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TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Mar14/03)
14 March 2014
Third World Network

North-South debate in the UN within context of Sustainable Development Goals
By Bhumika Muchhala (14 March 2014)

- Developing countries voice various concerns and priorities on differentiation, means of implementation, global partnership and a narrative in the 9th session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals -

The first of five intergovernmental consultation sessions in the second phase of the United Nations Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took place on 3-5 March in New York.  The eight OWG sessions thus far constituted the “input” phase.  They took place over the course of one year, from March 2013 to February 2014.

The OWG is a key process for the follow-up of the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20).  The Co-chairs of the OWG are Ambassadors Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Csaba Korosi of Hungary.

On 21st February, the Co-Chairs delivered a ‘Focus Areas’ document attached to a letter to all Member States.  While the Co-Chairs’ document did not indicate specific goals and targets, it did identify 19 clustered thematic areas that could define the SDG framework and that governments will discuss and develop further in their negotiation process. 

The letter is available at: (http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/3272cochairsletter.pdf)
and the 8-page document with 19 focus areas at: (http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html).

Developing countries, led by the Group of 77 (G77) and China highlighted seven key issues that are of priority to them.  A brief summary is given below, followed by more detailed coverage of statements and points made by member countries. 

On the whole, developing countries consistently stressed that while the SDGs framework is universally relevant to all countries, the roles and responsibilities in the implementation of the goals should be differentiated with respect to the different national realities, capacities and levels of development, as well as to national policies and priorities.  The seventh Rio Principle (1992) on common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) was repeatedly referenced by developing countries to guide the translation of each SDG goal into targets.

Developing countries also unanimously called for both a stand-alone goal on means of implementation as well as its integration across each goal, emphasizing that the concept embodies not just financial resources, but also technological development and transfer and capacity building.  India and Indonesia in particular called for a stand-alone goal on a strengthened “global partnership for development,” while the G77 and China underscored the importance of integrating international systemic issues and the creation of an international enabling environment under global partnership.  Meanwhile, Brazil and Nicaragua expressed concern with the excessive reliance on multi-stakeholder schemes, or the so-called “partnerships,” for the implementation of SDGs.

A. Conclusion of the OWG 9 session and second draft of the text

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Co-Chairs announced that in about 10 days’ time (mid-March) they will deliver a second draft of the focus areas document that will be “tweaked” to reflect Member States’ input.  However, they emphasized that there will be no “radical changes,” and that their intention is to “slightly amend” the document, with some of the “fat taken out.”

Despite the fact that both Member States and various civil society organisations participating in the Major Groups had voiced concerns and problems with the Co-Chairs’ focus areas text over the course of three days, the Co-Chairs did not demonstrate an assurance towards substantively integrating said concerns into the second draft of the text.  Rather than affirming that key sections, such as on a global partnership for development, or a narrative, might be added to the text, the Co-Chairs instead emphasized reducing the text even further.

Two new documents will also be produced.  The first is a map that lays out inter-linkages between the 19 focus areas of the SDGs; and the second is a document that outlines targets and decisions that have already been agreed to in various other multilateral fora.

In response to the Co-Chairs, Brazil and Nicaragua called for the inclusion of a narrative, extracted from the Rio+20 Outcome Document, ‘The Future We Want,’ with care being taken not to renegotiate the language in Rio+20 but rather to simply condense the key points. They also called for a stronger and more comprehensive means of implementation and global partnership, as well as the explicit inclusion of the CBDR principle.  Argentina, China, India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabiaagreed with Brazil and Nicaragua said, with India stressing that the Co-Chairs “tweaking” should not amount to subtracting or chopping off sections of the focus areas text.  Rather it should add and modify certain parts of the text, particularly the emphasis on productive capacity made by the Least Developed Countries group and international systemic issues that are currently underemphasized.

China clarified that the importance of a narrative is that it is a preamble that delivers the mandate of the SDGs, in terms of recognizing and respecting previously agreed outcomes of consensus that work toward building new political consensus.  China also stressed that Member States should not be renegotiating or readdressing anything that has already been agreed to in previously negotiated outcomes.

