By Farooq Ullah, Stakeholder Forum
On 4th December 2014, the United Nations Secretary General (SG), Ban-Ki Moon, released an unedited, English-only version of his Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Agenda (which includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)).
The purpose of this report is to bring together the various formal and informal inputs made thus far on the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs. It has further significance as the first formal and comprehensive study which looks beyond the goals themselves to also offer the following elements:
- A vision and narrative for the post-2015 development agenda which act as the framing.
- The Means of Implementation (MOI) - financing, science and technology and capacity building - which outlines the “how” the goals will be delivered.
- The monitoring, reporting and evaluation of progress, including the data challenge.
- Making the UN fit to deliver the new agenda.
Points to Note
1) Retention of the 17 SDGs – This Synthesis Report retains completely the 17 SDGs developed by the Open Working Group of Member States. However, in the report, the SG says, “I note, in particular, the possibility to maintain the 17 goals and rearrange them in a focused and concise manner that enables the necessary global awareness and implementation at the country level.”
- In a press conference, the SG stated. “In my report, I have quoted the decision and recommendation of the Rio+20 summit meeting which was adopted in summer, June 2012, which said that these Sustainable Development Goals should be action oriented, concise and concrete and easy to communicate; limited in number, and aspirational. There are some guidelines. That is why I am saying that, while I welcome these 17 goals and 169 targets and also I note in particular that the possibility of maintaining these 17 goals with some rearrangement - this is up to the Member States. I am encouraged that my synthesis report has received, initially, very positive and favourable responses from the Member States today. Today, 16 countries have spoken.”
- So while the 17 SDGs remain is for now, there is still a possibility of reformation/priortisation/aggregation. This is a highly political issue.
- The question for Member States, therefore, is wheather they want to renegotiate the SDGs down to a smaller number. This runs the risk of important issues being downgraded or lost all together (e.g. the SDGs on Sustainable Consumption and Production)
2) Introduction of six, new essential elements – The SG’s Report introduces six “essential elements” for delivering on the SDGs: dignity, people, prosperity, our planet, justice and partnership. These are new concepts. Figure 1 below (from the Secretary General's Post-2015 report) expands on these essential elements:
Figure 1. Six essential elements for delivering the SDGs
Figure 1. Six essential elements for delivering the SDGs
- This likely to be a compromise to criticism regarding the communications challenge of 17 goals and 169 targets.
The report states that the “six essential elements would help frame and reinforce the universal, integrated and transformative nature of a sustainable development agenda and ensure that the ambition expressed by Member States in the outcome of the Open Working Group translates, communicates and is delivered at the country level”
- In the same process conference, the SG stated. “These [six essential elements] are not intended to cluster or replace the SDGs. Rather, they are meant to offer some conceptual guidance for the work ahead.”
- However, there is a risk that these essential elements run counter to the idea of a 3 dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, economic and social) are separated into different elements (e.g. planet, prosperity and people), and the integration called for by a true sustainable development approach is lost.
- While the report acknowledges that “sustainable development must be an integrated agenda for economic, environmental, and social solutions”, it does not expand on the purpose of the essential elements or how they will be used.
- The risk, therefore, is whether any Member States see this as an opportunity to continue to renegotiated to SDGs to a smaller number. This runs the risk of important issues being downgraded or lost all together (e.g. the SDGs on Sustainable Consumption and Production).
3) Universality – Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the SDGs will be global in nature and universal in application. The Report mentions this concept/principle throughout the document.
- Specifically it states “Universality implies that all countries will need to change, each with its own approach, but each with a sense of the global common good. Universality is the core attribute of human rights and intergenerational justice. It compels us to think in terms of shared responsibilities for a shared future. It demands policy coherence. Universality embodies a new global partnership for sustainable development in the spirit of the UN Charter.”
- It goes on to state under the essential elements section that “the essential elements are further integrated by the application of the principle of universality. In addressing them to all countries and all people we take account of environmental, economic, and social interdependence, while also recognizing the realities of differentiated national needs and capacities.”
- However, there is little beyond this in the report to explain the implications of universality or what it means in practice, particularly for developed countries, i.e. a shift from international development policies/action in the MDG-era, to the need for both international and domestic polices/action in the SDG-era. When it comes to the MOI for the SDGs, clearly explaining and understanding what universality means will be essential to successful achievement of the goals. Specially that means that ministries of environment alone cannot deliver this agenda. All government ministries will have a key role to play in delivery (e.g. ministries of health, education, welfare, energy and finance). This concept is still woefully unexplained.
4) Means of Implementation (MOI) – The report does a reasonable job of outlining recommendations from the SG to the Member States on what areas and types of new initiatives should be detailed in order to deliver on the SDGs.
- However, these are given very, very broadly with a lack of detail on how they can be instituted and realised. This may lead to a risk that too much effort is still required from the negotiation process going forward, with relatively little time remaining to meet the challenge. This whole aspect of the post-2015 development agenda (which is notoriously difficult) will have to negotiated and agreed by September 2015.
- To add to the complexity and processual challenges, the process going forward will be tied to the Financing for Development (FfD) process which is running concurrently, and the post-2015 process has essentially outsourced that Financing aspect to that process (which is completely in mid-July 2015). This adds to the risk of a very busy calendar and a challenging agenda.