From stocktaking to negotiation
The purpose of the eight inventory sessions of the OWG, held from March 2013 to February 2014, was to exchange views on how to integrate the agendas of poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, and on how to formulate a possible set of SDGs (see box below). During the next five sessions to be held in the coming months, the OWG member states will negotiate and amend the OWG’s co-chairs’ interim focus areas report (launched on 21 February 2014), and agree on a final document that serves as input for UN General Assembly (UNGA) negotiations starting in September this year. The nature of this outcome document is by no means set in stone. While the North opts for a clear negotiable list of goals and targets, the G77 is reluctant to already commit itself to goals and targets at this stage and stresses that the issue of finance needs to be solved first.
Yet, consensus and pragmatism were the main keywords arising out the past year’s stocktaking in the OWG. Member states agree that the post-2015 agenda (due to be adopted by the UNGA in September 2015) should keep the legacy of the MDGs alive, and include a limited number of measurable goals and targets that can count on the support and commitment of all different stakeholders.
However, while all of this could be applauded with joy, overall consensus mainly exists in terms of the broader vision. Clearly, a distinction needs to be made between agreement on those issues that need to be part of the overall post-2015 narrative, and agreement on those issues that actually need to be translated into specific goals and targets. On the latter, the list of agreements does not appear to be that exhaustive.
The Broker attended the eighth session of the Open Working Group (OWG), which took place on 3-7 February at the UN headquarters in New York. In this article, The Broker highlights some possible bottlenecks to be negotiated during the next critical phase of the OWG process.
The OWG forms part of the post-2015 process of formulating a new set of development goals to succeed the current UN development agenda (see infographic for overview of the post-2015 process). This current agenda consists of a framework of eight goals (the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)) officially established following the UN Millennium Summit in 2000. In 2010 it was decided during a High Level Plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) that the international community should formulate a new development agenda beyond 2015.
The process of formulating this agenda started with the creation of several UN advisory groups to advise UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the content and nature of the new agenda. Of special importance was the appointment of a High Level Panel (HLP) in July 2012, consisting of 27 leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. The HLP launched its report on 30 May 2013.
To guarantee the intergovernmental character of the post-2015 process, the OWG was established on 22 January 2013, as a direct outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 (the Rio+ 20 summit). The primary mandate of the OWG is to prepare a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) by integrating the two agendas of poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.
The OWG consists of 69 member states, which are represented in 30 troikas (each troika consisting of two or three member states). The OWG is co-chaired by Csaba Körösi, Permanent Representative of Hungary, and Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya.
Until now, eight stocktaking sessions have taken place. Each week-long session has dealt with several pre-defined topics. Next to country delegates, the sessions are attended by a large number of NGOs, academics and representatives from the private sector, who are able to express their voices via the UN Major Groups. Each day of an OWG session starts with an informal consultation between these Major Groups and the OWG’s co-chairs. Thereafter, the formal programme of the OWG continues, which consists of a morning and afternoon session. After several keynote presentations (by academics, NGOs and UN institutions), the member states are able to read their official statements (either in the troika or independently) concerning the topics discussed that day. Furthermore, during each day, several side events are organized, during which country delegates and other OWG participants further elaborate on specific issues. All documents related to the process and the content of the OWG are published online.
After eight sessions, the OWG will now prepare its final report proposing SDGs for consideration during five additional sessions (there will be one session every month until July). This report serves as input for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will launch his synthesis report based on input from all advisory bodies and consultations before the start of the 69th UNGA in September 2014. Thereafter, a year of international negotiations will take place and a new agenda will be formally adopted in September 2015.
The difference between an overall SDG narrative and its practical translation becomes strikingly obvious when it concerns member states’ calls (from both the North and the South) for a rights-based approach. Part of the narrative is the recognition that the MDGs have largely neglected rights, despite the fact that the Millennium Declaration – from which the goals were derived – reaffirmed the commitment to guarantee human rights.
Yet, these calls appear to be mainly limited to tackling social inequalities, such as gender inequality. With some exceptions, countries largely agree on both integrating gender equality as a standalone goal and mainstreaming it throughout the various goals and targets. By contrast, the OWG is much more vague on how to address economic inequalities, which remains rather limited to pursuing equality in economic opportunities, in terms of access to basic social services like healthcare and education. Despite calls from academia and NGOs,
Moreover, the ‘right to development’ principle clearly leaves room for different interpretations. For many OECD countries, upholding the right to development implies an integration of goals and targets on good governance, the rule of law and peace and security.
In addition, both middle-income countries (MICs) and LDCs use the ‘right to development’ principle above all to address inequalities between countries. They call for reform of the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions, to make sure that they are accountable, reflect the changed global power relations and guarantee a fair provision of global public goods. Thus, for the G77 countries, the ‘right to development’ foremost implies removal of the obstacles that hinder development efforts of some countries for the benefit of others. They argue that the SDGs should allow for increased participation of middle- and low-income countries in global economic decision-making. As characteristically stated by Bangladesh, “We should not underestimate the international aspect of inequalities that hinders sound and shared prosperity for all nations. We need to put in place a more equitable global system in relation to trade, investment, technology transfer and global governance.’
However, how exactly the G77 wants this to be translated into specific goals and targets remains unclear. And a clear difference becomes visible between the MICs and, mainly African, LDCs. Although the troika of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka made a case for “reforming the rules for international trade, finance, business accounting and intellectual property to ensure consistency with the achievement of sustainable development goals”
Despite the strict definition of the concept of universality, it is already clear that the SDGs will not apply to each country in the same way. As was stressed in the Rio+20 Declaration, the SDGs “should be […] universally applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.” However, as evidenced by discussions on tackling economic inequalities, countries seem to embrace the universality concept only to the extent that it does not interfere with their domestic policies.
Who has to pay is perhaps the most difficult hurdle yet to overcome. The North – affected by the global economic crisis and austerity measures – increasingly looks to MICs and the private sector. They are seeking supplementary financial resources to traditional official development assistance (ODA) in the form of private investments and South-South cooperation. They claim that the role of ODA has declined, and that development is mainly engendered by other financial flows coming from private investment, trade and remittances. By referring to the principle of universality, high-income countries therefore stress that emerging economies, such as Brazil, China, and India, also have to pay their shares.
On their part, MICs (including the BRICS, but also emerging economies like Mexico, Colombia and Turkey) and LDCs perceive these calls for additional resources as an excuse by developed countries to withdraw from previous ODA commitments. As put clearly by the troika of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, “even though ODA levels have regrettably declined, this does not diminish their relevance and South-South cooperation is only a supplement and not a substitute to North-South cooperation. The commitment of financing for development cannot be transferred to South-South cooperation.”
To settle disagreements over finance, the OWG is complemented by an intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing to “propose options on an effective sustainable development financing strategy.”
The big question is whether the new global powers in the G77 (the BRICS, but also other emerging economies such as Colombia, Mexico and Turkey) will use the post-2015 arena to play out their North-South rhetoric. Surely, by emphasizing South-South cooperation (based on trade and investment rather than ‘aid’), they are able to place themselves outside the conventional development model.
In the coming months, The Broker will closely follow how these issues play out in the further post-2015 process and provide regular updates on the steps that need to be taken.