The final SDG OWG Finishes with Consensus

SDG OWG process Ends on Saturday morning

There is, I think, complete consensus among governments and stakeholders that the two co-chairs of the SDG OWG have been amazing. Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Ambassador Csaba Korosiof Hungary have steered the Sustainable Development Goals Open Working Group to a final consensus document in the late morning of Saturday the 19th of July 2014.

(photo IISD-ENB)
I was reflecting on how in over the twenty years that I have been involved in sustainable development the only time that an Ambassadors had managed such a feat was when Malaysian Ambassador Razali Ismail, who played a key role in Rio in 1992, chaired the first Commission on Sustainable Development which established stakeholders as a partner of the post Rio process. In 1997, he was President of UNGA and oversaw Rio+5 or the UN General Assembly Special Session. 

Like Ambassadors Kamau and Korosiof he ensured that stakeholders not only attended the preparatory meetings but spoke in the informal sessions. It was nice of Sweden, Tanzania and a few countries to also thank stakeholders for their contribution to the successful finishing of the SDG OWG.

The final goals at the end of SDG OWG 13 are:

Goal 1:                  End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2:                  End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture   
Goal 3:                  Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4:                  Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
Goal 5:                 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6:                  Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7:                  Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all 
Goal 8:                  Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9:                  Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10:               Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11:               Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable .
Goal 12:               Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13:               Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14:               Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15:               Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16:               Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17:               Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


Some difficult issues were dealt with here. These included reaffirming previous commitments including the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the key actions for the further implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the outcome documents of their review conferences. The preamble also addressed the issue of human rights, saying:

“reaffirmed the importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and water, the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, women’s empowerment and the overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development. It also reaffirmed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other international instruments relating to human rights and international law.


“noted with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of mitigation pledges by parties in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2° C, or 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels and it reaffirmed that the ultimate objective under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

There were disagreements in particular over sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), climate change and much in the governance section.

What needs to be understood before I go on is that what has been agreed here isn’t the final product. It is a vital stage to the final product. I have argued in previous blogs that we should not put this forth as a final product because there is still a need to reflect upon on what had been negotiated before moving to agree to new goals. In the last month many governments did not have a chance to really consult across departments and ensure that we have the best targets. The same applies to stakeholders that now have time over the next 4 months, before the Secretary Generals synthesis report comes out in late November or early December, to look at what is on the table and what could be done to improve them further.   

The Present Text

I have been engaged in a number of places with the text and in some of the areas I am very pleased with the progress we have made. In particular, goal 11:  Human Settlements, much of what Communitas put forward is found in one way or another in the text. I mentioned in a previous blog the role that WSPA (now World Animal Protection) was playing. I thought they brought some very interesting ideas to the table, some of which are now reflected. One that wasn’t but I think will by September 2015 is the issue of antibiotic resistance (goal 3) - something that is critical to humans as well as animals as all species are becoming increasingly resistant.

In the area of science and research, there are more mentions than in the previous text and it was very good to see the issue of anthropogenic interference with the climate system in the preamble.
For SRHR, the text says:

“by 2030 ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This will continue to be a key issue next year and the text on gender is a retrograde step (5a for example) that needs to be seriously challenged. If only Bella were here! 

The Women's Major Group stated, “To those who are still denying our rights we reaffirm, again, that we will always refuse to have our lives used as bargaining chips. No agenda should be traded off. The entire world is at stake because of the narrow ways in which policies and actions are implemented. The significant global challenges we face requires a comprehensive ambitious agenda.”

On water (goal 6) I was happy to see the re-introduction of text on aquifers and ecosystems:

“6.6 by 2020 protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests,
wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.”

 but still unhappy not to see the old 6.2 :

“(old) 6.2 by 2030 provide universal access to safe and affordable sanitation and hygiene including at home, schools, health centers and refugee camps, paying special  attention to the needs of women and girls.”

This has become:

“6.2 by 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

Replacing the examples with ‘vulnerable situations’ perhaps this can be picked up in the indicators.
This would have been a good target as it enables a focus on schools, health centers, as such protecting the young and the ill. It is a great nexus target, recognizing the role that water plays in other sectors. 

On the issue of governance (goal 16) there is still much work to be done. There is no mention to the role of the media, there is increased mentions on ICT, we are missing the issue of free and easy access to information, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Thus, still work to be done – these should be expressed as rights.

Means of Implementation (goal 17) will need further work once the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Finance and the Technology Facility Report comes out.

Stakeholders and behavior

Stakeholder views: The work of stakeholders in this process has been a mixed bag. We lost a significant number of the people who shepherded stakeholders for Rio+20  as they moved on to other work and were not there for most of the SDGs. Some of the major NGOs and other stakeholders did not attend. When they did, they often seemed more interested in listening to the discussion than actually talking to governments. I will be doing two things help address this:

1.       A two hour workshop during the UN DPI NGO Conference on engaging with United Nations decision makers.

2.       On the 26th or 27th of September, I with a number of other people from government, UN and media relations will be running a full day workshop on lobbying at the UN. This will be limited to 40 paying participants – more on this very soon.

Behavior: That brings me to the incident this last SDG OWG where a couple harangued the governments and nearly lost access for all of us. We had no ‘rights’ to be in a closed meeting of the SDG OWG, it was the co-chairs authority that ensured that we were there. Only 2 governments spoke up in favor of us being in the room when asked in plenary. If a government doesn’t support your views then it is unacceptable to go and have a go at them. Not only is that unlikely to change their minds but can color the view of all stakeholders in their mind…therefore damaging the work of other stakeholders.

