First UN post-2015 development agenda session: Southern perspectives on broad contours, principles and imperatives
By Bhumika Muchhala (Third World Network)
This article was first published as an issue of TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Feb15/01) on 25 February 2015. For further information, please visit http://www.twnnews.net/.
The United Nations General Assembly negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda kicked off on 19-21 January 2015 with Member States putting forward the broad contours of what they envision for the next 15 years of international development cooperation.
eveloping countries of the Group of 77 (G77) asserted that the post-2015 development agenda must be framed by guiding principles and international law, including that of Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Rio Principles on Environment and Development. In particular there must be recognition that the international community’s pursuit of sustainable development must be based on common but differentiated responsibilities, and that poverty eradication is the ultimate imperative for sustainable development.
The G77 also reiterated its position that developing countries should be supported by an enabling international environment as well as a genuine global partnership for development to enable them to meet their sustainable development goals.
The discussion encompassed the following topics on the post-2015 development agenda: foundations of the agenda, the declaration, integrating sustainable development goals (SDGs), means of implementation (MOI) and follow-up and review mechanisms.
Developing countries, and in particular Brazil and India, stressed that the negotiated report of the Open Working Group on the SDGs, as of the final text of 19 July 2014, shall serve as the main basis for integrating the SDGs into the post-2015 development agenda. They said it would be imprudent to re-open or re-negotiate the comprehensive and balanced package of the SDGs, either directly or indirectly.
In terms of MOI, developing countries highlighted that financial resources should be mobilized not on the basis of a shrunken version of the SDG agenda, but rather for each and every specific goal and target that the General Assembly has agreed to in the 17 goals and 169 targets.
Equally crucial however is the discussion of international systemic issues in the fields of trade, financial architecture and capacity building, making the international environment more supportive of sustainable development and safeguarding policy space for the overarching goals of poverty eradication, combating inequality and promoting inclusive sustainable development where it is most needed.
Foundations of the post-2015 development agenda
The G77 and China comprising 133 developing countries, represented by South Africa for the current year of 2015, delivered a statement that established the broad contours of the post-2015 development agenda that is taking shape in the United Nations. According to the G77, an ambition to negotiate and reach agreement on a transformative development paradigm, which is people-centered, aspires for universal human development while respecting human dignity and protecting the planet is the imperative for a development agenda for the next 15 years.
The Group stressed that the guiding principles in this process must be based on those enumerated in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), be consistent with international law, and should fully respect all Rio Principles, in particular the recognition that the international community’s pursuit of sustainable development must be based on common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Poverty eradication is the ultimate imperative for sustainable development and should be pursued as such in line with the Rio+20 (UN sustainable development conference of June 2012) outcome document and language on poverty eradication.
The G77 reiterated its position that developing countries should be supported by an enabling international environment, which includes a supportive and just international system where the rules are fair and pro-development, as well as a genuine global partnership for development to enable developing countries to meet their sustainable development aspirations. The Group maintains that this can only be achieved through the provision of new and additional financing resources, technology transfers with concessionary and preferential terms, capacity building, pro-development trade policies, and effective means of implementation for developing countries. Accordingly, the post-2015 development agenda will require a strengthened global partnership for development.
With regard to technology, the G77 said that the United Nations must establish a technology facilitation mechanism that promotes the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies, on the basis of the recommendations of the structured dialogues held during the 68th session of the General Assembly, and on the basis of the latest resolution of Agenda 21 adopted in December 2014 (Resolution 69/214). It is essential, the Group said, that implementation for such a technology facilitation mechanism commences with the aim of reaching a conclusion during the 69th session of the General Assembly, and that this outcome is also integrated into the post-2015 development agenda.
Brazil said that the post-2015 development agenda should be structured around four key elements. First, a declaration, where the international community would express a wide-ranging vision for a new development agenda anchored in its universality and transformative nature. Second, a set of goals and targets containing the actions needed to translate that vision into reality.
Third, a concrete foundation of the means of Implementation for the new development agenda, which must encompass not only finance but also technology and capacity building. The means of Implementation need to be commensurate with the level of ambition set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. And fourth, a mechanism for follow-up and review of progress and implementation of the collective commitments in the post-2015 development agenda.
India stressed that the touchstone for the post-2015 development agenda should be an agenda for growth and development, in that the focus should be on sustained and inclusive economic growth in all countries, particularly developing countries. Growth is needed to create jobs, generate resources, sustain poverty reduction and achieve social development. Without inclusive economic growth, gains in other developmental indicators are not possible. India added that this emphasis on inclusive and sustained economic growth is borne out of its experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well.
India also emphasized that the post-2015 development agenda must be founded on a universality of issues and differentiation in action, and this balance is represented by the guiding principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Universality demands an agenda which is equally relevant as well as applicable to both developed and developing countries. However, this time the developed countries will also be called into account for their specific actions and commitments. Universality also reflects the developmental diversity in the world, in that a universal agenda can and indeed must be a differentiated one.
