BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER

TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Mar13/02)
20 March 2013
Third World Network  

United Nations: Varying visions and priorities at SDG working group
Published in SUNS #7548 dated 19 March 2013

New York, 18 Mar (Bhumika Muchhala) -- The first official presentation of views revealed differences between developing and developed countries over the vision and priorities for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
 
At the inaugural meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 14 to 15 March, most developing countries emphasised that these goals should be grounded in the 1992 Rio Principles, particularly the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Developing countries also stressed that adequate and additional means of implementation must be the basis of the SDGs plan of action. However, developed countries emphasised poverty eradication as a collective responsibility (as opposed to an equitable approach) of SDGs, and prioritisation of ecological improvements as an overarching objective of the SDGs.
 
Both developed and developing countries stated that the SDGs should be universal, integrate the three dimensions (economic, social and environmental) of sustainable development and should address currently unsustainable and unjust patterns of consumption and production.
 
One of the main outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, was the agreement by Member States to launch an intergovernmental process to develop a set of SDGs.
 
During the negotiations at the Rio+20 conference, some developed country governments had wanted to propose predominantly environmental goals as SDGs. However, the G77 and China group of developing countries called for a legitimate intergovernmental process to discuss and negotiate the SDGs in the UN. The compromise was to create an Open Working Group (OWG) of 30 members through which the SDGs will be formulated.
 
The OWG was established on 22 January 2013 by decision 67/555 (see A/67/L. 48/rev. 1) of the UN General Assembly. The Member States have decided to use an innovative, constituency-based system of representation that is new to limited membership bodies of the General Assembly. Most of the seats in the OWG are shared by several countries, resulting in an aggregate of 70 countries divided into 30 membership seats.
 
Reports on the progress of work of the OWG will be made regularly to the General Assembly, and according to the Rio+20 outcome document, the working group will submit a proposal on SDGs to the 68th General Assembly that will convene on 17 September 2013. The report will contain a proposal on SDGs for consideration and appropriate actions.
 
At the opening of the first meeting of the SDG working group, the President of the 67th session of the General Assembly (PGA), Vuk Jeremic, from Serbia, acknowledged the appointment of the two co-facilitators of the SDG working group, Ambassador Csaba Korosi from Hungary and Ambassador Macharia Camau from Kenya.
 
The PGA stated that the SDG working group "should establish a new form of global engagement, whose scope may very well be difficult to grasp. Yet, in less than two years, that is exactly what needs to happen."
 
The topics chosen by the PGA for the thematic debates during the 67th General Assembly session are the following: "UN and global economic governance," on April 15, 2013; "Sustainable development and climate change," on May 16, 2013 (organised in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates and spearheaded by Professor Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University); "Culture for Sustainable Development," on June 12, 2013 (in collaboration with UNESCO); "Entrepreneurship for Development," on June 26, 2013 (in partnership with Israel, the sponsor country of the resolution that mandated its occurrence); and "Social inequality," on July 8, 2013 (in partnership with the Organisation of American States).
 
Additionally, the PGA highlighted that he will organise a series of one-day workshops on the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies and their links to sustainable development.
 
The PGA announced that for the High-Level Political Forum, which will follow-up on the implementation of sustainable development, he has appointed Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti and Italian Ambassador Cesare Rapaglini, as co-chairs. The Forum is also a decision from the Rio+20 Conference. Further, for the intergovernmental process to propose options for an effective Sustainable Development Financing Strategy, the PGA has appointed Kazakhstan's Ambassador, Byrganym Aitimova, and Norway's Ambassador, Geir Pedersen, as co-chairs.
 
On September 25, 2013, a special event on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be held in New York, during the high-level segment of the general debate of the 68th General Assembly session. To prepare for this special event, the PGA has appointed Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson and South African Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo as co-chairs of the process. The September special event will, according to the PGA, be the "final occasion for world leaders to decide on actions that need to be taken to complete the MDG process."
 
