Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Apr13/01)
Third World Network
Nations: Work on Sustainable Development Goals gains momentum
Published in SUNS #7567 dated 17 April 2013
Beijing, 16 Apr (Chee Yoke Ling*) -- A conceptual discussion will
precede the identification of specific Sustainable Development Goals
as momentum picks up on the follow-up to the June 2012 Conference
on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference).
Two topics will be the focus of the second session of the United Nations
General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) that will take place on 17-19 April at the UN headquarters
in New York. The first will be on conceptualising the SDGs and the
SDG process, and the second on poverty eradication.
The focus on conceptual issues is a shift from the original draft
programme of work prepared by the OWG Co-chairs Ambassadors Macharia
Kamau of Kenya and Csaba Korosi of Hungary and is the result of a
concerted call by developing countries since the first session of
the OWG on 14-15 March 2013.
At the informal consultations of the OWG chaired by Ambassador Korosi
on 5 April, the Group of 77 and China (G77) reiterated this, emphasising
that as the OWG designs the parameters and contents of the work programme,
it is critically important to allow all members to identify priority
issues first through a mapping exercise before adopting the programme
of work for the months ahead.
Two documents were discussed at the informal consultations: a revised
draft programme of work for the second session of the OWG, and an
"Overview of Options for Programme of Work 2013-2014".
The first document proposed the following topics for the 17-19 April
session: (i) conceptual issues, MDG (Millennium Development Goals)
gap analysis and lessons learnt, and moving towards SDGs; and (ii)
poverty eradication, food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture,
desertification, land degradation.
The second document on "Overview of Options for Programme of
Work 2013-2014" included various clusters of different issues
as well as means of implementation as topics for the OWG sessions.
The periodicity options for meetings after the 17-19 April session
were: four five-day meetings, every second month or eight three-day
meetings once a month.
Most developing countries expressed concerns over the choice of clusters
of issues at this stage of the OWG's work, with many of them highlighting
missing issues as well as the need to first agree on conceptual issues
related to the SDGs and the overall approach to the programme of work.
[The Rio+20 outcome document mandated the OWG's establishment and
restricted its membership to 30 countries. Due to overwhelming interest
of Member States, it was finally agreed that some seats would be represented
by two or three countries, usually with these countries coming from
the same region. There are thus 70 members in total with some countries
taking turns being in the official 30 seats. In the inaugural session
of the OWG on 14-15 March, all UN Member States were invited to attend
and this will continue to be the procedure.
[Differences between developing and developed countries over the vision
and priorities for the SDGs were evident at the March meeting. 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 (finance and
technology) 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 the SDGs,
and prioritisation of ecological improvements as an overarching objective
of the SDGs.]
At the informal consultations on 5 April, developing countries reiterated
that the OWG is a Member State process and the proposed panels of
presenters on the topics for discussion at the OWG sessions should
not dominate the time available, which should be prioritised for Member
States. A number of developing countries support the creation of the
post of a rapporteur for the OWG, with many developed countries expressing
satisfaction for the Co-chairs to prepare the report of the OWG's
On the periodicity of the OWG meetings, many developing countries
preferred five days every two months rather than three days every
month, for reasons of resources and practicality, since many of their
delegates will be from their capitals. A "hybrid" solution
has been proposed by the Co-chairs on 10 April.
The draft programme of work dated 9 April that will guide the OWG's
work on 17-19 April now states that: The overarching framework is
poverty eradication and sustainable development; Cross-sectoral issues
will underpin all discussions, inter alia: governance, inequality
and equity, gender equality and women's empowerment, human rights
and rights-based approaches, means of implementation (added after
the 5 April informal consultations); The discussions will be guided
by: the principles affirmed in the Rio+20 outcome document, the need
to balance the economic, social and environmental dimensions, ensuring
coherence, implementation and assessing progress.
The 17-19 April session will comprise of three parts. First, a keynote
address on conceptualising the SDGs and the SDG process, followed
by an introduction of a UN Technical Support Team (TST) Issues Brief
on Conceptual Issues, and then an interactive exchange of views with
and among the OWG Member States on the topic. There will then be presentations
by two panellists followed by a moderated exchange of views on the
topic. Secondly, the same process will take place for the second topic
of the session, on poverty eradication. Thirdly, there will be a stock-taking
by the OWG of its second meeting, and a summary of the discussions,
with concluding remarks by the Co-chairs.