The post-2015 development agenda must also adhere to the test of multilateralism, which is essentially the framework for international cooperation. It should therefore go beyond merely identifying global problems and providing policy prescriptions, and aim at genuine collaboration through common but differentiated responsibilities, to solve global problems.
Multilateralism also means that there must be shift from the MDG model of addressing the symptoms of under-development to a new post-2015, post-MDG model, which addresses the drivers of development and growth.
India asserted that UN member states must keep their sights on the centrality of the political, economic, moral and ethical imperative of ending poverty, which must be the overarching objective of the post-2015 development agenda. The needs and concerns of 1.3 billion men, women and children deprived of a life of dignity across the world must be the topmost priority. To do this, we must aim at ensuring that development is sustainable a cross all three dimensions – economic, social and environmental.
Integrating SDGs and targets into the post-2015 development agenda
The G77 and China affirmed that in line with Resolution 68/309, the report of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG-SDGs) shall serve as the main basis for integrating the SDGs into the post-2015 development agenda, while the outcomes of processes such as the Intergovernmental Committee on Experts for Sustainable Development Financing and the process to develop options for a UN technology facilitation mechanism, should be considered as inputs into the process to formulate the post-2015 agenda.
SDGs constitute a collective effort and political compromise that cannot be revised behind closed doors, by a handful of selected specialists, the Group stressed. The 17 goals and 169 targets were crafted in a transparent and democratic manner, based on technical inputs from the UN System, national agencies and civil society organizations. At this point, so-called “technical reasons” for redrafting targets would only serve to reopen discussions, threatening a delicate political compromise. The G77 clearly stated that it does not support such an attempt.
According to the G77, it is also important to recognize that while communicability of the agenda is important, form must always follow substance. In this case, the comprehensive and integrated agenda for sustainable development contained in the proposal of the OWG-SDG must not be compromised in the name of repackaging.
The Group maintains that the retention of the means of implementation for each and every sustainable development goal, as contained in the Report of the SDG Working Group, as well as the strengthening of the global partnership for development, are essential requirements. Without them, both the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda would be hollow with no possibilities for its implementation.
India said that the integrated and comprehensive agenda of the SDGs displays a remarkable level of ambition. Never before has the international community articulated an action-oriented agenda across such a wide spectrum. Will the ambition and substance of the SDGs be matched with an equally ambitious template of action in the means of implementation? Will the UN General Assembly create the conditions necessary to enhance international cooperation for development, or will the UN slip back into well-rehearsed policy shibboleths, particularly when it comes to means of implementation, finance, technology and so on?
Supporting the G77, India emphasized that it would be imprudent to re-open or re-negotiate the comprehensive and balanced package of the SDGs, either directly or indirectly. The SDGs have already been agreed upon by Member States, through an open and transparent process in which all Member States participated and which gave full opportunity for other stakeholders, not to mention the UN system, to enrich the discussion with their inputs.
While the idea of re-packaging the SDGs along six pillars, as suggested in the Secretary General’s Synthesis Report is an interesting one, Member States need to be cautious as to whether such a move will segment the integrated agenda of the SDGs with its inter-linkages and synergies into distinct silos. Such a segmentation would undercut collective ambition to holistically integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development.
Brazil said that the 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs are underpinned by political legitimacy and technical cohesion. They also reflect the universal nature of the new development agenda, on the basis of the principle of CBDR.
Therefore, the UN General Assembly should treat the SDGs as the main basis for the post-2015 development agenda by adopting the SDGs final text of 19 July 2014 upfront.
Brazil said that the focus from now on, as mentioned by the delegation of India and several others, should be on how to integrate the SDG framework into the post-2015 agenda without reopening negotiations on substantive issues or artificial ones, such as the number of goals.
It also raised a strong note of caution on the question of the so-called technical proofing of the SDGs. The possibility of a technical assessment, or “proofing,” should have its criteria clearly agreed to by Member States beforehand. Brazil said that it cannot accept any exercise that would lower the level of ambition or reduce the thematic scope of the existing framework of goals.
Means of Implementation
Brazil made an extensive intervention on the specific topic of means of implementation (MOI), saying that the post-2015 development agenda needs to ensure the MOI for the full set of SDG goals and targets if it is to be groundbreaking from business as usual. In other words, to do more, more is needed.
Resources should be mobilized not on the basis of a shrunken version of the SDG agenda, but rather for each and every specific goal and target that the General Assembly has painstakingly agreed to as a balanced outcome of the OWG. This is precisely why there is a stand-alone goal on MOI (Goal 17) alongside goal-specific MOI targets.
In the third international conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa (in July 2015), the UN General Assembly will need to update the Monterrey and Doha frameworks for FfD in light of the consensus text of the SDGs.
This process should start by all Member States reaffirming official development assistance (ODA) and other internationally agreed commitments. ODA should continue to flow to countries most in need, said Brazil.
It also stressed that equally crucial is the discussion of international systemic issues in the fields of trade, financial architecture and capacity building, making the international environment more supportive of sustainable development and safeguarding policy space for the overarching goals of poverty eradication, combating inequality and promoting inclusive sustainable development where it is most needed.