The PGA emphasised that the activities of each of the numerous processes - including the special event on the MDGs in September 2013, the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel (comprising the UK prime minister and Indonesian and Liberian presidents), the SDG Open Working Group, the sustainable development financing committee, the High-Level Political Forum and ECOSOC in general - need to be mutually reinforcing and complementary, ultimately converging into a single, fully cohesive whole.
 
On behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group, Benin said that LDCs are under-represented in the working group, comprising only 7 seats out of the 30 official members. Meanwhile, more than 25% of the total membership of the UN is represented by 49 LDCs.
 
Benin stressed that it is important to the LDC group that the working group fully integrates the priorities of the LDCs in the goals and targets of the SDGs. Paragraph 181 in the Rio+20 outcome document states that the Istanbul Programme of Action is to be effectively implemented, and Paragraph 34 reaffirms that the international community commits to assist LDCs in achieving the Istanbul Programme of Action in line with a development pathway of sustainability.
 
Benin called upon the working group to devote a full session to discuss the special vulnerabilities and challenges that LDCs face in sustainable development. This discussion should be balanced on the issues of poverty and its consequent challenges, particularly for the ability and capacity of LDC countries to realistically achieve the SDGs that will be formulated.
 
In particular, official development assistance (ODA) commitments by donor countries need to be reviewed, and financial support to LDCs that were committed to in the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPOA) need to be followed through. The implementation of duty-free quota-free market access for LDC products, in the spirit of the WTO Doha development agenda, also needs to be followed through. Furthermore, Benin called on the international community to support the transfer of technologies to LDCs, including through technology bonds as suggested in the IPOA.
 
Benin also said that some goals or sections in the SDGs should address LDCs specially, and during the course of the OWG, the LDC group will make specific proposals in this regard. The working group is a new process in the UN, and as such it provides an opportune moment for the UN to prove its centrality, legitimacy and efficacy that does not come often, maybe once in a decade. Benin emphasised that this working group will be the litmus test for the international community to prove that it is truly committed to address sustainable development, especially the kind that would have a transformative impact on LDCs.
 
On behalf of the Small Island Developing Countries (SIDs), Papua New Guinea said that the SDGs should consolidate the implementation of the MDGs, since all developing countries have invested heavily in this development process. The setting of targets and indicators should be quantifiable, strategic and universal. In particular, Papa New Guinea said that oceans, which remain the lifeblood of the SIDs, need to become an integral part of the post-2015 development framework.
 
The SIDs include the islands of Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
 
On behalf of the African Group, Chad said that the group aligns itself with the statement of the G77 and China. Chad said that the African Group underscores the importance of transparency, inclusivity and openness in the work of the SDG working group. In particular, openness means that the working group should also take into account contributions from other Member States who don't have seats in the working group. Chad reiterated the importance of the MDGs and the commitment of the international community to their achievement.
 
Existing declarations and outcome documents are vital to the design of the SDGs, including Agenda 21 (1992) and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (2002). Also vital to the SDGs are its means of implementation, in particular financial resources and technology transfer.
 
The African Group further stressed that the process of formulating SDGs must take into account varying capacities and levels of development. The Rio Principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should guide the process of the working group, as the principle is indispensable to ensure equitable development policies.
 
(See TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development dated 20 March titled: "SDG group starts work, G77 stresses means of implementation".)
 
Speaking for the country grouping of Brazil and Nicaragua, Brazil said they associate themselves with the statement of the G77 and China, and that Rio+20 reaffirmed the international community's commitment to sustainable development, while recognising that eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge.
 
Brazil said SDGs must be centered on addressing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, especially in the context of growing access to, and demand for, material goods. The SDGs, Brazil stressed, must be universal goals based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. With this principle, the SDGs have the potential to redirect global development efforts towards a path of equity and sustainability.
 
The SDGs should include the principles of equality, sustainability, complementarity and solidarity and be based on Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, ‘The Future We Want' (Rio+20 outcome document), as well as the outcomes of all UN major conferences in the economic, social and environmental fields.
 