In response to the call for a narrative, both Australia and the United States voiced their disagreement.  Australia said that a narrative is not needed for the SDGs given that the Rio+20 Outcome Document already has a narrative.  The text should be evidence-based, concrete and thorough.  The US said that they want to ensure that maximum space is given to discussing the substance of goals and targets, rather than a narrative.

B. Summary of priority areas for developing countries in OWG 9 session

1. Universality, differentiation and common but differentiated responsibilities
2. Means of implementation
3. Global partnership for development
4. Sustainable consumption and production
5. Economic goals, and a goal on ‘sustainable management of natural ecosystems’
6. Poverty eradication

With regard to climate change, developing countries stressed that the SDG process cannot pre-empt or prejudge the outcomes of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Developing countries unanimously clarified that while the sustainable development goals are universal to all countries in terms of their nature and relevance, the degree of national responsibility in the implementation of the goals should be differentiated in accordance with the varying capacities, realities and developmental levels of countries.  The Rio+20 Outcome Document, ‘The Future We Want,’ states in paragraph 247 that SDGs are supposed to be "global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account the different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.”

Brazil and Nicaragua emphasized that the transformational potential of SDGs is rooted in this very mandate of universality with differentiation from Rio+20; and that a cursory interpretation of this mandate could jeopardize the balance, coherence and impact of SDGs.  India underscored that the principle of CBDR captures the duality of universality and differentiation.  It is the definition of differentiation embodied in the principle of CBDR that should be the basis of crafting targets under the universally relevant goals.

Developing countries also unanimously called for both a stand-alone goal on means of implementation as well as its integration across each goal, stressing that a crosscutting and horizontal approach on all three dimensions of means of implementation – enhanced financial and technological support to developing countries, as well as building developing countries capacities to enable reaching the goals – will be crucial for the SDGs to deliver results on the ground.

India and Indonesia in particular called for a stand-alone goal on a strengthened “global partnership for development,” while the G77 and China underscored the importance of integrating international systemic issues and the creation of an international enabling environment under global partnership.  Systemic issues include addressing trade, debt, technology, reform of the international financial system and global economic governance. 

Brazil and Nicaragua expressed concern with the excessive reliance on multi-stakeholder schemes, or the so-called “partnerships,” for the implementation of SDGs, saying that they cannot and will not rely excessively on the role of the private sector for promoting sustainable development in the post-2015 period.

Sustainable consumption and production (SCP) was highlighted by developing countries as an essential goal area in the SDG framework.  The G77 and China recalled that this view is consistent with calls made by developing country leaders at the Earth Summit in 1992, in Agenda 21, in the Rio+20 Summit in 2002 and at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012.  Brazil highlighted that the Co-Chairs’ goal on SCP disproportionately focuses on actions to be taken on the production side as compared to the consumption side.  India stressed that the urgency for sustainable development requires developed countries to take the lead by shifting their societies and economies to sustainable consumption and lifestyle patterns in accordance with the CBDR principle. 

With regard to climate change, India stressed that the SDGs must scrupulously adhere to the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, in particular the principles of equity and CBDR, as well as ensure that the on-going discussions under the UNFCCC are not prejudiced or prejudged.  Similarly, Brazil and Nicaragua reminded the OWG that existing negotiations under the UNFCCC and other international conventions should not be pre-empted or disrupted.

Both India and Indonesia called for the integration of multiple objectives under environment within one overarching goal on the ‘sustainable management of natural ecosystems.’  Such a goal could integrate deliverables on various issues such as oceans and forests, as well as respect multilateral processes that deal with these issues. 

India supported stand-alone economic goals and targets on inclusive economic growth, infrastructure, industrialization, employment generation, and universal access to modern energy services, emphasizing that the economic pillar is the foundation of sustainable development.

