TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Apr13/05)
26 April 2013
Third World Network

South emphasizes equity and means of implementation for SDGs
An earlier version was published in SUNS #7573 Thursday 25 April 2013

New Delhi, 24 April (Ranja Sengupta) – Substantive work on formulating sustainable development goals (SDGs) at the United Nations began with discussions on conceptualizing the goals and the SDG process, and on poverty eradication.

The second session of the UN General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) was held in New York on 17-19 April.

(The Rio+20 outcome document mandated the OWG's establishment with a membership of 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, and statements can be made in the name of each “troika” or as individual members. The Co-chairs are Ambassadors Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Csaba Korosi of Hungary.)

The April session conducted some stock-taking of the experience in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with their 2015 deadline, heard numerous statements from Member States, considered the relationship between the SDG and post-2015 development process, and agreed on the thematic issues for the next two OWG sessions in May and June. The UN Technical Support Team co-chaired by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Development Programme provided two Issues Briefs on Conceptual Issues and Poverty Eradication. Two expert panels on conceptual issues and poverty eradication also provided inputs for interactive discussion with and among Member States.

The afternoon of 17 April was organized as a panel discussion where Ms. Claire Melamed, Head of the Growth and Equity Unit of the Overseas Development Institute and Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs, New School, USA presented their views on conceptual issues. The panel on poverty eradication took place on 18 April afternoon with presentations by Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Director-General, FAO and Professor Sabina Alkire, Director, Oxford University Poverty and Human Development Initiative. The panel discussions interactive and Member States responded with questions and comments.

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, presented an Issues Brief on Conceptual Issues prepared by the UN Technical Support Team. He highlighted that most proposals are in terms of limited, measurable and concrete set of goals. In terms of putting eradication of poverty as central to the context of SDGS, he said poverty and sustainability are two sides of the same coin. Based on the report, he suggested a set of universal goals for both developed and developing countries with two options. A common set of goals could be worked out with differentiated targets or timelines at national levels; or, a common set of goals with multiple targets and indicators so that each country could plan their own development agenda. He said, “we have to take into consideration what we can measure, things for which member states can get accurate, timely and disaggregated data”. He also added that MDGs and SDGs are not in conflict. SDGs have the potential to accelerate and complement the work done by MDGs.

Following this, more than 20 Member States and groupings/troikas spoke. Below are the highlights of some of the statements with regard to the conceptual discussion, made on 17 April and the morning of 18 April. Observers and the representatives of major groups also spoke during the sessions. The statements displayed a range of positions: on universality versus national priorities, on global partnership for development and means of implementation, on structural factors that cause poverty and inequality across countries, and on the possible merging of the two processes.

Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji spoke as Chair of the Group of 77 and China (G77), reiterating the Group’s view that the identification of principles and the categorisation of cross-sectoral issues should be arrived at after the OWG’s mapping exercise, which allow all States to contribute and identify their respective priority areas of sustainable development. He stressed that the Issues Briefs are intended for information only and should not have any legal status in the final report of the OWG.

On the guiding principles, he said that those “must be based on those enumerated in Agenda 21 and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), be consistent with international law, and should fully respect all Rio Principles and the sovereignty of States over their natural resources, including the need for all states to cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem and that States have Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR).”

Thompson said further that SDGs should contribute to the fulfillment of the right of development for developing countries. Moreover, in fulfilling their SDGs, 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 to enable developing countries to achieve the SDGs. This should be done through the provision of new and additional financing resources, technology transfer in concessional terms, capacity building, pro-development trade policies and effective means of implementation (MOI).

He also emphasized that it is critical to get the content of the SDGs right at the beginning. For example, sustainable development agenda has to place the global economic and financial crisis at its heart in order to be relevant, and include the social and environmental crises as well. It must address the structural factors and root causes that give rise to these crises”. He added that there must be a significant section on strengthening the Global Partnership for Development that is to be conceived and designed in a systematically adequate manner.

Further, he said that each SDG should be linked with the strengthened Global Partnership for Development. These means of implementation must be supported by actions from developed countries at the international level, such as time-bound financing targets; associated trade and economic policies; technology transfer and other resources to assist and enable developing countries efforts.

Thompson also highlighted the 3 pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental), and what these could contain in a meaningful SDG framework.

(For more details, please see TWN Info Service on UN Sust Dev: SDGs must contain goals on global issues & commitments - G77 dated 19 April 2013).

The G77 statement was supported by numerous developing countries, including Benin (which spoke next on behalf of Least Developed Countries), Tanzania, Nicaragua (also on behalf of Brazil), Indonesia (also on behalf of China and Kazakhstan), Colombia (also on behalf of Guatemala), Vietnam (also on behalf of Bhutan and Thailand), Egypt, Zambia (also on behalf of Zimbabwe and South Africa), Nigeria (also on behalf of Ghana), Papua New Guinea, Bolivia (also on behalf of Ecuador and Argentina), Pakistan (also on behalf of Sri Lanka and India), Bangladesh, Morocco, Uruguay, Ethiopia, South Africa, Cuba, Barbados, Paraguay.