As agreed at the 5 April informal consultations, the panels will be
composed with due regard to ensuring regional representation, gender
balance, and the appropriate mix of expertise. The Technical Support
Team is co-chaired by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
and the UN Development Programme, and contributions to the Issues
Briefs are from the various UN bodies and programmes as well as the
World Bank and World Trade Organisation, according to the topics.
Below are the statements and views of various Member States and groupings
during the 5 April informal consultations that led to the revised
draft programme of work for the 17-19 April meeting. The focus was
on the draft programme of work for the 17-19 April session and the
periodicity of meetings for 2013-2014.
(There is an "input phase" of dialogue this year, followed
by an "output phase" of inter-governmental negotiations
of the SDGs next year.)
The Chairman of the Group of 77 and China (G77), Ambassador Peter
Thomson of Fiji, expressed appreciation at the inclusion of a conceptual
discussion in the April session of the OWG. He said that as the OWG
designs the parameters and contents of the work programme, it is critically
important to allow all members to identify priority issues first through
a mapping exercise before adopting the work programme for the months
ahead. In this regard, the G77 was of the view that members should
have more time to identify and discuss the issues. The involvement
of panellists in the April session should therefore be limited with
the objective of value adding to assist members to achieve greater
clarity in the conceptual debate. The Group also considered that the
work programme should not be rigid but provide reasonable flexibility
to allow the inclusion of emerging issues as discussion progresses
in the OWG.
On the periodicity of OWG meetings, the Group reiterated its preference
to have five-day meetings taking place every second month. This arrangement
is more financially and logistically feasible for most developing
countries to engage the participation of capital-based officials,
On the content of the work programme, the Group said that the categorisation
of cross-cutting issues or the clustering of issues should be identified
by members and be guided by the principles affirmed in the Rio+20
outcome document as well as the need to balance the economic, social
and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. It was concerned
that some of the Rio+20 Summit themes were not included in the revised
programme (the version that was considered at the 5 April informal
consultations) while others have been reflected differently. For example,
while the revised work programme attempted to address issues relating
to the economic dimension of sustainable development, the Group wishes
to include structural and systemic issues pertaining to governance,
economic and financial stability.
The G77 reiterated the fundamental importance for the SDGs to build
upon and complement the MDGs. Thomson said that as we focus our attention
on the SDGs, it is necessary that we also examine the inter-linkages
of the MDGs and the SDGs in the greater context of the post-2015 development
framework. The Group also stressed that it is imperative for the success
of the SDGs that the means of implementation must be an integral component
of the process. It is essential to underscore the importance of having
synergy in the work programme between the OWG on SDGs with the Working
Group on Financing for Sustainable Development.
(The financing working group is also an outcome from the Rio+20 Conference.)
Benin, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), said that
the LDC Group's view is that the process of the SDGs should move sequentially
starting with the setting up of principles, followed by goals and
targets, and finally framing the report outlook. It also said that
the draft Programme of Work 2013-2014 has no clarity on some of the
important procedural issues and does not yet reflect some of the substantive
proposals of the Group.
Benin stressed that the entire process should be owned and led by
Member States. The issue notes prepared by the Technical Support Team
should not pre-judge the discussions. For the credibility of the notes,
they should be prepared in a balanced and objective manner, with full
reflection of the challenges and priorities of the LDCs. The first
set of thematic areas, namely poverty, food security, agriculture,
desertification and land degradation are vitally important, said Benin,
referring to the cluster proposed in the draft programme of work for
the 17-19 April meeting. However, the time allocated for interventions
by Member States would be insufficient.
While the LDC Group was happy to note that the means of implementation
has been identified as a stand-alone agenda item, it called for explicit
reference to Official Development Assistance (ODA), trade, debt relief,
investment, capacity-building and technology transfer. The same issues
should be highlighted under the MDG gap analysis scheduled to take
place on 17 April.
(The 9 April version of the draft programme of work does not explicitly
refer to MDGs; however, the two Issues Briefs provide information
and analysis of the MDGs in addition to possible ways forward for
The LDC Group stressed the particular importance of ODA to the Group
because a recent OECD-DAC report demonstrates that development aid
has decreased by 4% in real terms in 2012, following a 2% fall in
2011. Worse still, bilateral net ODA to LDCs has plunged by 12.8%
in real terms in 2011, said Benin. The Group also wants the inclusion
of productive capacity development, economic crisis and resilience
building, capacity- building, migration, floods and droughts, commodities,
ocean and mountain and tourism in the programme of work. These items
should be included in relevant clusters, with discussions on the inter-linkages
among the different themes of a cluster. The allocation of time for
the discussions on the three pillars of sustainable development should
Ghana (speaking for West Africa) said that we need to understand conceptual
issues first before going to the goals. We need to understand how
we are going to make them universal, simply, how to design them, how
to attach means of implementation, indicators etc. It added that the
OWG could ask those who crafted the MDGs to tell us how they did it.
