Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Apr15/01)
Dear friends and colleagues,
We are pleased to share with you a report by Ranja Sengupta of the 3rd session of the Post-2015 Development Agenda negotiations that took place on 23-27 March 2015 at the UN headquarters in New York. Member States discussed the report of the Sustainable Development Goals and Targets that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2014 as well as a preliminary list global indicators developed by the UN Statistics Commission.
next negotiation session will be on 20-24 April on Means of Implementation
and a Global Partnership for Development. There will be a joint session
between the post-2015 and financing for development processes, and
a programme spanning 21-24 April has been proposed for this (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/
Sustainable Development Goals and Targets should not be re-opened, says South
Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network
At the end of the recently concluded third session of the United Nations General Assembly negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, it seems clear that the divide between the developing and developed countries remains immense.
While developing countries want to focus on means of implementation, the global partnership for development, and monitoring and implementation issues, which for them are critical for the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the developed countries seem determined to re-open old debates which offer no end in sight at this juncture.
The Post-2015 negotiations session was held on 23-27 March at the UN headquarters in New York. The Co-facilitators for the intergovernmental process are Ambassadors David Donoghue (Ireland) and Macharia Kamau (Kenya).
The session showed clearly the developed countries’ keenness to re-visit the SDGs and targets. But clearer was the developing countries’ objection to open up the SDGs and targets as contained in the Open Working Group (OWG) Report that was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2014 as the basis for the current negotiations.
The Group of 77 (G-77) and China, the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, the African Group, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) made it unequivocally clear that they do not want any reopening, renegotiations, or changes in the OWG document. In other words, the developing countries want the 17 Goals and 169 targets preserved as they are and integrated along with the Chapeau of the OWG Report into the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The G-77 and China also wanted the reservations that were made by Member States to the OWG Report to be recorded in the final development agenda. The Goals and Target with the Chapeau are the result of intensive negotiations in 2013-2014.
The March session was focused specifically on the SDGs. The earlier two sessions of January and February, were on modalities and the Declaration respectively. It is important to note that the discussion on the Declaration also saw sharp differences between major North and Southern positions. The Development Summit in September 2015 is expected to adopt the Declaration and an Outcome Document.
The main exercise for the week was to look at the SDGs provided in the OWG Report. The General Assembly by Resolution 68/309 in September 2014 had already adopted the SDGs in the OWG report as the basis of the Post-2015 negotiations, and the large majority of developing countries had already stated in February that they wanted the SDGs sealed as they are and adopted as the goals and targets for the Post 2015 Agenda. Therefore initially it was not clear whether the aim of the March session was to look further than the goals and targets and move to the indicators or whether the goals and targets themselves were also open to further negotiations.
The first two days of the week were devoted to the discussion on indicators and the last two and a half days were on the SDGs as a whole (the morning of Wednesday was reserved for an interaction between the Major Groups or civil society stakeholders, the Co-Facilitators and the Member States).
Monday (23 March) the Co-facilitators sent out a document with revised
language on 19 targets with the objective of “technical review or
tweaking” and improving the set of targets and requested responses
from the Member States. The document entitled “Targets
in the in the proposed SDGs framework” (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/
TECHNICAL TWEAKING OR RE-OPENING THE SDGs AND TARGETS?
This document on “technical tweaking” triggered a passionate discussion with the developing countries strongly reiterating their position of not reopening the SDGs and their targets. They also demanded more time if they are to be suddenly faced with new proposals, in order to be able to go back to their capitals and get the necessary feedback. They also stressed that the SDG Report is finally a political document as it shows the political intent and is not therefore required to be a technically perfect document. Many also argued that while they themselves were not fully satisfied with the SDGs, and felt many areas could be improved upon they decided to accept it as opening it to further negotiations could actually lower the achievement level. As Vietnam put it, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”. It is important to note that several developing countries and Groups had mentioned that means of implementation could be significantly improved upon.
The G-77 and China, in a sharp statement, said that 134 members wanted to put on record that “Consistent with previous pronouncements on this issue the Group remains averse to the re-opening of the Report of the Open Working Group on SDGs. Accordingly the Group firmly rejects any attempts to re-open the agreed Report of the SDGs by undertaking the so-called ‘technical proofing’ under the guise of the proposal received from the Co-facilitators”. They reiterated their position that the OWG Report must be entirely integrated into the Post-2015 agenda.
The Group also said “since the Report of the OWG-SDGs was adopted through a General Assembly resolution in its entirety, any attempt to adjust its contents may necessitate another negotiation of a General Assembly resolution to accommodate the proposed amendments. Unfortunately the Group would not like to go in that direction.”
Further the statement added that, “as we engage in the process of negotiations it remains of uttermost importance to ensure adherence to agreed procedures and transparency. The Group would appreciate clarification on the origins of the text, how it was compiled and which stake-holders were involved in that exercise”.