Brazil stressed that the implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda, and the SDGs in particular, should be done by the High Level Political Forum. While ending poverty requires focusing on the 928 million people in developing countries, sustainable development actions require differentiated efforts from all countries. Thus, the means of implementation also differ significantly. Eradicating poverty will rely more on increased levels of ODA and loans on concessional terms, and less so on private investments. Sustainable development, on the other hand, allows for more diverse financing schemes, including the role of the private sector.
 
In particular, Brazil stressed that the already limited funds currently being channelled to the MDGs cannot be spread thin by diluting poverty eradication among a series of sustainable development goals. Implementation of the SDGs will require new financial arrangement. This is why the work of the intergovernmental committee of experts on a financing strategy for sustainable development must complement that of the SDG working group.
 
Bearing this in mind, the outcome of the working group's discussions cannot be prejudged by calling prematurely for a single set of development goals that would subsume renewed MDGs and SDGs. An open mind must be maintained toward all possible approaches that allow for a two-fold objective of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development.
 
Speaking for the country grouping of China, Indonesia and Kazakhstan, China said that members of the SDG working group should pool their wisdom and make a concerted effort to submit a satisfactory report to the 68th General Assembly.
 
China said the SDGs should embody three priorities. First, the SDGs should be guided by the Rio principles, in particular, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The goals should be universal, but at the same time respect the differences of countries in national conditions and development stage so as to ensure the right to development and policy space of all countries.
 
Second, the SDGs should be based on the MDGs and refer to the priority areas defined by Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Action and the Rio+20 outcome document.
 
Third, the Open Working Group should be an inclusive and transparent inter-governmental process based on the working principle of consensus among members. The final report of the working group should reflect the views of all its members in a comprehensive and balanced manner, and after being submitted to the 68th General Assembly, the report should only serve as a reference for the formulation of the SDGs. The final set of SDGs should be adopted by Member States through the inter-governmental consultation process at the General Assembly.
 
Speaking for the country grouping of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India said they associate themselves with the statement of the G77 and China. India, like most other developing countries, also called for the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities to underpin the SDGs, which "can only be meaningful if differentiation is appropriately embedded in them."
 
Furthermore, India said that "it is unreasonable to craft SDGs without paying due regard to the responsibility of those who rushed towards development without much regard for the needs of the global environment." India agreed with Brazil that addressing unsustainable consumption and production patterns in the lifestyle of people in developed countries is critical. In alignment with all developing countries, India stressed that the means of implementation are at the epicentre of the SDGs, for the goals cannot be targets that countries would have to meet through their own resources.
 
Mobilisation of international resources, including ODA, technology transfer and capacity-building is also critical. However, ODA alone will not be sufficient to meet the SDGs. A restructuring of the global financial infrastructure is needed so that it is conducive to development and provides policy space for developing countries to combine the benefits of economic growth, social equity and environmental opportunity.
 
For example, food security cannot be solved only by addressing the fragilities in agricultural practices. Macro-economic issues of agricultural subsidies, rules of multilateral trade and capacities of countries to absorb shocks must also be addressed. Thus, ensuring financial stability, market access for developing countries, agreement on a debt settlement mechanism and greater say for developing countries in global governance structures remain fundamental and critical. Importantly, South-South cooperation must contribute to a global partnership for SDGs, but it cannot be a substitute for North-South cooperation.
 
India proposed that the working group first develop a set of stand-alone economic, social and environmental goals as part of the SDG menu, before delving into their inter-linkages.
 
On behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), comprised of 14 member states of the Caribbean islands, Guyana said that the SDGs must be coherent and coordinated with other processes. In other words, there should be adequate means of implementation, based on the principle of additionality, and which include traditional forms of financing, especially for highly vulnerable countries and their efforts to secure economic resilience. The SDGs must also be universally applicable, people-centered, directly relevant to national priorities, respectful of country ownership, and flexible to differentiated approaches and measures.
 
