, governments have generally agreed with this view, that the SDGs and post-2015 development goals should eventually comprise one set of goals. However, some developing countries have cautioned against centering a new development agenda on sustainable development rather than poverty elimination. One developing country representative said at an early OWG meeting, for example, “without targeting all SDGs toward poverty eradication, we will keep ourselves busy containing the repercussions of the injustices of poverty.” Other speakers have argued that there are differences between the objectives of ending poverty and achieving sustainable development, and warned that the already-limited funds for development should not be “spread thin” through the SDGs.[19] In September 2013, governments at the Special Event on MDGs called for a single framework and set of goals that are universal in nature and applicable to all countries, which promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all, and underscored poverty eradication as the “central imperative” of the agenda, while recognizing its “intrinsic linkage” to sustainable development.

Observers of the processes coming out of Rio+20 have commented that the combined consideration of the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda has brought new attention to sustainable development’s three dimensions (economic development, social development, and environmental protection) and the need to implement them in an integrated manner. In addition, they have highlighted that the process has also brought issues such as governance and inequality to the table, which they hope will enhance efforts to implement the new set of goals. Some have asked if this could imply a widening definition of sustainable development, from what some have pointed out as an emphasis on environmental protection during the past 20 years, to fully incorporate the economic and social dimensions. If such an expansion is taking hold, they have further pondered whether it means that all development must now be sustainable development. Some suggest that this is one way to understand the oft-quoted call for poverty eradication that puts sustainable development both “at the core” and as the broader context, as articulated in the HLP report, as well as the subsequent agreement by governments in September 2013 that poverty eradication is the “central imperative” of the post-2015 agenda while recognizing its “intrinsic linkage” to sustainable development. Observers of the processes highlight that many countries will require assurances that new burdens will be offset by the benefits of sustainable development, and receive support for the requisite means of implementation. Discussions in 2014 will provide important indications of whether these needs will be met, and will largely determine, in turn, where the processes lead in 2015.

[1] The Special Event on the MDGs, held on 25 September 2013, was called for by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) (ENB summary: http://enb.iisd.org/mdgs/se/). Its format, subject matter and outcome document were determined through extensive consultations conducted between February and early September 2013 (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/Outcome%20documentMDG.pdf).

[2] See IISD RS Calendar for event dates

[3] Summary of UNGA President Press Conference, December 2013: http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs//2013/131218_GA.doc.htm

[4] OWG Programme of Work: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1778DrafPowSchematic0512.pdf

[5] IISD RS Coverage of OWG 6: http://enb.iisd.org/vol32/enb3206e.html

[6] IISD RS Coverage of OWG 9: http://enb.iisd.org/vol32/enb3209e.html

[7] Harris Gleckman , in a Sustainable Development Policy & Practice guest article: http://sdg.iisd.org/guest-articles/implementing-rio20-ecosocs-new-role-and-its-old-culture/

[8] Ibid

[9] Co-Chairs’ Summary of ICESDF Session 2: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/2898cochair2ndsession.pdf

[10] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of UNGA consultations on FFD follow-up: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/guyana-norway-lead-consultations-on-third-ffd-conference/ and Alex Evans, “Quadruple or Quits,” NYU Center on International Cooperation, March 17, 2014: http://cic.nyu.edu/blog/global-development/quadruple-or-quits-overlapping-multilateral-processes-2015

[11] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of HLP report: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/in-final-report-hlp-calls-for-eradicating-extreme-poverty-in-context-of-sustainable-development/

[12] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of SDSN report: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/sdsn-proposes-10-sustainable-development-goals/

[13] IISD RS Coverage of High-level Meetings of Global Thematic Consultations: http://enb.iisd.org/post2015/

[14] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of UNDG report: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/undg-releases-report-of-post-2015-consultations/

[15] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of UNDG Dialogues: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/undg-announces-second-round-of-post-2015-consultations/; http://sdg.iisd.org/news/undg-announces-dialogues-on-implementation/

[16] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of UNSG report: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/in-annual-report-unsg-proposes-transformative-actions-for-post-2015-agenda/

[17] SIDS Policy & Practice coverage: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/un-launches-international-year-of-sids/

[18] Post-2015 Policy & Practice coverage of UNSG report: http://sdg.iisd.org/news/in-annual-report-unsg-proposes-transformative-actions-for-post-2015-agenda/

[19] IISD RS Coverage of OWG 1: http://enb.iisd.org/vol32/enb3201e.html

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