Ghana stressed that the panellists invited to the OWG session should
give goals and indicators and how to structure these so that Member
States can have a proper discussion. It also cited financial constraints
in supporting five-day meetings every two months.
Barbados (speaking for the Caribbean Community, CARICOM) noted the
importance of the inclusion of a conceptual session and the need to
have a better idea of how to move forward conceptually. It said that
more time is needed for MDG mapping, and to ensure that the three
dimensions of sustainable development are balanced, and that means
of implementation are included. Barbados also called for balance in
the panels - views of civil society and experts should contribute
to the OWG's work, and the process should not be too laden or bereft
Mexico (speaking also for Peru and Colombia) said the group does not
want to see academic exercises. It agreed that discussions should
be facilitated, and structured with analytical elements prepared by
the UN system and the Secretariat. But it did not think it would be
appropriate to abuse the presence of panellists and make it difficult
for dialogue among Member States. Mexico added that we already spent
a long time discussing thematic issues since Rio+20, and institutional
memory is not lost. When it's necessary, there can be inputs from
the UN system, but for now we do not want academic exercises.
The group stressed the need for sufficient time for conceptual discussions
(an entire day), and did not agree that we should shrink the conceptual
discussion of SDGs and MDGs and the inter-linkages and transitions
to mapping. Mexico also emphasised the issue of poverty as an overarching
issue, stating that poverty is a multi- dimensional phenomenon and
that it cannot just be linked to food security (as in the proposed
draft programme of work under discussion on 5 April). It said that
the OWG needs a conceptual discussion of poverty in all its dimensions,
adding that the UN has come a long way from poverty as an indicator
On thematic issues, the group agreed with the G77 that there should
be a balance among the three pillars and countries should be allowed
to identify other themes. Mexico further said that discussion of themes
does not mean we are losing sight of the global context, the macroeconomic
and social context, the structural parameters - these are very broad
but are challenges that should be addressed at the very first meeting.
Indonesia said that with regard to the organisational arrangement
of the OWG, a five-day session taking place every two months is a
more reasonable and feasible option. For a developing country such
as Indonesia, the option for monthly meetings will seriously pose
logistical and financial difficulties, particularly as we have capital-based
representative in the OWG.
It stressed that the second meeting of the OWG should be dedicated
for conceptual discussion on the OWG in which Member States are given
ample space to discuss and share thoughts in an interactive manner,
on elements and priorities of the development agenda based on the
lessons learnt from the MDGs as well as from other internationally
agreed development agreements and conventions, among others, Agenda
21, the Millennium Declaration, JPOI (Johannesburg Plan of Implementation),
Monterrey Consensus, and Rio+20 that are important to be highlighted
and further discussed in the OWG.
On the finalisation of the Programme of Work of the OWG, Indonesia
said that this should be built from the synthesis of the discussion
on the mapping and conceptualising of the SDGs, and therefore, subsequently
take place after the conclusion of the discussion.
Indonesia also stressed that there are a few important elements of
the development agenda that have been reiterated by many developing
countries at the first informal (consultation of the OWG) on 28 March,
that are not yet well reflected in the draft Programme of Work, among
others, the focus on the systemic and structural issues, in particular
reflection on global economic governance, global financial stability,
issues of trade and financing for development. It added that these
issues deserve special attention and ample time for deliberation by
Indonesia then proposed (supporting the views that were expressed
by other countries) that the second meeting of the OWG on 17-19 April
2013 should be dedicated to having comprehensive discussions on concepts
and elements of priorities, as well as clarifying how the linkage
of the issues that are going to be discussed during the "input
phase" of the OWG on SDGs, from April to December 2013, could
feed in a comprehensive and inclusive manner with the "output"
phase from January to September 2014, the period for us to structure
and formulate our recommendation on the SDGs.
