Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

We now have an agreement and a very good name for the agreement it will be called Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This was important because of the ongoing discussion in the negotiations of taking poverty eradication out of sustainable development and then linking to it. It has been a major problem since 1992. The title makes it clear that poverty eradication is part of sustainable development. 

The final sticking points around MOI/FfD, climate change, policy space, family, biodiversity and migration to mention a few of the 15-20 were sorted out.

I love the new Preamble it is short inspirational and also recognizes the key aspect of this agenda that will need to be fulfilled in it is to be truly transformational. That is that it needs to not only recognize sector work but also the interlinkages. Something Paula Caballero (Colombia) was very passionate about and which I supported through the work on the Nexus.

The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet:

We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.
We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.
We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realised. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.

Of course there were some very worrying compromises at the very end. On biodiversity: There was regressive biodiversity language introduced into target 2.5 and the same change in 15.6  by the US this was to replace the word ‘ensure’ with ‘promote’:

1.5 now reads in the sentence “…promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of generic resources and associated knowledge, as internationally agreed.”

15.6 the beginning sentence now reads “As internationally agreed, promote  fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of generic resources and promote appropriate access to such resources.”

This was only entered as an issue in the closed groups -- so very intransparent of the US.

The language contradicts CBD language but the US is not a member of the CBD. The CBD is a legal document so will take precedent over that of the SDGs for member states that have ratified the convention.

Climate Change/CBDR: I thought that CBDR would be reflected in a more inclusive way than just addressing the environment. This was because G77 seemed they were solid on the inclusion of CBDR in para 31 but it was taken out. Most of the remaining language on climate follows the Lima COP language.  The only mention for CBDR that remains is in para 12 which restrict the implication of CBDR to environmental issues.

There were a couple of other issues i would have liked differently but overall a great document to work from.

The co-chairs Ambassadors Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations and Ambassador David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations and their teams  facilitated the whole process in a way that was very impressive and deserve our huge thanks and appreciation. As does Ambassador Csaba Korosi for his great work on the SDG OWG.

We should also appreciate the huge support that the UN Division on Sustainable Development under Nikhil Seth and supported by David O'Connor did for the process from the original agreement to have Rio+20 to where we are now. Over four years of support by DSD.

I think we should also pay credit to the governments of Colombia and Guatemala supported by UAE who put this agenda on the table in July 2011. In particular to Paula Caballero she and they fought, as did many others, the traditional development Agencies and NGOs at the beginning. Without this insight and work from July 2011 I think we would have been looking at a very different agenda focused only on developing countries a more MDG+ agenda – not a transformational agenda.

The final document is impressive and transformational in many ways. Remember the MDGs were put together by a technical team this was the biggest global conversation we have ever had and was open and transparent until the final couple of days when trading happened.

Stakeholders who engaged throughout the process have seen many of their ideas taken up in the final text. Could there have been more achieved? I guess so but it would have needed a level of engagement that wasn’t possible because of funding and the sheer number of meetings.

Follow Up

As with all intergovernmental agreements the success or lack of it will be due to the political support governments give to implementation. Here a key role of stakeholders will be to continually remind governments of their commitments. These governments will change a number of times in the next 15 years in many countries and the succeeding governments must be educated and reminded of these commitments. One of the very positive parts of the Declaration is the recognition that parliaments will play a role in monitoring implementation and passing relevant new laws. This should keep governments on-board and perhaps prepare future government members to understand the agenda before coming into office.

The UN follow up will be multi-layer and The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will play the central role but by no means the only one. There will need to be an organizational session in 2016 of the HLPF to decide which issues are going to be discussed which year. The Secretary General will prepare a report with his suggestions on “institutional responsibilities and provide guidance on annual themes, on a sequence of thematic reviews, and on options for periodic reviews for the HLPF.”  These will be supported by reviews by the ECOSOC functional commissions and other inter-governmental bodies and forums which should reflect the integrated nature of the goals as well as the interlinkages between them.

In addition the UN Agencies and Programmes are already starting to plan their 2016 governing body meetings in relation to the new agenda.

The Statistical IAEG-SDG will have its last meeting in October and groups that are interested in influencing the indicator basket this will be their best chance. Their report will come out in late December and then there will be some chances in the March meeting to influence the end result.

The dedicated follow-up and review for the Financing for Development outcomes as well as all the means of implementation of the SDGs which is integrated with the follow-up and review framework of this Agenda. The intergovernmental agreed conclusions and recommendations of the annual NEW ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development will be fed into the overall follow-up and review of the implementation of this Agenda in the HLPF.

To help the follow-up and review at the HLPF it will be informed by an annual SDG Progress Report (similar to the MDG Progress report over the last 15 years) to be prepared by the Secretary General in cooperation with the UN System, based on the global indicator framework and data produced by national statistical systems and information collected at the regional level.

The HLPF will also be informed by the Global Sustainable Development Report, which shall strengthen the science-policy interface and could provide a strong evidence-based instrument to support policy-makers in promoting poverty eradication and sustainable development. There will be a consultation run by the President of ECOSOC on the scope, methodology and frequency of the Report as well as its relation to the SDG Progress Report, the outcome of which should be reflected in the Ministerial Declaration of the HLPF session in 2016.

For the regional and sub-regional level it is envisioned that they will be forums for peer learning, including through voluntary reviews, and sharing of best practices and discussion on shared targets.

After September the next Heads of State review of this agenda will take place in 2019. We will have some idea by then how implementation is being undertaken and have a chance to refocus if needed.

The estimated cost of implementing the new agenda is $3-5 trillion a year. In 1992 it was estimated by Maurice Strong that Agenda 21 would need $625 billion a year. The lack of implementation over twenty years has increased the costs and brought more of the agenda into crisis. What would also be nice to know is the cost of inaction my guess is it is many multiples of the present figure with huge human costs. Lets hope and work hard to ensure this time the politicians and all of us dont drop the ball...ptherwise the future will not be one of hope but one that might look a little like this (cartoon by marvel comics artist John Charles)


  1. Thanks Felix. Clear and incisive as usual. Making the SDGs happen will require effective institutional arrangements at the national level, within Governments, partnerships with stakeholders in new and transformative ways, and of course new ways of collaborative working across stakeholder groups at national level. Given the new scope of the SDGs, national Sd councils and strategies will require new roles, new composition and new content. So too a coming together of civil society in each nation, will be another key. some interesting work ahead of us , especially in the next three years, to set the direction, pace and make real this new way of working.

  2. Good summary of the content of the transformational agenda. Good to see the emphasis on Follow Up - especially at national level as the front line for sustainable / unsustainable practices.

  3. I see the summary. We are trying to propose a follow up and monitoring mecanism for the SDGs agenda at global, regional,national and local level


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