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UN post-2015 talks focus on draft sustainable development goals

Wednesday, April 01, 2015 > 11:11:58
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(ICTSD)

Divisions on how best to finalise a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) moved to the fore last week during a New York meeting of delegates charged with hammering out a post-2015 development agenda. Countries reportedly raised questions around possible technical revisions to a list of proposed goals and targets – put forward by a UN group last July – as well as how to craft relevant indicators to measure success.

Following a 2012 UN mandate, the SDGs are slated to form a core part of the post-2015 development agenda and will replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire at the end of this year. The new agenda will be adopted by world leaders at a high-level summit at UN headquarters in September.


Delegates also agreed last week to hold a joint session in April with their counterparts negotiating the outcome document for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3).

The ongoing FfD talks – which also convene in New York – aim to outline development financing commitments at a high-level conference scheduled for July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, while UN members have indicated a preference for mutually supportive outcomes in the two negotiations, differences reportedly remain on the nature of the relationship between these frameworks.

Trade and trade-related tools to help foster sustainable development feature in both the proposed SDGs and in the zero draft released earlier this month for the FfD3 outcome. According to experts, FfD zero draft usefully expands the scope of the trade-related SDG targets by underlining the importance of trade facilitation and regional trade and investment agreements, but does not clearly establish an ambitious agenda commensurate with the ambition of the SDG targets. (See BioRes, 20 March 2015)

Technical proofing?

Last week’s discussions drew on an unofficial document circulated shortly ahead of the meeting by its co-facilitators – David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland and Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya – presenting 19 possible revisions to the targets from the July SDG proposals. (See BioRes, 23 July 2014)

Kamau said on Monday that while the complexity of further negotiation on the proposed SDGs was “difficult,” some targets would require “tweaking,” in order to ensure measurability and to avoid inconsistency with other international commitments. The 19 proposed revisions were geared towards technical clarification, Kamau added.

In some instances, the SDGs agreed to by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) – as the dedicated UN group was formally known – listed “x%” instead of numbers for some proposed targets.

The co-facilitators’ document includes one suggested revision relevant to the proposed trade-related targets. The OWG’s health goal mentions the flexibilities provided under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in relation to providing access to affordable essential medicines in developing countries.

The co-facilitators pointed out that the 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health does not limit the use of available TRIPS Agreement flexibilities to just “essential” medicines and therefore proposes dropping this word from the target.

According to Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a clear division emerged last week between countries not willing to revisit the OWG effort, while other players supported adjusting the language of targets as a result of their “technical proofing.”

Those against any revisions argue that doing so would re-open the carefully constructed political balance of OWG’s proposal, which was secured after nearly 18 months of talks. Some also questioned why those 19 targets had been selected and not others from the overall list of 169.

An intervention from the US, meanwhile, said that some 68 percent of the indicators in the OWG document were in need of further work in order to be actionable.

While a compromise between these positions was not reached by Friday, Donoghue proposed circulating an updated list of proposed target revisions to member states, with more detail on the rationale for each suggested amendment.  

Some member states in the closing session continued to push for more information on the modalities for “filling in the xs.” Donoghue reportedly said that it was too early to decide on criteria for these but that the new document would reflect the week’s discussions.

Measuring success

A proposed timeframe and process for developing a set of indicators for the SDGs was also in the spotlight during last week’s negotiations. The UN Statistical Commission (UNSC), which brings together chief statisticians from member states, presented the outcome of its latest meeting to delegates at the start of the week.

The UNSC on that occasion endorsed a roadmap suggesting that an SDG indicator framework should be adopted by next March and a refined indicator framework will be put forward by a new interagency expert group in July. The UNSC also endorsed the creation of a high-level group to provide strategic guidance for SDG implementation.

Post-2015 negotiators were also presented with a technical report from the UNSC bureau outlining 304 indicators for the current proposed SDG targets and rating these from “A-C” according to their feasibility, suitability, and relevance. Some 16 percent were given an A – the best ranking – across each of the three criteria while 31 percent were considered difficult to implement even with strong effort.

The UNSC technical report includes several suggestions for indicators to measure progress towards the proposed SDG trade-related targets. However, none of these are awarded the “AAA” ranking of feasibility, suitability, and relevance, and only some are considered easier to implement than others.

For example, an indicator for the target of significantly increasing developing country exports and doubling poor countries’ share of world exports by 2020 is deemed feasible with strong effort. The suggested indicator would monitor the evolution of developing countries’ exports of high-technology content, labour-intensive exports, and export diversification.

On the other hand, two indicators to measure efforts to promote a universal, rules-based, and non-discriminatory multilateral trade system under the WTO, including the conclusion of the current Doha Round trade talks, is deemed difficult to implement. The two suggested indicators would measure the number of potentially trade-restrictive measures adopted by WTO members and worldwide weighted tariff averages.

Proposed indicators for targets geared towards correcting trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets, prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and increasing aid for trade support for developing countries are also labelled difficult.

While the UNSC indicated that it planned to finish its work on indicators by next March, some delegates urged it to so work more quickly, to deliver a set of indicators for the post-2015 summit scheduled for September.  Opinion was also divided on how much control member states should have over the final list of indicators. Donoghue said on Friday that UNSC will brief post-2015 negotiators again in May on the progress made on the indicator framework.

Next steps

Four remaining sessions are on the calendar for UN members to reach agreement on the technical details discussed last week. Delegates will meet again from 21-24 April in a joint session with FfD negotiators.

That session will focus on any outstanding issues on the means of implementation, or the means to achieve the goals and targets, not covered under the FfD track. Delegates will look at how to build coherence between the two processes and discuss a possible technology facilitation mechanism.

Meetings with representatives from the Bretton Woods institutions is also on the docket for the April post-2015 session. A second drafting session for the FfD3 outcome document is scheduled for 13-17 April.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the Third Session of Intergovernmental negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda: 23-27 March 2015,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, IISD REPORTING SERVICES, 30 March 2015.


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