On poverty eradication, Brazil and Nicaragua emphasized that the underlying causes of poverty, not only its symptoms, should be addressed, while India stressed that the goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 must be accompanied by adequate means of implementation, such as enhanced Official Development Assistance (ODA) and a strengthened global partnership, in order to be meaningful.

C. More highlights of priority areas for developing countries in OWG 9 session

•   Universality and differentiation

Brazil and Nicaragua stated that the OWG has yet to devise a shared political vision on the SDGs, taking into account both the universal application of SDGs and the differentiated capacities and responsibilities of countries.  They recalled that SDGs are supposed to be "global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account the different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities," as enshrined in paragraph 247 of the Rio+20 Outcome Document.  This mandate brings about a sea change in the United Nations development cooperation.

The transformational potential of SDGs lies on this very global nature and universal applicability, while taking into account differences among countries. A cursory interpretation of this mandate could jeopardize the balance, coherence and transformational impact of sustainable development goals.

In light of the above, Brazil and Nicaragua expressed that the 19 focus areas defined by the OWG Co-Chairs could be further balanced, since the targets and commitments are unevenly distributed, placing on developing countries a disproportionate share of responsibility for achieving the goals.

India also stressed that a truly universal set of goals implies, first and foremost, that the developed countries also take on concrete commitments and deliverables.  A universal agenda also demands that developed countries support the efforts of developing countries with enhanced financial and technological support and through reforms in global governance to increase the voice of developing countries in global decision-making.

•   Common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)

The G77 and China has repeatedly called for the inclusion of the CBDR principle to guide the development and implementation of SDGs.  This means that SDGs should not place additional restrictions or burdens on developing countries, and that the donor community is required to honour its international commitments, especially those related to financial resources, technology transfer and capacity.

India said that universality is synonymous with differentiation, and the principle of CBDR captures this very duality.  Differentiation as embodied in the principle of CBDR, would be the basis of crafting targets under the universally relevant goals. 

Brazil and Nicaragua welcomed the reference to the concept of CBDR in focus area 15 (on climate).  CBDR, however, cannot be merely "regarded" in one specific focus area.  It is a centrepiece of the Rio+20 Outcome Document and other relevant processes, and it lies at the basis of the agreement to devise the SDGs by all UN Member States.

•   Means of implementation

Brazil and Nicaragua said that we have learned from our experience with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that means of implementation should not be exclusively considered under a single stand-alone goal.  This approach jeopardized the effectiveness of MDG 8, with detrimental consequences for the overall implementation of the MDGs. Many developed countries have fallen short of meeting their commitments in terms of ODA, whose levels dropped consistently in 2011 (2%) and 2012 (4%). Other targets of MDG 8 are not being achieved either.  For this reason, means of implementation should be mainstreamed under each and every SDG. 

They stressed that a crosscutting and horizontal approach on means of implementation will be crucial to deliver SDG results on the ground.  Such an approach would also send a positive message to the Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Finance and to the structured dialogues on facilitation of environmentally sound technologies.

India also supported the G77 and China’s call to mainstream and integrate means of implementation across each goal, as the objective of the SDGs framework is not merely to list out major global problems, but rather to generate an international compact for multilateral cooperation to address these problems.  The ambition in substance needs to be matched by an ambition in the means to achieve the substance.  The international community must thus provide to developing countries enhanced financial and technological support, as well as capacity building to enable reaching these goals.

Indonesia stressed that in order to ensure concrete actions and progress in a timely manner the upcoming drafting of goals and targets should be consistently linked to adequate provision of means of implementation. The spirit of the current MDGs also needs to be addressed and strengthened in the SDGs.

The G77 and China stressed that clear and concrete means of implementation should be a specific, stand-alone goal, and be integrated across each goal.  The Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (another Rio+20 outcome) should consider both traditional and non-traditional resource pools and sources as the main drivers of SDGs for the 15-year duration beginning in 2016.  The Committee of Experts should also consider ways to maintain the universal nature of means of implementation in a way that ensures adequate resource flows and technology transfer with respect to each identified SDG, with special reference to the countries that are lagging behind.  The G77 and China said they look forward to hearing about the priority areas in financing that will be addressed by the Committee of Experts.

