UN Members Weigh Post-2015 Development Agenda Progress

18 September 2014

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged UN members last Thursday to make a final push to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by their 2015 target date, and to simultaneously work toward building a development roadmap for the years ahead.

“The coming year will be full of hard work, in-depth discussions, and vigorous debate,” Ban told participants at a high-level development-focused event.

“We must build a framework that will sustain and finish what we have accomplished with the MDGs in our fight against poverty, hunger, ignorance, and disease. We must rise to challenges old and new, not least climate change,” he continued.

In addition, the UN chief urged the international community to come through on a pledge to deliver a meaningful universal climate agreement, also by the end of next year.

The event, held on 11-12 September in New York, provided an opportunity for UN members and civil society to review the state of play in the various tracks feeding into a UN process known as the “post-2015 development agenda.” The new development framework is set to replace the MDGs when these expire at the end of next year.

Work undertaken in various tracks towards this end includes, among other efforts, the formulation of a proposed set of sustainable development goals (SDGs); a report on sustainable development financing; and identification of options for a technology facilitation mechanism.

General Assembly to review proposed SDGs

John Ashe, President of the 193-member UN General Assembly, said that the new development agenda required an updated toolkit and that policies should take into account synergies between various sectors.

The 17 proposed SDGs, delivered by a designated UN group in July, were intended to adopt this approach. For example, bids to eliminate harmful fossil fuel consumption and production subsidies would also be a win for the environment.

“The SDGs build on the MDGs and incorporate economic and environmental dimensions. They break new ground by including issues such as energy, economic growth, inequality, cities, sustainable consumption and production, as well as peaceful societies,” Ashe said last week.

The proposed SDGs are due to be forwarded to the General Assembly for its consideration later this month. Last Wednesday, the international body adopted a draft resolution confirming that the proposed goals would be the “main basis” for the final SDGs in the post-2015 development agenda. Statements by UN members, however, indicated a degree of difference around the extent to which the document will be re-opened for discussion.  

Similar differences of opinion on the way forward were echoed at the high-level event on Thursday and Friday. Some countries cautioned against opening up the much-discussed proposed SDG outcome document, while others said more work was needed to reduce the number of goals and targets, or that a greater focus was required in certain areas.

Some UN members have also expressed concern that having 17 proposed goals will be too difficult to implement. Furthermore, while all participants agreed on the importance of effective means of implementation (MoI) for realising the post-2015 framework, some countries disagreed on the balance between various sources of financing. These were outlined in a draft report released in August by a UN group known formally as the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF).

The proposed SDGs themselves include a stand-alone goal on various sources of MoI, which features a subsection on trade with three targets, as well as specific trade-relevant MoI included under some of the other goals. (See BioRes, 23 July 2014)

Last week also saw the release of an advanced, unedited version of the UN Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly on the post-2015 processes. Among other areas, the draft report suggests that member states should work on the design and function of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The forum has been given a mandate by governments to review and monitor, beginning in 2016, international sustainable development commitments. (See BioRes, 15 July 2014)

During the high-level event last week, UN members also said that the role of other existing accountability mechanisms was important, such as the recently inaugurated UN Environment Assembly.

Realising the MDGs

Meanwhile, the UN has said that many of the currently incomplete MDG targets can be realised by the 2015 due date, according to a report released in July.

Providing an update on progress made so far, the report emphasises that some MDGs are more on track than others, and that variations exist across regions and population groups. Key targets such as reducing world poverty by half from 1990 levels have already been successfully met.

Further effort in the next 15 months is required, however, on access to sanitation, as well as on reducing child and maternal mortality. Keeping up momentum in areas such as the hunger reduction goal is also flagged.

The report also warns of uneven efforts on the environmental sustainability goal and the threat this could pose to sustainable economic and social development.

Climate gathering

Later this month, as the discussion picks up again on the post-2015 development agenda and its sustainable development goals, world leaders will also gather at UN headquarters in New York to discuss climate change at the invitation of the Secretary-General.

The UN recently confirmed that the Climate Summit, as the event is formally known, will be attended by 126 world leaders. This figure will make it the largest heads of state gathering on climate to date. The event is designed to ramp up efforts towards reaching the promised global climate deal under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

With approximately half a day dedicated to national announcements, many in the climate community are hopeful the summit will provide a positive boost to the UN climate talks.

Some civil society groups stressed the importance of acting on climate change in the SDGs. For example, in a recent report, humanitarian group CARE welcomed the inclusion of a climate goal in the proposed framework.

The group, however, also said that the proposed climate goal is “vague” and that climate-related targets in other relevant goals are weak. The report argues that goals and targets related to industrialisation and economic growth lack substance in terms of environmental sustainability.

Work on refining this text and underpinning the targets with indicators will mark the next challenge for the international community, the report says, and the post-2015 development agenda and UNFCCC process must be mutually supportive.

ICTSD reporting; “Climate change and the SDGs: Where do we go from here?” ECO-BUSINESS, 12 September 2014.

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