Initial comments on the Zero draft for Transforming our World by 2030: Anew Agenda for Global Action

The zero draft came through late last night (2nd of June) and although I did read it, I have to say after a day at the UN following both the Financing for Development and the Expert Group on Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, I was too exhausted to do an initial review.

The paper is a long one but this is because it includes:

  • Preamble
  • Introduction
  • Our Commitments and Shared Principles
  • Our World Today
  • Our Vision
  • The new Agenda
  • Implementation
  • Follow up and review
  • A call for action to change our world 
  • ISustainable Development Goals and Targets
  • IIMeans of Implementation and Global Partnerships
  • IIIFollow Up and Review
  • Illustrative Follow-Up and Review Framework 
  • Annex 1 Proposed Targets revisions
  • Annex 2 Food for Thought paper on a possible Technology Facilitation Mechanism
  • Annex 3 Introduction of the Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals and targets

Let me focus on the preamble first. What looks to me as a straw man is the statement on page 1. Instead of listing the 17 goals the text presents instead the summary of the 17 goals into 9 areas which are the areas that Heads of State will have round tables on in the September Summit and is introduced as: “the new Agenda sets out, inter alia, to” then lists the 9 areas. I think this will become controversial and will take time away from what does need to be focused on.

The Declaration starts with a great heading ‘Transforming our World by 2030: Anew Agenda for Global Action’.

The introduction sets the stage for why we are engaged in the process: “we have adopted a historic agreement on a comprehensive and far-reaching set of universal goals and targets. If these are realized, they will transform for the better the world in which we all live.” It goes on to say: “We intend, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger once and for all; to combat inequalities; to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its resources; and to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth and shared prosperity.” Putting up front the issue of ended poverty and combating inequality is critical to helping address the challenges facing us today and into the future as an additional billion people join the population during the 15 years of the SDGs.

The introduction sets the scene very well when it says: “Having consulted widely with stakeholders, and having made a special effort to listen to the voices and concerns of the poorest and the vulnerable, we are adopting a universal Agenda for sustainable development. We commit ourselves to working tirelessly for its implementation and for the attainment by 2030 of our shared vision.” Reminding us that this journey has been to reach out to stakeholders worldwide and that this agenda is unlike the Millennium Development Goals these SDGs are universal.

The introduction says that it has been a two year journey in reality it has been a four year journey started in July 2011 by the governments of Colombia and Guatemala when they put on the table in Solo Indonesia at a government retreat the idea of SDGs. Without Rio+20 it is clear to me we would not be where we are here today on the SDGs. Rio+20 played the role that the BRundtland Report did for the 1992 Earth Summit and developing Agenda 21 and the two conventions on Biodiversity and Climate Change.

The section on “Our commitment and shared principles” underlines the key previous agreements and here it is vital that that includes as it does “the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the Millennium Declaration” and “It is grounded also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development. We reaffirm all the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, including, inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).”

As I mentioned in a previous blog the Declaration should include CBDR and tried to show where it applied to much of Agenda 21 and so should do the same with the SDGs.

The section on “Our world today” I really liked the part “A world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity; of justice and equality; of respect for race and ethnicity……A just, equitable, tolerant and inclusive world. And one in which humanity lives in complete harmony with nature.”

The section “The new Agenda” starts exactly where they should. “We are announcing today 17 Goals with 169 associated targets. Never before have world leaders pledged comnon action and endeavour across such a broad policy agenda. We are setting out together on the path towards sustainable development, devoting ourselves collectively to the pursuit of global development and of "win-win" cooperation which can bring huge gains to all countries and all parts of the world. We will implement the Agenda for the full benefit of all, for today's generation and for future generations. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to international law and emphasize that the Agenda will be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law.”

It then goes on to underline the vital role that human rights plays. “This is an Agenda which encompasses all human rights and will promote dignity for all human beings. It will work to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms are enjoyed by all without discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, culture, migratory status, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic situation, birth or disability.”

Finally it looks at gender and here the text is not as strong as it could be.
“Working for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the goals and targets. The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full rights and opportunities. This is also a basic issue of human rights. Women and girls must enjoy equal access to education and equal opportunities for employment with men and boys. All forms of gender inequality, gender-based discrimination and violence against women and children, both boys and girls, will be combatted.”

What follows is a number of paras that frame the areas that are being deal with by the different 17 goals. It links this political commitment to the climate change meeting later in the year. “Looking ahead to the COP 21 conference in Paris in December, we underscore the historic responsibility of all States to work for a meaningful and universal climate agreement which will put in place this essential component of a sustainable world.”

