CIVICUS Interviews Felix Dodds about the MDGs, Post-2015 and Sustainable Development

I thought this recent interview i did with Civicus might interest people.
Felix Dodds is an independent consultant focusing on stakeholder engagement in the sustainable development process. He is also a current Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. Prior to these roles, he served as Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future and has been active at the UN since 1990, having attended a myriad of World Summits. He has also participated in all UN Commissions for Sustainable Development and UNEP Governing Councils; and has chaired the 64th UN DPI NGO Conference on Sustainable Development. Additionally, he is a member of a number of advisory boards such as the Great Transition.
1. How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) assisted in creating an environment conducive to the actions of civil society since its inception in 2000?
It should be remembered that unlike Agenda 21 there was little stakeholder involvement in the development of the MDGs. They by and large came from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (DAC OECD) targets so there was considerable opposition by stakeholders to the MDGs to begin with. From the sustainable development world, who had mostly bypassed the MDG Summit to focus on the World Summit on Sustainable Development, there was little in MDG7 to be happy with. MDG7 was slightly strengthened by the addition of a sanitation target. It is clear in the years since 2000 that development funding refocused around the MDGs and climate change and therefore so did much stakeholder involvement and actions.
2. What issues need to be prioritised, in order for a Post-2015 framework to enhance sustainable development and poverty reduction as overarching themes?
The recent Rio+20 conference may go down as one of the most significant UN conferences of the last ten years. Although some NGO leaders and commentators did not seem to understand the significance of the agreement to develop Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they will play a central role in the development of the post 2015 new development goals and framework – as the process is inter-governmental – unlike the High Level Panel. From the recent survey of governments, which the Stakeholder Forum have done an excellent analysis on, the top areas for post 2015 goals are poverty, water and sanitation, energy, food and nutrition security, human settlement and sustainable consumption and production. What is important about the new goals is that they need to be universal, as Rio indicated. The setting of targets under each new goal will allow a more integrated approach I would imagine, to gender and governance targets under each goal. It is important that the indicators are not negotiated, but rather that they should be put together by experts with stakeholder input. It should also be a basket, which allows for countries in different levels of development to choose the most appropriate set of indicators to address a target and goal. The goals need to be easily understandable by everyone and the framework, not overly complex. There are some indicators outside of the SDGs that need to be added as well. Furthermore a consolidation of the post 2013 UN GA aftermath into one intergovernmental process is also important.(footnote) With 69 countries now a member of the SDG Open Working Group much is expected as they start their deliberations and will make an initial report to the 2013 UN GA*.
3. What is the role of the modern corporation and how importantly should stakeholders of the Post-2015 Agenda consider this role in devising a new set of development goals?
The role of a modern corporation must be a part of a responsible society. Their actions do not happen in a vacuum, we live on a planet that has limitations and where we want future generations to have access to what we have. Our present lifestyles are drawing down the ecological capital from other parts of the world and from future generations. The Rio+20 conference moved forward the accountability of corporations more than any other conference. The alliance between NGOs and companies such as AVIVA, HSBC and other companies such as Dow, coming out in favour of a global framework for sustainability, build a firm base for 2015. Although the framework was not agreed upon at Rio (due to some effective campaigning by the ICC and the lack of leadership by other company coalitions in support of the idea, and scared by their US members) the idea lives on. At the end of Rio+20 Brazil, South Africa, Denmark and France announced a Friends of para 47 which is being supported by Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), the Stakeholder Forum and Vitae Civilis. Now the dialogue continues with some hope for it to be resolved by 2015 as a number of the countries opposing the Rio outcomes are now having a second look at the idea. This would require a company listed on the stock exchange to report or explain its actions. It is already being done in Brazil, South Africa and Malaysia and therefore has some strong developing country support. The outcome would have a big impact on greening supply chains. Many of the SDGs being proposed would fit into this approach very effectively.
4. What is your vision for the new High Level Political Forum?
What impressed me about the discussion around the UN Commission on Sustainable Development's future is that stakeholders, governments and the UN all recognised that it had run its course and needed to be changed. This may not sound like rocket science but in intergovernmental processes it represents a relatively unusual situation, perhaps only reflected in recent time by the creation of UN Women and the Human Rights Council. There was also agreement that the new body should be at a higher level than a functioning commission of the Economic and Social Council. It will probably be a universal body and will 'Have a focused, dynamic and action-oriented agenda, ensuring the appropriate consideration of new and emerging sustainable development challenges'. I think the High Political Level Forum should ultimately be the annual meeting for the new development goals and as it says new and emerging issues. The Forum should engage with Heads of State during the opening of the UN GA each year. Every five years there should be a review of progress. The High Level Political Forum should have the highest level of engagement by stakeholders.
5. What lessons can be learned from the experience of the Commission on Sustainable Development, particularly as it relates to enhancing multi-stakeholder engagement in the new Sustainable Development Forum?
There are some very good lessons from the CSD and other fora which are reflected in a report that the Stakeholder Forum did a couple of years ago called 'Stakeholder Empowerment Project'. There is also a book that the Stakeholder Forum produced with Earthscan and was written mostly by Minu Hemmati called 'Multi-stakeholder Process on Governance and Sustainability – Beyond Deadlock and Conflict'. These are both excellent publications that can help develop the best engagement processes for the new body. I would like to see the return to the multi-stakeholder dialogues of the period 1998-2001 which I do believe were one of the best ways to engage stakeholders in a constructive dialogue on lessons learnt and policy options for the future. It was originally developed by the first Director of the Division on Sustainable Development, the amazing Joke Waller Hunter and stakeholders, I haven't seen a better approach since then.
*A special event on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be held at the UN General Assembly 68 in 2013 representing an important point of civil society consultation in the Post- 2015 process. It is proposed that this event could serve to unite the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Post- 2015 development process into one consolidated vision or "common track". Sustainable Development Policy & Practice, "UNGA President Addresses Civil Society Questions on Post- 2015 Development Agenda",
**This interview was conducted via email on 22 January 2013


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