•   Global partnership for development

The G77 and China underscored the importance of linking international factors to an enhanced global partnership, the critical role of means of implementation, together with national actions and efforts to be taken by countries at the national level.  This three-component approach is essential because the formulation of laudable goals at the national level will not be attainable unless structural factors, including international factors, are addressed.  Similarly, developing countries require international cooperation in finance, technology transfer and capacity building if they are expected to achieve the SDGs.

The G77 and China noted that the Focus Areas document lacked an analysis of international systemic issues, and the creation of an international enabling environment, including addressing trade, debt, technology and reform of international financial system and global economic governance.  This needs to be elaborated, and overall, the thrust on international systemic issues needs strengthening. While recognizing the hard work of the Co-Chairs and the Member States of the OWG, the G77 and China asserted the need to include focus areas with transformative impact that allow progress towards a real and comprehensive development agenda. With that intention, the Group requested the inclusion of the areas of culture, as well as trade, technology transfer, financial architecture and taxation.

Indonesia called for both a goal and cross-cutting targets on the global partnership for development.  As a goal, it should both encompass and strengthen means of implementation based on CBDR.  As cross-cutting targets, it should be included within various goals, particularly poverty eradication, education, health, employment, financial inclusion, employment and access to clean energy.  International cooperation must be enhanced to support global commitments, including ODA, a development-oriented trade regime and reform of the international monetary system.

India emphasized the importance of a stand-alone goal on a ‘Strengthened Global Partnership for Development’ in order to ensure adequate focus on international systemic issues and to build on and strengthen MDG 8 on global partnership.  However, while the Focus Areas document highlights the issues of inequality between countries, the imperative of correcting this through reforms in international systemic issues needs further elaboration.

•   Private sector partnerships

Referring to the various partnerships the UN has been embarking on in recent years, particularly with the private sector, Brazil and Nicaragua expressed concern with the excessive reliance on multi-stakeholder schemes, or the so-called “partnerships,” for the implementation of SDGs, saying that they cannot and will not rely excessively on the role of the private sector for promoting sustainable development in the post-2015 period.

They urged for a comprehensive assessment of existing partnerships that has yet to be carried out.  An assessment should take into account the impact, accountability and compliance of existing partnerships, and their institutional arrangements, with the principles and governance mechanisms of the UN.  While the UN should be open to catalyze all existing support for sustainable development, this should not facilitate an evasion of government responsibility, from both developed and developing countries, from the achievement of sustainable development goals.

•   S ustainable consumption and production (SCP)     

The G77 and China stated that achieving sustainable patterns of consumption and production is essential to the sustainable development agenda, and that this view is consistent with the call made by the G77’s political leaders more than twenty years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit, in the Rio+10 Summit ten years later and the Rio+20 Summit in 2012.
Brazil and Nicaragua urged that SCP could be further expanded in accordance with the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production.   While Focus Area 14 in the Co-Chairs’ document states that developed countries must take the lead on the implementation of SCP, there still seems to be a disproportionate focus on actions to be taken on sustainable production as compared to sustainable consumption.  A considerable amount of the production of manufactured goods in developing countries is driven by unsustainable, consumerist lifestyles of wealthy societies in developed countries. In taking the lead, developed countries need to commit to the promotion of sustainable lifestyles within their own societies.

India strongly favoured a stand-alone goal on SCP, saying that a universal agenda and the urgency for sustainable development requires that developed countries take the lead through concrete deliverables on shifting their societies and economies to sustainable consumption and lifestyle patterns in accordance with the CBDR principle.  Developed countries would thus create positive reference models as well as incentivize technological innovation necessary for such shifts.

Indonesia also emphasized the need to ensure that SCP is a stand-alone goal.  The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (adopted in 2002 at the Rio+10 Summit) has identified the importance of changing patterns of production and consumption as an essential requirement for sustainable development. Therefore, failure to ensure SCP as a goal will hinder both poverty eradication and sustainable development.