Benin (on behalf of the LDC) said that the SDGs should be primarily be based on Agenda 21 of the Rio +20 outcome document. SDGs should fully absorb lessons learnt from MDGs. It emphasized that the LDCs are lagging behind in capacity and other areas of MDGs and therefore the SDGs will remain incomplete unless attention is paid to the LDCs. The implementation mechanism is crucial, it stressed. Differential and preferential treatment of LDCs is a must. The LDC category that exists from a long time could be used and there was no need to reinvent the wheel, it highlighted.

On the environment aspect, Benin argued that the LDCS are not causes of environmental degradation but face the results of it, so instead of a “one size fits all” approach, they must have differential treatment. On MOI, he said that LDCs do not have sufficient domestic resources as their tax, investment, finances are low, and therefore LDCs must be provided preferential treatment embodied in a differential and preferential treatment. It also said that LDCs want a strong voice in the OWG.

Nicaragua (also on behalf of Brazil) talked about the historical responsibilities of the developed countries towards the developing ones, stressing the importance of CBDR and ensuring the means of implementation.  A successful implementation of SDGs requires the addressing of issues such as trade, finance, technology. International cooperation is very important for developing countries in order to be able to implement SDGs, so the SDGs have to have a section on global support, it emphasized. Nicaragua added that no developed country has yet achieved SD so it is important to change production and consumption patterns. On MOI, the need for technology and capacity is important. We have to evaluate new funding as well as use of funds, accompanied by indicators on use and goals, it said. The SDGs must specify source of financing and use.

Indonesia (also on behalf of China and Kazakhstan) highlighted the importance of multilateralism as a cornerstone to achieve SDGs and that there was a historical responsibility towards the MDGs. It reiterated that the work of the OWG was based on the (1992) Rio principles including CBDR, in addition to that of the Monterrey Consensus (on financing for development) and Agenda 21. The goals must be universal but take into account the different national priorities. The troika urged that the framework must not deviate from the main topic of development. The SDGs, must aim to end poverty but sustainable development and global partnership should be basic principles.

In terms of structure, the troika argued that balance between the 3 pillars is necessary and the necessary structure for this to be achieved must be explored including finance, technical transfer, and capacity development. Global MOI including finance must also be garnered. The systemic and structural issues like global trade, finance are cross sectoral issues must be addressed.

Indonesia also highlighted that poverty eradication is a key element of SDGs which the SDGs should reaffirm and not deviate from. Multidimensional poverty should be the main goal. Alongside poverty eradication requires that the 3 pillars must be put forward in a mutually sustaining way. Finally, GDP per capita and therefore increases in production capacity and job creation, is very important for developing countries which must be kept in mind for the SDGs.

Colombia (also on behalf of Guatemala) suggested that there needs to be a single set of global common goals for global coherence as no country stands alone today. But the framework must also provide for differences at country levels. Colombia suggested that there be a “dashboard” with common targets and indicators where countries sign on to whichever they want voluntarily. They can also add more if they want. Colombia added that if there is a fear that this will mean a race to the bottom, they believe that “it will lead to a race to the top”. The dashboard system can also provide specific targets and indicators for those at the very bottom and the marginalized.

On MOI, Colombia said it subscribed to the view that MOI should be built into each goal. There are many crosscutting issues, and there can be target sharing across different goals.

Egypt articulated very clearly that there must be structural flexibility at the national level in the SDG framework and a recognition of inequalities in any assessment of outcomes. The framework must focus on means (processes) and not only on outcomes. It made a very strong case that for developing countries the access to market and technology is far more important than foreign aid and they need a more “enabling environment”. The principle of universality could be followed but common and differentiated responsibility must also be recognized. As far as MOI is concerned, Egypt highlighted the role of trade, investment, intellectual property rights for developing countries.

Bolivia (also on behalf of Argentina and Ecuador) highlighted the universal nature of SDGs. On the principle of universality, the developed countries should show greater commitment to sustainable consumption and production patterns and the developing countries should be supported in their efforts to reach development goals. Bolivia also asserted that the SDGs should go beyond the reductionist view of just economic growth. It stressed the importance of common but differentiated responsibility, and that national plans and perspectives must be given due importance. Poverty is multidimensional and the rights of workers, women, children, old people, the disabled, must be recognised in this regard.

Bolivia highlighted that the multiplicity of crises adversely impacts social protection measures such as social security. So the structural causes must be addressed and we must have concrete measures to deal with such crises. It also agreed with several other developing countries that every SDG must be accompanied by means of implementation (MOI). Transfer of technology, capacity building and financing for developing countries must be the obligations of developed countries, adding that, “we can’t be prisoner to financial colonialism”. It also made several proposals on SDGs.