China expressed full support for the G77 and Indonesia (who will represent
the China-Indonesia-Kazakhstan troika for the April session). It said
that the G77 wants a conceptual discussion because it is to figure
out the structure and the outline, the roadmap, and timetable of the
work of the OWG before jumping into thematic clusters like the first
programme of work did. If you already set out the agenda, then there
is no point in having a conceptual discussion, said China. It heard
different requests for priority issues, so why don't we as Member
States spend the day discussing priority areas and then we can choose,
it said, proposing the second day of the April meeting for this. After
discussing conceptual issues and priority areas, then on the third
day, we will be in a better position to discuss the way forward, China
India supported China, adding that inter-linkages should be included
during the conceptualisation discussion.
Ecuador (speaking also for Argentina and Bolivia) expressed concern
that some suggestions from the G77 and China supported by many delegations
have not been taken into account and reflected in the programme of
work. It said that the OWG cannot confine poverty to one theme in
the first (substantive) meeting, stating its agreement with Mexico
that this is a broad, multi-dimensional theme. It also stressed the
link between poverty eradication and inequalities. The group was concerned
that too much time is to be devoted to experts, also querying who
these experts are and whether there will be a balance in the representation.
Ecuador said it is not a question of micro-management but rather suggestions
to implement the inter-governmental mandate entrusted to us from Rio.
Argentina separately said that the first meeting on 17 April must
have states doing a mapping, stressing that delegates look at the
links among the contents differently, e. g. water and energy. It stressed
the need to look at all the issues, linkages and cross-cutting issues.
On the panels, it said there are still too many of them and not much
time for interactions of States, and that panellists should provide
a framework of what they are going to speak on. On the summary of
discussion, this should be authentic, neutral and clear but must also
allow States to say whether their views are reflected or not.
Nicaragua (speaking also for Brazil) said they have emphasised on
many occasions the importance of having in-depth discussions on conceptualisation,
and since the very first meeting have stressed the importance of poverty
eradication as a key issue. On experts at the roundtable, it said
that we have little time left so we should focus on Member States.
We know you say 90% time for Member States but we are not going to
negotiate with experts. For them to be useful for us we need to know
who they are, and how they are chosen.
(The Co-chair had earlier, in response to Ecuador's statement, said
that panellists will take minutes, they will offer ideas but 90% of
the time is for Member States.)
Pakistan (speaking also for India and Sri Lanka) noted that the task
ahead is difficult and requires intensive negotiations/work. It sought
a better understanding on the status of the "note(s)" (to
be prepared by the UN Technical Support Team mandated to provide inputs
to the OWG). Are they information documents, conference room papers
and/or background notes? This is important since the proposed conclusions
are based on Co-chairs' summary and therefore, a comparability would
be needed in treating the note(s) and the inter-governmental summary,
The group also said that it is useful to have Co-chairs' summary during
the initial phase of conceptualisation, but we may need to revisit
this aspect at a later date when the work would get more substantive
Pakistan said that it may be useful to further clarify the nature
of stocktaking and its relationship with the Summary. It understood
that stocktaking would be open to the wider membership of the UN and
that we will provide sufficient time to other stakeholders in addressing
the OWG and its membership. In such a scenario, would the Summary
separately reflect views from the stocktaking, asked Pakistan.
The group also encouraged the Co-chairs to maintain focus on the MDG
and SDG nexus during all sessions and where appropriate, and to not
limit it to the session on 17 April; revisiting this nexus along with
Means of Implementation at the final session would be highly useful.
Lastly, Pakistan requested consideration for inter-sessional work
and how that work could be conducted under the Co-chairs' guidance.
Nauru (representing the Pacific troika) supported a conceptual discussion
of the MDGs, lessons and gaps and expressed tentative reservations
about the issues listed in the programme of work, for example, in
the Pacific, food security and nutrition have a lot to do with fisheries
(an issue not in the list of the draft programme of work for the 17-19
South Sudan agreed with the G77 and LDCs that we should get into conceptual
issues. How would the goals look like? What is the roadmap of how
this work will be done? The delegate described the process as a teacher
telling a class to draw an animal with four legs but every one would
have a different idea - a cow, a goat, etc. It said that once we have
identified the principles of the SDGs, then we can look at goals and
targets. It expressed a need for a rapporteur, for clarity and constructiveness
of the OWG.
Tanzania agreed that a MDG gap analysis offers information on what
glaring gaps exist and what needs to be addressed by SDGs. Those gaps
need thorough analysis, so it agreed with Mexico that poverty should
be overarching and that it cannot be pigeon-holed to a single focus.