•  Climate change

Brazil and Nicaragua said that the "principle of common but differentiated responsibilities" is fundamental for the existing international agreement in climate change, and must be reflected accordingly in any goal on this matter. We should bear in mind that negotiations in this group should not pre-empt or disrupt existing negotiations under the UNFCCC or other international conventions. Unfortunately, however, the focus area dedicated to climate change does not seem to comply with this requirement.

India said that there is a broad agreement in the OWG to address climate change under relevant goals rather than placing it as a stand-alone goal.  Any deliverable on climate change under SDGs, whether as a separate goal or as integrated across relevant goal, must scrupulously adhere to the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, in particular the principles of equity and CBDR, as well as ensure that the on-going discussions under the UNFCCC are not prejudiced or prejudged.

Indonesia said that any discussion of climate change in the context of SDGs needs to reflect adherence to the UNFCCC process and be consistent with the CBDR principle.  Furthermore, disaster risk reduction (DRR) is not only an imperative to protect investments in development, but also an opportunity to ensure a transformative shift toward resilient development.  DRR should be a cross-cutting element across various SDGs, including food security, infrastructure, education, health, water and sanitation.

•   Environmental goals

India said that the multiple objectives under environment can be usefully integrated under one holistic goal on the sustainable management of natural ecosystems.  Such a goal could usefully integrate deliverables on various issues such as oceans, forests, biodiversity and so on.  The mandate and principles of the respective multilateral processes dealing with these issues would also have to be respected.

Indonesia said that in order to avoid a silo approach to the SDGs, the focus areas of marine resources, oceans and seas, as well as ecosystems and biodiversity, should eventually be clustered under one umbrella of sustainable management of natural ecosystems.  This cluster should also cover issues such as forests, and observe the existing mandates and principles of related international agreements or processes, among others, UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), UNCBD (UN Convention on Biological Diversity) and the Montreal Protocol (on ozone-depleting substances).

•   Economic goals

India strongly supported stand-alone goals and targets on the economic issues of inclusive economic growth, infrastructure, industrialization, employment generation, and universal access to modern energy services.  The economic pillar is the foundation of sustainable development, and thereby, economic goals are indispensable prerequisites for sustainable development and for eradicating poverty.

It also supported goals on food security and nutrition, health, education, water and sanitation and gender equality.  

•   Poverty eradication

India said that the goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 must be accompanied by adequate means of implementation, such as enhanced ODA and a strengthened global partnership, in order to be meaningful.

Brazil and Nicaragua emphasized that SDGs should address the underlying causes of poverty, and not only its symptoms, recognizing its multiple dimensions and interlinkages with other areas of sustainable development.  Brazil stressed that national governments will ultimately be responsible for achieving sustainable development objectives.

•   Human rights

The G77 and China called for the urgent and immediate fulfilment of relevant United Nations documents and resolutions which request all Member States to refrain from promulgating and applying any kind of unilateral economic, financial or trade coercive measures, against other sovereign States.  Such measures constitute a flagrant violation of International Law, the Charter of the United Nations and Human Rights, and in particular the Right to Development. Moreover, these measures impede the full achievement of economic and social development, particularly in developing countries.

•  Peace and conflict

Brazil and Nicaragua said that focus area 19 on peaceful and non-violent societies does not reflect a priority area of the Rio+20 Outcome Document.  It must be remembered that this group (the OWG) should address issues from a developmental perspective, and not subordinate it to political or security considerations and conditionalities. Furthermore, peace, governance and rule of law could not be made into targets and measured in ways that are consensual and that reflect the democratic plurality of nations, their national histories, political circumstances and cultures. Thus, issues considered in focal area 19 would be better addressed under other topics, such as equity, means of implementation and gender.

India said a goal on governance and peace and security must also address the existing democratic deficit in the institutions of global governance.  Developing countries need to be given real voice and participation in global decision-making, and institutions responsible for global peace and security must be fully reflective of contemporary realities.

The next session of the OWG will be from 31 March to 4 April.

 


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