Pakistan (also on behalf of India and Sri Lanka) asked for a coherent, measurable set of SDGs that would incorporate all the three dimensions of SD. It highlighted that under the MDG framework, MDG 8 (on global partnership) was under-realized as it did not have indicators or goals. Each goal under the SDGs must have a set of indicators and attached MOI. The troika noted the work done by the UN technical team and the emphasis on the review of financing. It wanted a separate agenda to be set on this issue. The dearth of good quality data and to set this as a stand-alone goal was also highlighted by Pakistan.

Bangladesh said that the MDGs were clear and measurable there was no framework in it. SDGs must be anchored on the three pillars of sustainable development. The goals should be ambitious but flexible in recognizing differences in national priorities. It highlighted that economic growth must be given high priority but only one that is equitable and environment friendly. It further highlighted the importance of multidimensional poverty, and the need to address climate change in the SDGs, including both mitigation and adaptation. Displacement caused by climate change must also be addressed.

Bangladesh stressed that MDG8 should be very clearly stated and related to each goal separately as well as collectively. Financing, technology transfer etc have to be give due attention, and while aid is important, it is trade that has to be linked to the SDGs. It also called for democratic governance at the international levels, both within the institutions and outside.

Saudi Arabia said that the Rio principles, Agenda 21 and CBDR must underpin the conceptual framework of the SDGs and the different political and economic contexts of countries must be acknowledged. The goals must be pragmatic, implementable and affordable. It said that MOI was critical for success of the goals. On convergence, it said that we must figure out how the two frameworks interact with one another.

Uruguay highlighted areas that it would like to see covered under the SDGs such as gender and income inequalities, food security, degradation of the earth, healthcare especially in non-communicable diseases, education (including secondary education and information technology). It stressed the importance of access to markets for developing countries and the role of agricultural subsidies given by developed countries in this regard. The statement underlined the need to adapt current consumption and production patterns and the need for the developed countries to take lead in this matter. Uruguay also said that finance must accompany each of the objectives.

Ethiopia said “we cannot limit ourselves thinking what can be done, what ought to be done should also be a guide”. It further pointed out the importance of MOI and the “right to development” in this process. It highlighted that unsustainable production and consumption patterns need to be eliminated. On convergence Ethiopia favoured that SDGs complement rather than substitute MDGs. It also suggested that major bottlenecks are never given due attention. It is important to have open, transparent, non-discriminatory multilateral rules of trade and investment, and technologies must be given “paramount importance”, said Ethiopia.

South Africa drew attention to how FDI is falling in Africa both in absolute terms and in shares. On global partnership, it asked for the focus to be shifted from donor-recipient to fair rules of trade, flexible IPRs, so that local manufacturing products could be developed, to also meet health and nutrition needs in order to meet the MDGs. While the principle of universality can be adopted, the SDGs must acknowledge different points in development trajectories and therefore allow local adaptation, South Africa said. It also suggested that SDGs be staggered into short, medium and long-term interventions.

Cuba agreed with many others in arguing for common but differentiated responsibility and the need to acknowledge different national circumstances and capabilities. Cuba suggested that measurable commitments must be made by developed countries for each SDG. The SDGs must not dilute the international commitments made by developed countries. Cuba also asked for a “frank and open debate on global governance” including governance of international institutions.

Zambia (also on behalf of Zimbabwe and South Africa) asserted that the SDGs must be much broader than the MDGs and have a multidimensional, multi-sectoral approach. They must recognize the principle of CBDR and ensure equity and equality in partnerships. On MOI, Zambia agreed with several other developing countries and the G77 that each SDG must be accompanied by their MOI. It also emphasized that goals must not only be quantitative but ensure quality as well.

Nigeria (also on behalf of Ghana) said that while the technical support team report is very good, it should not any role in determining the final outcome of the process.

In a separate statement speaking for itself, Nigeria emphasized upholding the principle of CBDR and the need to foster the “enablers of development” such as peace and security, rule of law and accountability.

Peru (also on behalf of Mexico) argued that SDGs be built on what has already been agreed on internationally and should be based on the success of the MDGs. It also argued that we must be clear as to the critical added value of SDGs and as to what we are trying to achieve with it.  It welcomed the dashboard idea floated by Colombia that suggests voluntary commitments and a tailoring to national priorities. Peru asked the OWG to consider follow up and implementation mechanism and keep in consideration the global economic context.

Bhutan mentioned that while the MDGs talk about minimum material needs, an indicator of well-being, on the lines of Bhutan’s indicator of happiness, could be introduced.

Paraguay said that SDGs should be built on MDGs but strengthened where MDGs have not done well, and that SDGs need to be catered to national structures and capacities.