Major Groups: I am a huge supporter of the Major Groups concept. It enables women, youth, etc. to have their own space and not grouped together in this meaningless term ‘civil society’ which often is a front for large northern NGOs. But……. things have not been good in the world of Major Groups during the SDG OWG process. I’d have to say the most impressive were the youth Major Groups. Some of the others were not even there for the sessions of the SDG OWG and clearly there was no strategy by some. Others just had their Organizing Partners there and not a representative number of their members. Some seemed to operate at gatekeepers. This is a long way from how it operated in the first ten years after the 1992 Rio+20 conference and there clearly needs to be some discussion on the way forward for stakeholders.

I believe that we need an open space for that discussion supported by academic research on the impact of stakeholder democracy models on policy decisions at all levels of governance.
I will be looking to host a workshop on this in North Carolina in the coming six months and would welcome any support.

The Way Forward

So what happens now? The SDG OWG will report to the UN General Assembly and the level of government support will be indicated at that stage, is it welcomed, adopted, notes. I expect it to be welcomed. The report is full of red lines that have been crossed by different governments and so it is the package which has been accepted and there is intention to go back to look at issues next year by many governments…and stakeholders.

1.       UN DPI NGO Conference: Over 2000 stakeholders have already registered for this (27-29th August UN in New York). Here a Declaration will be adopted and it will be the first substantive stakeholder review of what is in the SDG report. It will form the major stakeholder input to the UN President of the General Assembly Stocktaking event and the UN Secretary General’s Report. If you have not registered yet and are interested in the SDGs then this is where you need to register.

2.      UN PGA Stocktaking Event:  This will be held to review the outcome from the SDG OWG, the PGA’s events and the secret workings of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Finance (ICESDF). I and many believe that the ICESDF has no credibility as it has been held in secrete and its findings should not be considered as a major contribution to the 2015 process for the Financing for Development Conference or the 2015 Summit. The way it has been conducted contrasts so badly with the SDG OWG and perhaps that is why the drafts have been so bad. That and the committee is dominated by development ministries who are occupying a perspective that is ten years out of date. If only Clare Short was still the UK Secretary of State, things would be different.

3.      The Secretary Generals Synthesis Report: Once the final text is released from the SDG OWG then organizations should reflect on the material and any input should be to Assistant Secretary General Amina Mohamed.

4.      Modalities for the preparatory process for 2015: This will be set up by the incoming Uganda President of the UNGA. I have already argued that this should be similar to Rio+5 UNGASS or the Conferences of the 1990s with proper two week prepcoms – I would suggest three. This will enable capitals to be engaged from the government side which is critical and stakeholders.  I think the two co-chairs of the SDG OWG should be asked to continue their work this time as co-facilitators of the preparatory process for the 2015 Summit.  The Civil Society Hearing is a waste of time what we should have is the first day of the preparatory sessions being a multistakeholder dialogue with member states. The outcome feeding into the text.

Final thought

This has been a very open and transparent process that the co-chairs have run and has enabled the participation of stakeholders throughout. I hope this shows those governments that have expressed problems with having stakeholders there that we can contribute positively to a process.

This last year has seen a number of key government officials leave and I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to work with them. This includes Farrukh Khan (Pakistan), Paula Caballero Gomez (Colombia) Selwyn Hart (Barbados), Kitty Vander-Heijden (Netherlands), Alexandra Tohmé (Lebanon) and soon Mohamed Khalil (Egypt). Without these people I doubt we would have ever got to the final place we have.

Of course a huge thanks to Colombia and Guatemala for putting the SDGs on the table in July 2011 at the Solo (Indonesia) informal meeting. That vision has helped to redefine the development agenda to a sustainable development agenda and by doing so give us hope that this time we can change our paths of development to a much more sustainable one. It will of course come down to helping those less developed countries jump away from old forms of industrialization.  The 1992 promise from developed countries was broken by globalization and funding democracy in Eastern Europe and the hope of 2002 was destroyed by 9/11. We have been at this point twice before and this is really our last great chance to ensure we do it together.

The 2015 process should unlock the huge potential for change and the engine of that will be people engaging in the process of the final agreement and then in the delivery of that agreement. To build that we need an agenda for change. The next step on creating that will be the UN DPI NGO Conference 27-29th of August. I will see you there. 


  1. These new goals may be a bit difficult for some States to swallow, but let's see what they look like when they come out the other end, and after GA members are done digesting them. In present form, they look like 17 UN orgs and some NGOs advancing their own agendas to ensure full and productive employment for themselves

  2. hahaha love it Adam. I think the difference between MDGs and SDGs is:
    1. MDGs were dropped on us without participation of stakeholders. SDGs were built on over 100 national meetings 14 thematic consultations, the High Level Panel Report,13 session of the SDG OWG plus zillions of workshops and conferences feeding in.
    2. The MDGs dealt only with developing countries and the SDGs deal with ALL countries
    3. The MDGs just dealt with poverty and the SDGs dealt with poverty and sustainable development
    So it is not surprising that the document is larger and covers so many issues. :-)

  3. Last point, where's next?

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