SDGs and the next six months

On Friday the 7th of February the eighth SDG OWG finished its deliberations on oceans and seas, forests, biodiversity, promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment, conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance. It marks nearly a year of meetings covering topics that will be drawn into 10-12 new development goals over the next 18 months.

The meetings have been a great example of the UN’s new willingness to welcome the contribution of stakeholders. There have been side events, workshops, conferences, teach-ins and lots and lots of coffee drinking as governments have listened to, debated with, and questioned experts and stakeholders about their views and their evidence.

As we got closer to the eighth OWG, governments were looking more and more for concrete suggestion on goals, targets and indicators. Let’s just remind us of the difference between these three items as it has been quite confusing for member states and stakeholders alike.

Goals:                   Expresses an ambitious, but specific, commitment. Always starts with a verb/action.

Target:                  Quantified sub-components that will contribute in a major way to achievement of goal. Should be an outcome variable.

Indicator:            Precise metric from identified databases to assess if target is being met (often multiple indicators are used).

It should be remembered what Rio+2 said about the GOALS (not the targets). Sustainable Developmen Goals must be:
  • Action-oriented
  • Concise
  • Easy to communicate
  • Limited in number
  • Aspirational
  • Global in nature
  • Universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.
The outcome document further specifies that the development of SDGs should:
  • Be useful for pursuing focused and coherent action on sustainable development
  • Contribute to the achievement of sustainable development
  • Serve as a driver for implementation and mainstreaming of sustainable development in the UN system as a whole
  • Address and be focused on priority areas for the achievement of sustainable development
By the seventh SDG governments were refusing papers by stakeholders and UN Agencies and Programmes unless they had one or more of the above. It proved to be a challenge for some organizations to develop these as they were more comfortable giving general statements rather than focusing down on the issue.

The next phase is going to be very intense and will start with a ”stocktaking” document released around the 14th of February where the co-chairs will share the general outline of what they have done and what the contribution has been. On the 21st of February they will release a priority areas document. I am not sure I would have used that term but it expected to show areas they believe should be included as goals, cross-cutting areas or I am guessing target areas under goals. The crafting of this document will be critical in enabling the negotiations to start in April. The March 2.5 days session is probably no more than an exchange on the papers and the modalities for the meetings in April, May, June and July.

The impact of the SDG OWG process is still unclear, it is important to remember that there are only 30 seats (though 70 countries behind them) who are contributing to the discussion and decision making. The group doesn’t include leading countries such as Russia or some EU countries such as Sweden and Austria (who have the EcoSoc Presidency this year). All told, there are 123 countries whose views are not fully represented. So the SDG OWG will only be able to take the discussion so far. They are tasked to produce a report to go to the Stocktaking UN GA in September. This will be one of three reports, the others being:
  • The Committee on Financing Sustainable Development
  • The President of the UNGAs summary of his meetings
After the Head of State debate in September the UN Secretary General will produce his synthesis report which will go to the negotiations starting early 2015.

It is very unlikely that new topics will be added after the SDG OWG has made it.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as part of the 2014 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) process is now organizing an e-discussion .Part I of the e-discussion “Addressing ongoing and emerging challenges for meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and for sustaining development gains in the future,” will take place between  February 3rd to March 16th, 2014 (

It will cover:
  • How can the role and importance of strong, stable and enduring institutions, policy frameworks and an environment that facilitates sound policy-making be assessed? How can these be fostered, strengthened and supported?
  •  What are the changes in policy, legislation and institutional frameworks, or concrete interventions that have accelerated progress in the MDGs? What are some of the specific interventions?
  • On the basis of lessons learned in the efforts to build a global partnership for development, what are the fundamental obstacles to effective aid, trade, technology transfer, and other components of an enabling international environment? What factors need to be addressed to develop a renewed and more effective global partnership for development?
The meetings between now and the September stock taking are:
  • 9th Session of the OWG on SDGs: 3 – 5 March (modalities for negotiating and drafting the final report)
  • 10th Session of the OWG on SDGs: 31 March – 4 Apr (Negotiate)
  • 11th Session of the OWG on SDGs: 5 – 9 May (Negotiate)
  • 12th Session of the OWG on SDGs: 16 – 20 June (Negotiate)
  • 13th Session of the OWG on SDGs: 14 – 18 July (Negotiate and agree final report)

I believe that the approach taken by the co-chairs and UN secretariat to date has been a real example of how to get some of the best ideas on to the table. As Einstein said “we can’t solve the problems by using the same thinking that caused them.”

Let’s see if this is true for the SDG OWG’s next stage.

PS still time to register for the Nexus Confernece on Water-Energy-Food-Climate (March 5-8). I will be posting the draft Declaration on the 17th February here on this blog for comment.


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