Costa Rica mentioned that SDGs must not divert from the MDGs, and wanted a more equitable distribution of wealth, equitable development and poverty alleviation in MDGs. It highlighted that affordable energy sources must be tapped to help reach goals.

The European Union presented its preliminary ideas and called for one overarching framework and a simple set of goals. It argued that the link between poverty and sustainable development has to be recognized. It highlighted the importance of implementing the three dimensions of SD in a balanced manner.

On specifics, the EU suggested further work on SDGs could include some of the following issues; basic living standards including water, sanitation etc; drivers for sustainable growth such as sustainable consumption; natural resources such as forests and ocean; equity and justice such as gender equality, human rights, governance at all levels; peace and security. All these areas should not be seen as a stand-alone but as crosscutting.

While saying that the supporting "Global partnership" will be an important element of the new framework, the EU also pointed towards the need to establish responsibilities for all partners (mutual accountability) and focus on actions both at global and national level. It said that while external support remains important for countries most in need, "Means of Implementation" is about putting all resources to good and efficient use, whether from public or private, domestic or international sources. The EU also said that we need a new thinking of international cooperation, moving away from traditional 'donor-recipient' paradigm.

On the principles related to the SDG process, the EU said that it remains committed to the MDGs and did not want to “take away” from it and that duplication between MDGs and SDGs should be avoided. The EU said that the agenda can be ambitious but flexible.

Italy (also on behalf of Spain and Turkey) highlighted that the SDGs can build on the case of policymaking experience on development cooperation. It talked about the important role of MDGs and raised a question as to the additional value of SDGs. It highlighted certain keywords such as employment, labour, women, equality, physical security among others. He emphasized that the SDGs need to promote technology, the use of natural resources and the utilization of knowledge.

Switzerland favoured an overarching framework for SDGs that includes the post 2015 development agenda, which will also have a balanced consideration of all the three dimensions. It favoured an incorporation of SD into all policy areas. Goals should be universally applicable but allow for country specific differences. Switzerland emphasized the role of domestic resource mobilization and knowledge.

The United States (also on behalf of Canada and Israel) argued that poverty eradication needs to be at the core of the agenda and a greater attention to inequality and exclusion must be paid. It stressed on a “balanced” approach in dealing with the issues, but made it clear that it was not using balance in the sense that all goals have to get equal attention on a necessary basis. In terms of principles, the US said that nature of goals needs to be universal but relevant to national goals and priorities. It also argued that the MDGs remain and unfinished business and must have a home, a follow-up. The US said that whatever goals are there in the SDG/MDGs, they do not represent the entirety of the agenda, there are other processes where these can also be addressed.

Norway (also on behalf of Iceland and Denmark), argued for a single set of global goals, universal, realistic and measurable. Under each set of goals, there could be targets for all countries which could recognize national priorities. On MOI, Norway posed a question as to how to address its major weaknesses such as trade, financing, domestic resource mobilization, public-private partnership (PPP), redistribution and technology transfer. It said MOI cannot be independent of goals and targets, and also argued that all 3 dimensions of SDGs be integrated into each goal.

Australia said that it could see commonality emerging on multidimensional poverty eradication as being central. It argued that it is important that “goals in themselves are outcome oriented” and that “we want to be ambitious but also realistic”. An extensive list of priorities which includes big and contentious issues such as climate change and trade (among others) is being mentioned and, Australia argued, we must decide on the value-add of those issues in this forum if we decide to tackle them. On MOI, it said there is a need to have a comprehensive view.

South Korea also proposed that there should be common goals but with different targets and indicators by countries. It said that MOI should be consisted with commitments countries have made in other fora.

The Russian Federation said the OWG is important as preparatory work for the general assembly in 2014-15. It supported a single international agenda for development. Russia pointed out that in this framework it is not appropriate to have general ideas or political views expressed. The new goals must be concise, few in number, aspirational in scope and global in scope, it said, adding that MDGs be merged into SDGs, and that SDGs are a continuation of MDGs.

New Zealand laid the case for an overarching development agenda with a single set of goals. But the gap of inclusive economic growth must be addressed.

Bulgaria and Romania, in separate interventions, both argued for a single coordinated agenda. Both countries highlighted the importance of issues such as freedom, peace and security, gender equality, good governance.


The moderator of the discussion on conceptual issues, Dr. Marc Levy, Deputy Director, Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network, gave an address on the SDGs and talked about the timeline, whether to have long term or short term goals under the SDG framework.

The position of Member States varied significantly on this question, with countries such as Brazil showing a preference for long term targets and Italy suggested a long time frame with a step by step approach. On the other hand, China cautioned against a long term plan as we are in a rapidly changing world; setting 30-year indicators may become meaningless. Ethiopia, too, favoured a more short term/medium term time frame. It said the period should be long term while not losing sight of short-term actions in some areas such as climate change.