While it welcomed the participation of experts, it also wanted to
ensure there is balance between their presentations. It also supported
having means of implementation in every cluster.
Egypt supported the call for more space for conceptual discussion,
noting that drought that affects many African countries, and that
is part of Chapter 5 of the Rio+20 outcome document guiding the OWG's
work, is not in the programme of work. It is important to have a conceptual
discussion so we can unlock the many questions, it added. Uganda said
that there is also need to discuss conceptualisation of implementation
and the means of implementation; it is indicated as a stand-alone
item later on but this needs to come out in the conceptualisation
Morocco said that identifying the point of transition from MDGs to
SDGs is not an easy task; a lot is at stake. Poverty cannot be discussed
without taking account of the MDGs, and we are in the midst of an
extremely sensitive phase, very much subject to the history of development.
How do we conceptualise goals for the international community - what
are the most significant goals? How do we demarcate what is significant
and what is not, what is significant for developed countries but also
for developing countries?
Norway (speaking also for Denmark and Ireland) agreed with Co-chair
Korosi's reminder of the interactivity of the input phase of the OWG's
work, and the need for inputs, stating that it would leave the number
of panellists to the Co-chairs. It fully supported the inclusion of
cross-cutting issues in the programme of work. It did not see a need
for a rapporteur, adding that the Co-chairs have been empowered to
lead Member States for this work.
Switzerland (speaking also for France and Germany) also agreed to
a Co-chairs' report of the OWG meetings, saying that they can capture
crucial points of the discussion and that there is no compelling reason
for a rapporteur. The group emphasised that we are in the input phase
so we need inputs from all the experts and that an "open"
working group means that experts can be invited. It added that in
Rio (June 2012 conference), it had clearly spoken out against the
(UN General Assembly) Second Committee procedure where we negotiate
everything that we do.
Israel (speaking also for Canada and the US) expressed support for
the draft programme of work for the 17-19 April session and asked
that water and energy be included in April, at least in relation to
agriculture. This topic should be discussed separately as well later.
It agreed that the OWG should do an MDG gap analysis and mapping and
that the Secretariat (DESA) and UNDP could provide a summary. Stating
that Member States should not micro-manage, Israel also acknowledged
the challenge we face due to lack of mutual trust (referring to the
issue of a rapporteur).
The United Kingdom (speaking also for Australia and the Netherlands)
supported empowering the Co-chairs with sufficient flexibility. It
asked for issues to be looked at from the perspective of drivers of
poverty as this is the overarching aim of the OWG work. It said that
cross-cutting issues should be the backdrop of the April discussion
and offered Sir John Beddington, former chief scientist of the UK
Government or Sir Bob Watson, to speak on agriculture.
Cyprus (speaking also for Singapore and the United Arab Emirates)
said it had expressed some reservations at the March informal consultations,
over some of the linkages made among the clusters of issues, but supported
the Co-chairs' draft programme of work for the April OWG session.
The Republic of Korea and Japan also supported the draft programme
In his concluding remarks, Co-chair Korosi said that from the informal
discussions, the April session will be devoted to the two dimensions
of conceptual issues and eradication of extreme poverty. The panellists
will be advised on what to focus on, and their papers and interventions
will not be considered in any way as any sort of binding document.
These will be for Member States' consideration and digestion, you
can use them, you can bring your own ideas, he said.
He added that efforts will be made to get the best experts, especially
with regional balance and hopefully with gender balance as well. In
addition, the Co-chairs will ask the Secretariat to prepare issues
notes on conceptualisation and eradication of extreme poverty and
these will be available on 11 April.
At this point, Peru intervened to stress that the theme of poverty
must be dealt with in a multi-dimensional manner, not just eradication
of extreme poverty. This was supported by Ecuador who asked for the
word "extreme" to be dropped.
On the options for the periodicity and length of meetings, a letter
dated 10 April from the Co-chairs to Member States proposes a hybrid
as follows: 22-24 May, 2013; 17-19 June, 2013; 25-27 November, 2013;
9-13 December, 2013; 6-10 January, 2014; and 3-7 February, 2014.
The letter also states that, "It is expected that the precise
topics for these meetings will be determined by the outcome (of) the
conceptualisation and mapping exercise meeting next week."
(* With inputs from Bhumika Muchhala.) +