From the IISD Reporting, June 23, 2014:
Twelfth session of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
16-20 June 2014 | UN Headquarters, New York, United States of America
The twelfth session of the UN Ge, 2014neral Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took place from 16-20 June 2014, at UN Headquarters in New York. Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya, and Csaba K?rösi, Permanent Representative of Hungary, continued in their roles as Co-Chairs of the OWG at the second to last session of the OWG, which is mandated to develop a set of sustainable development goals and targets.
OWG-12 represented the first OWG meeting during which delegates worked primarily in informal sessions. Following opening remarks during a formal session on Monday morning, delegates considered proposed goals 7-17 in informal sessions during day and evening sessions from Monday through Friday. The discussion on goals 1-6 had taken place in “informal-informal” consultations from 9-11 June. The Co-Chairs also presented a set of revised goals, based on the informal-informal discussions, for comment on Monday night. On Tuesday night, the Co-Chairs distributed a new set of targets for proposed goal 1 on ending poverty. However, delegates said they did not want to discuss any revisions until they had a chance to review the complete package of revised goals and targets.
On Friday afternoon, Co-Chair Kamau opened the second formal session of OWG-12, noting that the Group had made “amazing progress” during the week. He announced that there would be another set of “informal-informals” from 9-11 July, to be followed by the final meeting of the OWG from 14-18 July. He said a revised version of the zero draft should be ready by 30 June, and that it will have fewer targets, and be a more refined, balanced and “tighter” document. He expressed the Co-Chairs’ confidence that the OWG will successfully conclude its work on 18 July and agree on a set of goals and targets.
The Summary of this meeting is now available in PDF format
at www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb3212e.pdf and in HTML format at
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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF OWG-12
“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance.”
Mufasa, The Lion King
As OWG-12 opened on Monday, 16 June, OWG Co-Chair Macharia Kamau highlighted a critical challenge for the Group as he presented the “zero draft.” He stressed the difficulty in achieving a balance among the issues and government positions while drafting the 17 goals and 212 targets in that document. Throughout the week, delegates’ discussions revealed the challenge that remains to achieve a balanced, consensus outcome. During OWG-12, many options were presented for each proposed goal and target, and delegates worked to weigh the tradeoffs, formulations and difficult decisions they must make to arrive at a final set of SDGs and targets at the close of OWG-13.
Underlying the SDGs themselves is an overarching goal to promote balanced, sustainable development. Inherent in the definition of sustainable development is the concern that meeting the needs of future generations and reducing poverty depends on how well humans balance social, economic, and environmental objectives—or needs—when making decisions today. It is also known that human activities in a number of sectors, including agriculture, industry, fisheries, urbanization and travel, have disturbed the balance of nature and have threatened species and ecosystems.
During OWG-12, the discussions were framed around balance along different axes: conceptual (between universality and differentiation), temporal (between historical and present responsibilities), procedural (between comprehensiveness and duplication), substantive (among the three pillars of sustainable development), and presentational (between specificity and “crispiness”). This brief analysis assesses the state of the OWG’s deliberations amid the challenges of fulfilling its mandate, given in The Future We Want adopted two years ago, by ensuring the sustainable development goals achieve a delicate balance.
BALANCE BETWEEN UNIVERSALITY AND DIFFERENTIATION
The SDGs are expected to be “global in nature and universally applicable to all countries,” according to Paragraph 247 of The Future We Want. At the same time, their effective implementation requires differentiation in accordance with specific national circumstances. Throughout the week, delegates struggled to find balance between universality and differentiation. This struggle was most apparent during discussions on proposed Goal 12: Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns. Despite the mandate of universality, some delegates said the targets for this goal should be differentiated between the efforts that developed and developing countries should undertake, with many insisting that developed countries have to take the lead. For example, target 12.6 says that “by 2030 at least halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer level, particularly in developed countries and countries with high per capita food waste.” While most recognized that such action would achieve a great deal, some also noted related efforts in developing countries. As some argued, this is in fact a universally relevant goal because there is also a lot of food waste on the production and distribution side in developing countries.
On proposed Goal 13 on climate change, the question of balance between universality and differentiation focused on historical and current responsibilities. Developing countries argued that, if a goal on climate change is to be included in the SDGs, it must be based on the principles under the UNFCCC, and therefore differentiate between the countries that are historically responsible for greenhouse gas emissions (developed countries) and those that are not (developing countries). The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) forms the basis of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol, which only mandate that developed countries (Annex I countries) reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, as some developed countries note, there are non-Annex I countries whose current emissions are greater than some of the Annex I countries, and there can be no meaningful reduction of CO2 emissions without the participation of all major emitters. Since the SDGs will be in place for 15 years, some argue, a goal on climate change should recognize the scope for further changes in emission profiles and not lock in UNFCCC country groupings from the 1990s.
A third issue relates to the larger issue of CBDR and the legacy of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit “bargain,” according to which developing countries would pursue environmentally sustainable development in exchange for greater assistance from developed countries. This assistance was expected to come in the form of financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building—the so-called means of implementation. Given their disappointment with how this grand bargain played out in the twenty years following the Rio Earth Summit, the Group of 77 and China has been firm during the SDGs negotiations that each goal must have its own designated means of implementation. Some countries went so far as to indicate that absence of MOI could be a deal breaker on the SDGs. Yet, other countries argue that if the SDGs are supposed to be universal, how can the MOI targets focus on differentiated responsibilities among groups of countries, such as Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS? As the discussion on proposed Goal 17 (MOI) began on Friday, the statements mirrored those that were heard at the beginning of the OWG process, not to mention similar themes that have been heard for over twenty years about the responsibility of developed countries to provide MOI. There appeared to be some progress, however, as several governments across groupings called for an inclusive global partnership for development that involves the public, private and civil society sectors, and addresses the need for triangular cooperation and South-South cooperation.