International public financial resources should be mobilized, the International Financial Institutions should be engaged with in support of our common agenda and in agreement of policy options more favorable to our goals and targets, according to Brazil.
Private resources will be key and private partners need to work with States; not against States. Therefore, implementing partnerships with the private sector needs to be conditioned upon their commitment to engage with the post-2015 development agenda in the most transparent and accountable manner.
Brazil further said that Member States need to collectively acknowledge that technology will be indispensable. It is both a means and a driver of transformation relevant to practically all goals and targets, including for achieving more sustainable patterns of consumption and production. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s synthesis report contains useful recommendations on technology, particularly the establishment of a technology facilitation mechanism for clean and environmentally sound technologies, alongside other ideas that would allow for a move rhetoric to actions.
It said that a technology bank for Least Developed Countries, improved system-wide coordination at the UN on a technology facilitation, an online global platform on technology for sustainable development are ideas that should be seriously considered. And importantly, intellectual property regimes should be consistent with and contribute to the SDGs; not the other way around.
Declaration of the post-2015 development agenda
The G77 stated that the declaration will set the tone, provide political content and outline the aspirations of the agenda as a whole. Such a declaration should be short and focused on development issues, draw from agreed outcomes from previous summits and processes such as the Millennium Declaration, the World Summit Outcome, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, The Future We Want and the Report of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and should be presented to Member States as part of the zero draft to avoid fragmentation in the process of negotiations
Brazil said that the declaration is a political statement that should approach the needs and challenges of the present while providing a shared vision for the future of the UN and its development agenda. No artificial thematic limits should be imposed to the scope of the declaration at the risk of compromising the level of ambition of the new agenda.
A reduced number of core principles could be mentioned in the political declaration, allowing for Heads of State and government to convey a short but powerful vision at the adoption of the post-2015 agenda.
Guiding principles that should be considered include: equality, sustainability, universality (but also differentiation as expressed in the principle of common but differentiated responsibility), and more democratic and representative governance through enhanced multilateral cooperation.
Brazil asserted that the new sustainable development agenda has already set in motion a paradigm shift within the UN development pillar; a shift that should resonate to the other areas of the UN, making it more reponsive to the changing global realities.
Follow-up and review of the post-2015 development agenda
The G77 maintains that the debate on the follow up and review of the post-2015 agenda should embody indicators to measure the implementation of the agenda. In this context, the development of global ‘indicative’ indicators by the UN should be done in an open and transparent manner with the UN Statistical Commission, which is a Member States body.
Such an undertaking should seek to recognize that there are national and regional specificities, peculiarities and different capacities. Therefore, the outcome should not impose unworkable and unrealistic figures on developing countries.
The G77 stressed that there should be no indicators at the national level. National governments should implement the post-2015 agenda according to their national circumstances, capability and development stages, on a voluntary basis.
The Group elaborated that the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will “conduct regular reviews, starting in 2016, on the follow-up and implementation of sustainable development commitments and objectives, including those related to the means of implementation, within the context of the post-2015 development agenda”, as stated in paragraph 8 of resolution 67/290.
Through this mandate, the HLPF will conduct reviews of the post-2015 agenda on an annual basis, under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In addition follow-up and review should focus on strengthening the monitoring of means of implementation on an international level, such as reviewing the implementation of the commitment of ODA, technology transfer and capacity building and develop indicators of means of implementation.
Accordingly, for follow up and review of the implementation, UN agencies should report to the HLPF on the progress made toward the achievement of SDGs as well as on the commitments on means of implementation.
Brazil added that UN regional commissions already have a mandate to hold regional meetings in preparation for the HLPF. UN Member States should enhance their capacity to play this role.
It also highlighted that accountability and monitoring should take place primarily at the national level. Additional resources should be directed to the strengthening of national institutions in developing countries to that effect, including their capacity to collect data and produce statistical analysis.
Synergies between various UN tracks
The G77 stated that stronger synergies between the post-2015 development agenda and the third international conference on Financing for Development are welcome and crucial in order to ensure that Member States are in a position to influence both processes in an effective manner. In this logic, the outcomes of the Financing for Development conference scheduled to take place in Addis Abba, Ethiopia in July this year must feed into the post-2015 development agenda as a key input of the means of implementation.
Process of the post-2015 development agenda
The G77 reiterated its position that that the process to formulate the post-2015 development agenda must be intergovernmental in nature and conducted in an open, transparent and inclusive manner, in line with the outcome document of the 2013 Special Event of the MDGs. The Group also reiterated that intergovernmental negotiations must respect the rules of procedure and established practices of the General Assembly and ECOSOC and should take place in line with the agreed modalities resolution and decisions.
The G77 also emphasized that that the inclusive consultations by the Co-facilitators with all relevant stakeholders including major political groups must not impinge on the time allocated for the intergovernmental process of negotiations. Similarly, going forward the Co-facilitators must reconsider the number of panel discussions that are organized in each session in order to allow member states adequate time to engage among themselves and to optimize on the limited time available for negotiations.