Benin on behalf of the LDCs, said that “the outcome of the OWG on SDGs should be integrated into the Post 2015 Development Agenda in its entirely although we have serious concerns about the Means of Implementation, especially elaborated under Goa 17. We are hoping that the Third United Nations Conference on Financing for Development will provide us an opportunity to strike a balance between the goals and targets and the means of implementation with a new package of additional resources and new mechanisms.” Any attempt to reopen the outcome of the OWG-SDGs in the name of “technical and scientific proofing” would run a serious risk of further diluting the existing balance in the text, the Group emphasized.
The Group said there is still room for making the Post-2015 agenda more ambitious … in the ongoing exercise in developing the indicators, formulating the political declarations and articulating the follow up and monitoring mechanisms.
Tonga on behalf of the PSIDS said the “substance and content of the SDGs document should remain intact” and that it “disapproved of any technical proofing”. The PSIDS also asked for adequate time to go through such new documents. They drew attention however to targets such as 13.b and 14.c in the work of developing indicators.
13.b reads: Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective
climate change-related planning and management in least developed
countries, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized
Namibia on behalf of the African Group said that it will not support any attempt to open the document as the political balance will be disturbed. It also said that the Group is not convinced that without opening up the whole package, the language can be cleaned or its standard can be improved.
Belize on behalf of CARICOM said the Group does not support any technical review or technical proofing of the Report as a whole. It emphasized that the current task is to integrate the entire 17 goals and 169 targets into the Post-2015 Agenda. Now only two areas, effective implementation and linkage between the global and the national remained to be addressed, the Group stressed.
Maldives on behalf of AOSIS reiterated that the SDGs had reached a razor thin balance and AOSIS firmly rejects any attempt to reopen the SDGs. They also cautioned against technical proofing of the targets. AOSIS said to the Co-facilitators, “earlier you expressed your opposition to technical proofing so you can imagine our surprise when this new document came on Monday”. They also asked for enough time when new documents are presented and also said that the time left is not enough to start these discussions again.
Major developed countries, on the other hand, were keen to pursue this “technical review”. Though they had problems with many of the suggested changes in the Co-facilitators’ proposed list of 19, they in fact made it clear that they wanted not just these 19 but almost all of the other targets to be subjected to another review.
Australia, for one, suggested that the targets document “does not go far enough” and suggested other changes, e.g. in target 4.1 on primary education to raise the ambition level to include higher education. Australia argued that there is enough time for this exercise, for example by reducing time from the Means of Implementation session scheduled for April, and suggested going over each of the 169 targets to check for any “room for improvement”. This elicited a soft warning from Co-facilitator Kamau from Kenya that such an extensive review could take the Member States back to another OWG, or in other words, another one and a half years to complete the exercise. He also reminded the Member States they should not forget the historical importance of the OWG process and its final Report.
The European Union said that they are supportive of the work on indicators and technical proofing of targets. “We need to preserve ambition and balance of the OWG process”, the EU said. It welcomed efforts to make the targets more specific, measurable and this is not beyond the completion of the work on targets. The EU argued that the document on 19 targets is a move in the right direction towards the unfinished business from the OWG. However, they were sometimes not convinced by the arguments in the documents, for example on 3.b. [the 19 targets document had suggested deleting the word “essential” from “essential medicines” while talking of flexibilities in the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement on the ground that the Agreement itself does not include and therefore limit the scope only to “essential” medicines]. The EU also felt other tweaking had “lowered the ambition”. Notwithstanding these weaknesses of the changes suggested, the EU clearly suggested “there could be other targets that could be improved”.
The individual EU members, in a consecutive set of statements, supported the EU position.
The United Kingdom, in a statement that raised a lot of questions including from civil society organizations at the meeting, said that while it is committed to the SDGs it wanted the targets strengthened. First, the UK wanted the targets “to command respect and drive action in each and every country”. But the second reason was “the targets will determine how we will spend billions of dollars over the next 15 years – not only domestic resources, but also development assistance and private flows ... We therefore need the targets to provide a clear action agenda and a credible underpinning for significant flows of sustainable development finance”.
(This was not well received by many developing country delegates and apparently attracted criticism from some of the European delegations as well.)
Co-facilitator Kamau also explained the rationale behind the suggested modifications to the 19 targets. These were (a) to remove the “x”s and “y”s in the targets; and (b) to make sure the ambition level is no less than and in conformity with already agreed international agreements. He also said that due to lack of time, they presented these proposed changes at the beginning of this session and not earlier but Member States were free to take more time to reach a full decision. “We don’t expect you to definitely answer, but reflect”, he said.
(Several targets had “x” as placeholders for specific percentages under the targets.)
However Kamau admitted that though the Co-facilitators had already cut down on the number of changes, he got the feeling that they may have “overstepped the ambition level”. Referring to a point that the UK had made on slums, he said though it is right, it was heavily contested in the OWG, and ultimately we had to reject it. Opening such issues could make the Member States go back to the OWG, he warned. He rejected Australia’s argument to improve target 4.1 to include higher education by saying many Member States do not even have universal primary education.