The section on Implementation perhaps the most important part is. “The scale and ambition of the new Agenda calls for a renewed and strengthened Global Partnership to implement it. This Partnership will work in a spirit of global solidarity, in particular solidarity with the poorest and the vulnerable. It will facilitate an intensive global engagement in support of implementation of the goals and targets, bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources. Inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships will be needed to support specific priorities under the Agenda and to mobilize the requisite resources.”

It does not define the accountability mechanism for partnerships nor link them to previous UN agreements on partnerships such as Commission on Sustainable Development 11 decision which would at least give a framework for how to approach partnerships if they are going to be seen as a partnership in implementing the SDGs and their targets as far as the UN is concerned much work needed here.

In the section on Follow-up and review - much is represented in a larger section 3 which I will also deal with here. It calls for the “development of indicators to assist this work. Quality disaggregated data will be needed to help with the measurement of progress.” In section 3 it calls for a “robust, effective, inclusive and transparent follow-up and review framework, operating at the national, regional and global levels, will promote effective implementation of this Agenda and accountability to our citizens.”

The review of implementation will be voluntary – as this is a soft law agreement. The Follow up and review it is suggested should be guided by the following principles:
a. They will address progress in implementing the goals and targets, including the means of implementation, in a manner which respects their integrated and inter-related nature.
b. They will maintain a longer-term orientation, identify achievements and critical success factors, support countries in making informed policy choices and mobilize the necessary means of implementation and partnerships;
c. They will be open and inclusive, supported by an enabling environment for the participation of all people and stakeholders.
d. They will build on existing platforms and processes, evolve over time and minimize the reporting burden on national administrations.
e. They will be rigorous and evidence-based, informed by data which is timely, reliable and disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts. Support for developing countries, particularly LDCs, to strengthen national data systems is critical.

What is very good is it suggests that the work on implementation of the SDGS should “build on existing reporting and planning instruments such as national sustainable development strategies.”
It suggests that every member state should produce a report every 4 years and should have contributions from “civil society, academia, local government, the UN system, private sector and other actors.” I would have used the word stakeholders as opposed to civil society which means nothing but that’s just me.

What I found very interesting and something I have argued for is that “National Parliaments can play an important role in review processes as well as other national institutions such as National Sustainable Development Councils and local authorities.”

For the Regional Level there is a call for “peer reviews” something again I have argued for. Regional foras will be used to review to review the SDGs at the regional level.

Finally at the Global Level it calls for the HLPF to be a “global network of review processes” and will “ focus on assessment of progress, achievements and challenges faced by developed and developing countries, and provide a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders.”

It also does talk about the “thematic review progress may also take place at the HLPF and in other inter-governmental forums, including the ECOSOC functional commissions and other relevant subsidiary bodies and mechanisms. These reviews will be aligned with the cycle and work of the HLPF, where possible.” This does look to the whole of the UN system and how it might support the review of the SDGs.

One of the sticky issues is that so much still is on the HLPF agenda and there is clearly not enough time to do that work so this will need to be reviewed post September. One of the key inputs other than government will be the Global Sustainable Development Report another good outcome from Rio+20. The GSDR needs to be funded to the right level for it to do its job, The Human Development Report costs millions for each report and if the GSDR is to be effective it will need similar amounts of funding it is to be not just an internal UN document but one which draws input from stakeholders.
The HLPF will support meaningful participation in follow up and review processes by civil society, the major groups, the UN System, relevant multi-stakeholder partnerships, the private sector and other stakeholders. The next Heads of State session for the HLPF will be in 2019.

The Secretary General is being asked to prepare guidelines for national reports and review processes.
The SDGs and targets

Very sensibly the paper splits out the MOI targets from the other targets and it makes it much easier to read. There will be no fundamental changes here none to the Goals and the changes in targets see below.

The outstanding issues

In Annex 1 is the proposed revision of some of the targets and this will be a controversial discussion. The focus needs to be on the missing dates and leave the other targets as they are however imperfect that is. As I suggested to the secretariat they have split out those which are missing dates from those dealing with consistency issues. This will make it much easier to deal with the missing dates and if governments have created enough trust then the consistency issues.

In Annex 2  is the Technology Facilitating Mechanism. As I have said before I like the UNDESA Technology facilitation paper and it should be supported.

I am not sure what they will do with Annex 3 which is the text from the introduction from the Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable development goals and targets.

I will in a further note look to what is missing from the Declaration.


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