BALANCE AMONG THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The OWG has faced another recurring question of balance in fulfilling its mandate, this time from Paragraph 246 of The Future We Want: “The goals should address and incorporate in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development and their interlinkages.” What would such a balance mean for each dimension, and how would the balance be embedded in the SDG framework?
For many developing countries, balance should be reflected in the number of goals dedicated to each dimension. One delegate shared his assessment that out of the proposed substantive goals, there are two on the economic dimension, five or six on the social dimension, and four or five on the environment. Developing countries, in particular, expressed concern that currently only two goals are “dedicated” to the economic dimension: proposed Goals 8 (sustainable economic growth) and 9 (industrialization). When some suggested merging these two goals, these countries rejected the notion as it would leave only one “economic goal.” Yet at the same time, one delegation said the three explicitly environmental goals should be consolidated into two, noting that three goals for one theme are too many.
On the other hand, some developed countries have expressed a different vision of balance among the three dimensions of sustainable development, calling for each goal to reflect a “three-dimensional” approach to sustainable development, through targets that address economic, social, and environmental aspects. Regarding the same Goals 8 and 9 that were welcomed by developing countries as ensuring an economic development dimension to the SDGs, developed country delegations critiqued the current drafting of these goals as lacking a vision of inclusive and environmentally friendly growth. Some delegations thought that integrated goals would do a better job at ensuring ministries and UN and other international organizations and agencies work together and get out of their traditional “silos.”
BALANCE BETWEEN WORDINESS AND “CRISPINESS”
Throughout the week, the Co-Chairs urged delegates to achieve “crispiness,” using a term popularized by Co-Chair K?rösi, amid the desire for an all-encompassing yet concrete set of goals. In other words, delegates face the challenge of crafting goals that are clear, coherent, concrete and comprehensive (the four C’s). The quest for this need for balance took on various forms.
First, there was a concern about the titles of the goals themselves in substantive as well as presentational terms. Using the MDGs as an example, observers noted that the wording, formatting and number of MDGs made the goals conducive to iconographic representation and visually compelling packaging that was used in effective advocacy and outreach campaigns. This helped to generate traction within and beyond the development arena. Both Co-Chairs consistently reminded delegates that these goals and targets have to make sense to people beyond the walls of the United Nations and, thus, need to be “crispy”, translatable and easy to understand
The OWG has also recognized that the number of goals to be adopted will be an important consideration. At previous OWG meetings, some, including Jeffrey Sachs and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, called for a set of ten goals—a sort of “ten commandments” for sustainable development. Similarly, others have previously called for twelve goals to allow an equal number of goals for each of the three dimensions of sustainable development. Overall, many speakers at many sessions conceded that the power of the goals will be in focusing international attention on a set of priorities, which would be lost if the list of priorities become too unwieldy. The Co-Chairs tried to reduce the number of proposed goals to 15 and distributed a new suggested list of goals on Monday night, but their effort did not immediately gain traction.
There is still uncertainty about retaining at least three of the proposed goals—10 (reduce inequality), 13 (climate change) and 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and effective and capable institutions)—while strong support was expressed for maintaining the separation among the current Goals 8 (sustainable economic growth and work for all) and 9 (sustainable industrialization), and among Goals 14 (conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, oceans and seas) and 15 (terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity). As a result, it is still not clear how many goals will constitute the final package of SDGs and how they will be balanced.
At the same time, delegates expressed concern about creating strong targets that are action-oriented and measurable. For the first time during the OWG, delegates at OWG-12 seemed to focus on whether proposed targets were achievable and how implementation could be monitored and reported. While some delegates continued to propose new targets, many more noted that certain targets were better placed as indicators, and others should be deleted because they were highly aspirational but not achievable. This has become yet another challenge for the OWG—how to achieve a balance between what they want to accomplish and what can realistically be accomplished by 2030.
TWELVE DOWN, ONE TO GO
With twelve sessions completed, the OWG has only eight days left to complete its work, including the three days of “informal-informal” consultations that will precede OWG-13. As the Co-Chairs noted, the time has come to reach agreement on the final package of SDGs to submit to the UN General Assembly to be taken into consideration as part of the deliberations on the post-2015 development agenda.
With so little time remaining before 18 July—the final day of OWG-13—delegates emerged from the ECOSOC Chamber on Friday evening exhausted from an intense week of work, yet curious about what will happen between now and 18 July. Some wondered how the Co-Chairs will manage the OWG’s final session and related consultations to enable delegates to produce a balanced set of SDGs that are universal, “crispy,” action-oriented, and reflective of the three dimensions of sustainable development. Others asked themselves if OWG members can bridge the North-South divide and create a new framework that truly operationalizes sustainable development and anchors a truly transformative agenda. Still others wondered if the 13 OWG sessions and the Co-Chairs’ careful management of the process will enable governments to arrive at a consensus outcome in an increasingly challenging political environment for multilateral negotiations. In the end, after 18 months, the OWG has just a few days left to show that it can create a package of SDGs that will exist together in a delicate balance.