Millennium Development Goals: negotiations on a difficult path

Source: Third World Network

By Maria del Mar Galindo

New York, 1 August  - With five years until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in 2000, governments are at a crucial stage in preparations for a summit meeting of the annual UN General Assembly in September.

The “high level plenary” meeting that will be attended by heads of states and governments aim to review progress over the last five years and accelerate actions at all levels to meet the MDGs.

The Co-Facilitators of the preparatory process at the UN headquarters in New York are Ambassador Paul Badji (Senegal) and Ambassador Carsten Staur (Denmark). Their first draft of a 14-page outcome document for the high level meeting was circulated on 31 May, following prior detailed oral statements and written comments from Member States.

An informal meeting of the General Assembly was held on 7 June at the UN headquarters in New York.  The Group of 77 and China were critical about the draft outcome document, saying that, “while the draft is inundated with references to measures that should be taken at the national level, it lacks focus on the critical need for international cooperation to spur the development process”.

Member States then met to insert their proposals, with the G77 and China providing extensive text. A compilation text of all the proposals based on the Co-Facilitators’ draft was made available in the first week of July.

On 27 July, negotiators concluded a first read-through of the compilation text.

A ‘clean’ text, containing the Co-Facilitators’ proposals for incorporating comments made by delegations during the read-through process, now exists for the first section of the document (paras. 1-41) and for MDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8.

Groups and delegations met on July 28, and the Co-Facilitators proposed that a final read-through of the clean text would take place on 29-30 July, with negotiations extending into the weekend if necessary.  The co-facilitators continue to propose that negotiations be concluded by 1 August.

The G77 perceives the clean text to be a second starting point for discussion, not an agreed text.  Though they intend to approach this text “positively” during their meetings on 28 July, it seemed unlikely that they will be able to agree to a final draft by the 1 August deadline. 

It is possible that the Co-Facilitators will produce a shorter text with fewer controversial points (they have asked delegations to identify their non-negotiable “red lines”, presumably to circumnavigate these) in order to facilitate the production of a final draft by August.  Some delegations within the 77 believe that all the time available before the General Assembly should be used to produce the best document possible, and may ask for a renewal of negotiations after a short August recess.

The clean text as it stands contains references to the MDGs in crisis and conflict situations (MDGs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, in particular), but there is no strong focus on this issue, as had been originally proposed by the EU.

Accurate data collection, disaggregation, and dissemination have also been marked as priorities by negotiators for MDGs 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.  This focus on gathering and compiling accurate data presents an opportunity for international agencies to provide support both in terms of capacity building for data collection and dissemination and in terms of direct support for data gathering.

The issue of employment and decent work has been contentious, as delegations seek to define the latter.  The text currently mentions decent work as part of MDG 2 and MDG 8, but this will probably be discussed again during the second read-through.

Intellectual property rights (as these relate to MDGs 4, 5, 6 and 8) were also a subject of intense discussion, as were most of the terms and specifics relating to Global Economic Governance.

Developing countries pushed for a yearly UN review of ODA and other donor commitments, but this was rejected, with donor countries calling for equal accountability from developing countries and highlighting the complex review systems already in place domestically in donor countries.

The G77 sought to secure a reference to aid without conditionalities and which was tuned to national priorities; though the latter was supported by donor countries, the issue of conditionality, accountability, and mutual commitment was a serious point of contention (with delegations agreeing to return to it in the second read-through).  The text does currently refer to the elimination of “onerous” conditionalities (US proposal) for aid.

The text also makes reference to a positive conclusion to the Doha round, as well as to the Monterrey Consensus and the Accra Agenda for Action, though these references are not specific enough to guarantee commitments from donor countries.

In terms of MDG 7, the issue of whether energy should be included under the banner of sustainable development was also controversial; delegations agreed that there should be “diffusion of energy technologies”, but donor countries pushed for mention for triangular and South-South cooperation, rejecting mention of “technology transfer” as problematic.

Though the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) supported a mention of technology transfer, citing the appearance of the term elsewhere in UN documentation, and suggested that the terms of this technology transfer should be what were agreed by MDG negotiators, donor countries (particularly the US) still raised severe concerns over intellectual property rights on this issue.  Negotiators agreed to return to it; it seems unlikely that the US would ever give way on this particular issue.

An attempt by the European Union to include a reference to a specific conclusion to the process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (limiting global emissions to 2 degrees Celsius) was unsuccessful.

Mexico supported a general reference to climate change with no specifics, while the G77, US and Russia, called for the deletion of the reference entirely.  Delegations agreed to aim for a “successful” outcome to the UNFCCC process, but again, no specifics were agreed. “Fair”, “transparent” and “ambitious” outcomes were rejected as too problematic.

The overall back-and-forth that has marked the negotiations has involved developed countries continuing to push for national ownership and domestic resource mobilisation, and developing countries seeking to secure aid and donor country support.  Though developing countries have made concessions in terms of domestic accountability, the G77’s attempts to secure commitments from donor countries to meet ODA and other agreements have either been rejected or edited to avoid specific commitments.

An attempt by the G77 to produce a text that made tailored references to the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), Sub-Saharan African countries and other particularly vulnerable regions or groups of countries was rejected. Though the first section of the text does include a general section on each of these groups, specific MDG vulnerabilities have not been highlighted (and may therefore be overlooked).  A mention of SIDS’ vulnerability to climate change, for example, has not been included in the document, with delegations in opposition arguing that too much mention of specific country groups would result in an unmanageably long document. 

If the 1 August deadline is maintained, it seems unlikely that a text making reference to any specific outcomes can be produced, as Member States especially the G77 will need to conduct in-group discussions.

With little progress made on concrete commitments, there is a risk that the final text (whether this text is a shorter text proposed by the Co-Facilitators in order to expedite the negotiations process or some version of the current clean text) will be extremely general in nature.+


Maria de Mar Galindo is an intern with Third World Network based in New York.

Note: The MDGs are as follows with selected targets and indicators: (