A joint statement on the oceans, seas and marine resources was made by 21 countries (Australia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Palau, Poland, Sweden, USA). It said that, “the targets contained in goal 14 reflect the comprehensive set of actions required to ensure that the world’s oceans and seas are well-positioned to contribute to sustainable development. As we turn our minds to implementation of the Post-2015 development agenda, it will be important to ensure that the targets and indicators that we set ourselves are meaningful and achievable, whilst maintaining a high level of aspiration. To achieve maximum effectiveness, the targets and indicators must also be consistent with relevant international agreements and standards. Finally, with regard to target 14.c we would like to highlight the international consensus as expressed in Rio and by the General Assembly of the important role of international law as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides the legal framework for the conservation and the sustainable use of the oceans, and their resources”, the statement said.
Several Member States stated their concern with the Oceans and Seas targets. However the developing country members underlined that any change to such specific targets will be distinct and will be outside the scope of a “reopening” of the SDGs document as such.
At the end of this discussion, many developing countries including Colombia and India stated that while they could see some merit in technical tweaking, after the discussion they were even more convinced that the SDGs document should not be opened up for technical proofing as it was clear that many developed countries wanted to open up this review to many more than the suggested 19 targets.
At the end of the 5 days, it was suggested by the Co-facilitators that they will propose another revised document, keeping very strictly in mind the criteria stated by Kamau above and will give enough time to Member States for consideration. India sought a clarification whether this revision would be limited to the 19 targets suggested in Monday’s proposal or was to include all/any of the other targets. The Co-facilitator stated that this revision will be limited to the 19 targets already put forward for improvement. While developing country groupings promised to consider it, they did indicate that any change in substance would not be acceptable.
DIRECTION ON INDICATORS
Right from the week before, when the UNSC’s preliminary list had been made public by the Co-facilitators, Ambassadors Donoghue and Kamau, there had been considerable criticism of the list from several Member States as well as from civil society organizations. Several questions had come up including on whether to limit the number of the indicators with some Member States wanting limited numbers, others not; and about the need to have a preliminary list by June-July. But the more important questions were: whether these indicators should be negotiated by Member States or the work on indicators should be carried forward as a technical exercise by the UNSC. Questions were raised also about the forum that would carry the onus of this mandate i.e. whether it would lie with this process of the General Assembly on Post-2015, or with the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
The Co-facilitators had sought the response of the Member States on these specific questions over the entire week. On the last day of the March session, there seemed to be an understanding in the room that that the UNSC will be asked to work on the indicators as a technical exercise till March 2016 and these will not be negotiated by Member States.
However the vast majority of Member States, most notably the G-77 and China, wanted Member States to provide a clear political guidance to the UNSC. They also wanted regular briefings on the progress and direction of this work. The G-77 and China said “The Group avails itself of this opportunity to re-affirm its … commitment to provide political parameters to the UN Statistical Commission and in this connection would appreciate it if clear channels of communication with Member States could be established to ensure further engagement and provision of inputs into the process of developing the much-needed global indicators.” Several other Member States, including Tonga on behalf of PSIDs, echoed this sentiment and stressed the need for transparency and openness in the process of selecting indicators.
The G-77 and China also agreed that the UNSC could submit the list next March for follow up and review, perhaps to the HLPF as the body which would monitor implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
AGENDA FOR THE APRIL SESSION
The Co-facilitators also sought the Member States’ opinion on the agenda of the next session. The 20 – 24 April session on Means of Implementation and a Global Partnership for Development had seen considerable debate on the topic during the OWG and the current negotiations and continues to be perhaps the most critical but contested segment of the forthcoming Post-2015 agenda. The Financing for Development process, which is running parallel and is to conclude in July at the Addis Ababa Conference, is closely linked to and has important bearing on the means of implementation (MOI) discussions of the Post-2015 agenda. However opinions continue to be sharply divided, as was evident during the February Session on the Declaration, on how to integrate the outcome of the Addis Ababa Conference into the Post-2015 framework. A large majority of developed countries want the Addis outcome as the sole determinant of the MOI segment of the Post-2015 Agenda while most developing countries, and in particular, the G-77 and China, have requested that the Addis outcome be seen as complimentary to the already agreed MOI targets agreed to under the OWG process.
Co-facilitators proposed the merging of discussions with the financing
for development process and to have a joint session in April. Most
Member States seemed to agree to this proposal. The financing for
development session in April is just the week before the Post-2015
negotiations. A proposed programme for the joint session is now available:
But it was clear that while the developing countries were interested in getting as much time as possible on the discussions on MOI, the developed countries seemed eager to cut it short for discussing other matters. When the Co-facilitators suggested shortening of the session to 4 or later, actually three and a half days, many developing countries disagreed, pointing out the critical importance of the MOI-related discussions for the success of the Post-2015 development agenda. In fact, the G-77 and China pointed out that cutting down the time on MOI discussions will send out the incorrect signal that MOI is not important for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Maldives, on behalf of AOSIS, emphasized that, “MOI will bring the sustainable development agenda to life”.
The G-77 and China also stressed that the April session must include a discussion on technology transfer and development. This suggestion found support from many Member States including Belize on behalf of CARICOM. Benin, on behalf of the LDCs, said that the discussion should be hinged on MOI as in the OWG Report and before moving further, a review of the financing for development zero draft should be made to check where and how it integrates with the MOI targets as laid out in the current OWG Report.