Guyana said the CARICOM region is in the process of refining some key areas that could be considered in the elaboration of SDGs, which include linkages between energy, food and water. In particular, health can be treated in a more holistic manner addressing both communicable and non-communicable diseases; education can be enhanced in terms of access and quality; and measures can be strengthened to address disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
 
The SDGs also need to be well coordinated in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. For CARICOM, Guyana said, this means redoubling efforts to attain the MDGs by 2015 and determining how to treat those MDGs which will not be achieved by 2015. The successful implementation of any SDG will depend to a large degree on the extent to which the elaboration of MDGs and SDGs can be comprehensively reconciled within the context of the broader post-2015 development agenda.
 
The European Union (EU) said that SDGs should be global in nature, limited in number, action-oriented, and linked to concrete targets and indicators. The EU reaffirmed that SDGs need to integrate the three dimensions of economic, social and environmental issues in a balanced and coherent way, taking into consideration different capacities and level of development.
 
They welcomed an inclusive and transparent conduct of the working group, with input and support from the UN system as well as from the office of the (UN) Secretary-General. The working group needs to be informed by research-based evidence and input from the broadest possible range of actors.
 
The EU said it will be important to integrate progress made on the various other fronts, including the work of the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel, national and regional consultations, as well as the thematic consultations led by UN agencies.
 
The EU affirmed that the working group should contribute to the special event on the MDGs and post-2015 development framework in September 2013.
 
Speaking for the country grouping of Denmark, Ireland and Norway, Ireland said that the needs of the millions of poor are the current priority.
 
Ireland said that the collective responsibility in realising a set of collective goals requires a unified global approach to the eradication of poverty and the achievement of equitable development.
 
One fundamental point, Ireland stressed, is that all contributions to the SDG process should be based on the firm view that the objective of poverty eradication, in all its manifestations, is the key goal, and will permeate through all goals and targets.
 
Ireland asserted that three key requirements for sustainability are that of reforms to the political economy, changing unjust patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing natural resources. An area for consideration by the working group is that of open and universal goals. There is a firm recognition that civil society and other partners, including the scientific community and the private sector, have immense knowledge to contribute. Outreach to relevant international processes and integration of lessons of scientific evidence and the lessons and weaknesses of the current MDG framework are also important.
 
Speaking for the country grouping of the UK, Australia and the Netherlands, the Netherlands said a lot of unfinished business from Rio+20 still exists, particularly in gender, sexual and reproductive rights, and sustainability. While the global economy has achieved economic and social progress, ecological issues have not been adequately addressed.
 
The report of the (UNEP) Global Environment Outlook, in which 600 scientists look at multilateral agreements, concluded that apart from just four criteria, the world has hardly made any progress on the global ecology. The ways and means for the SDGs will require informal dialogue, based on solid scientific evidence.
 
The UN has made a "quantum leap" today by electing co-Chairs, adopting an agenda and adopting the modalities of work for the SDG working group. "Considering the UN this is moving ahead at the speed of lightning," said the Netherlands.
 
Speaking for the country grouping of Italy, Spain and Turkey, Spain said that the SDGs have not had an easy start. However, the work of the Open Working Group will feed into the myriad other processes underway in the UN system.
 
Spain said that peace, security and the rule of law will be important to address, as will consideration of different national capacities and policy agendas. The needs of LDCs are of key importance for a sustainable future, and the role of middle-income countries is vital to go forward beyond the traditional donor-recipient relationship.
 
Some key elements for the post-2015 agenda are food security, water, sanitation and the need to protect the environment and natural resources. Changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption is a key element, and includes managing the input and output of production as a life-cycle approach.
 
Today, said Spain, addressing sustainable development in its three dimensions is a first step toward the post-2015 framework.
 
The co-Chairs of the SDG working group decided on April 18-19 as the dates for the next meeting. However, several countries, including Egypt, Colombia, Pakistan, Bolivia, Ecuador and Turkey (in order of intervention) called for a postponement of the next meeting in order to allow for more time to prepare substantive proposals and to bring experts from capitals. Furthermore, many countries called for a longer duration for the meetings than two days, in order to allow for a more substantive, thorough and nuanced discussion. +

 


BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER