United Nations: Sustainable development goals adopted amidst differences

A set of 17 sustainable development goals has been adopted after over one and a half years of discussions and negotiations.

The Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concluded its 13th session (14-19 July) at the United Nations headquarters in New York following long drawn negotiations that stretched through the night of 18 July, finally leading to the adoption of the final document on Saturday afternoon of 19 July.

Following almost six days of razor-sharp disputes between Member States on various themes and language across the 17 SDGs, the Co-Chairs, Ambassadors Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Csaba Korosi of Hungary, nervously sought agreement from the members of the OWG.

The OWG consists of 70 countries that speak either independently or as part of country groupings.

The adopted text of the SDGs contains a set of 17 goals that span the three pillars of sustainable development, that of economic, social and environmental issue areas.

Each goal is accompanied by a set of targets and means of implementation (MOI).

One of the goals is an MOI thematic goal divided into the structural areas of trade, finance, technology, capacity building, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and data, monitoring and accountability.

The other 16 goals, encompassing fundamental issues in economic, social and environmental policies, are as follows:

(1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere;

(2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture;

(3) Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages;

(4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all;

(5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls;

(6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all;

(7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all;

(8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all;

(9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation;

(10) Reduce inequality within and among countries;

(11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable;

(12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns;

(13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (with the following words preceding the targets: "Acknowledging that the UNFCCC is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change ...");

(14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development;

(15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss;

(16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

(The text can be accessed at: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html)

The next step is for this text to be presented to the General Assembly in September, after which inter-governmental negotiations among all the countries in the United Nations will take place in the context of the Post-2015 development agenda, with the current text serving as the basis from which to work on.

The Post-2015 development agenda is the successor of the Millennium Development Goals, and will be the official global template informing international development policy, and to some extent national development planning.

Heated conflicts along key fault lines

Co-Chair Kamau's announcement of the final adoption of the text was a rather groundbreaking moment that concluded a tense battle of conflicting positions among Member States. The reactions of Member States to the final text of the SDGs were divided along well-known fault lines.

The Group of 77 (G77) and China, comprising 131 developing countries, persisted in their position that urgent language on colonial and foreign occupation must be included, not only in the chapeau (introductory narrative of the SDGs), but also as a target under goal 16 on peace and justice.

The specific language they called for was: "Rio+20 reiterated the commitment to take further effective measures and actions, in conformity with international law, to remove the obstacles to the full realization of the right of self-determination of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation, which continue to adversely affect their economic and social development as well as their environment, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and must be combated and eliminated."

Meanwhile, many Arab, Persian and African countries, including North African countries, vociferously opposed the specific target that calls for ensuring "universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences."

As expected, most western/northern countries and some developing countries supported the contentious inclusion of reproductive rights, while key western countries strongly opposed the inclusion of foreign occupation as a target.

The final, and adopted, text of the SDGs, currently includes reproductive rights in target 5.6 and foreign occupation in the 15th paragraph of the chapeau.

Discontent was also expressed by Member States on a lengthy array of issues in the final document, ranging from the content and scope of the MOI themes, to the language on oceans, the reference to UN review conferences, the paucity and weakness of the MOI targets specific to the goals, the inclusion of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), and the longstanding battle over disputed goals such as peace and justice, sustainable consumption and production and climate change.

However, the fact that the overwhelming number of Member States decided to seal the deal on the final text, despite their wide-ranging displeasures, was regarded as a noteworthy achievement.

Re-opening the text would have been an extremely complex, fraught and time-consuming process that the Co-Chairs simply could not afford.

The outcome would have been unpredictable; and Member States themselves dreaded the thought of extending the already lengthy process they have been embroiled in.

India reassured the Co-chairs that in the context of deep divides between Member States, the outcome was a good one overall, as well as "complex, with things we deeply dislike and things we deeply like."

Countries such as Colombia concluded that, "this is a package deal worth approving, even if there are things we are not happy with," while Romania emphasised that "this process has exhausted its means. The text before us is not for re-opening, and we should all adopt the document and send it to the General Assembly."

Ethiopia summed up the ethos of the majority of Member States, saying that while they have "not been completely satisfied, in the spirit of give and take, we are willing to go ahead with the Co-chairs' proposed final text."

By Bhumika Muchhala and Ranja Sengupta.

Source: SUNS #7849 Tuesday 22 July 2014