Sustainable Development Goals: what just happened?

by | Jun 20, 2012

An interesting paragraph in the draft outcome document from Rio (which is now more or less the final draft, if media reports are to be believed):

248. We resolve to establish an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process on SDGs [i.e. Sustainable Development Goals] that is open to all stakeholders with a view to developing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the United Nations General Assembly. An open working group shall be constituted no later than the opening of the 67th session of the UNGA and shall comprise of thirty representatives, nominated by Member States through the five UN regional groups with the aim of achieving fair, equitable and balanced geographic representation. At the outset, this open working group will decide on its method of work, including developing modalities, to ensure the full involvement of relevant stakeholders and expertise from civil society, the scientific community and the UN system in its work in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and experience. It will submit a report to the 68th session of the UNGA containing a proposal for sustainable development goals for consideration and appropriate action.

Question: if the General Assembly sets up its own working group on SDGs this September, to report back to its 2013 session, then where exactly does that leave the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda (see this earlier GD post), covering exactly the same agenda and working over exactly the same timescale?

If I’m reading this right, then it looks a lot like the G77 reasserting its place in the driving seat on post-2015 and signalling its dissatisfaction over the Panel (the G77 is deeply suspicious of High Level Panels set up by the SG at the best of times, seeing them as an illegitimate means of circumventing the General Assembly’s decision-making role).

If so, then it doesn’t make the political context for the post-2015 agenda look terribly auspicious. G77 / developed country relations are in terrible shape to start with on numerous fronts, especially where sustainable development is concerned. If we now have two rival processes attempting to frame the post-2015 agenda, then the chances of a major dust-up over flashpoint issues like “sustainable production and consumption” or “common but differentiated responsibilities” just went up several notches. The MDGs’ clarity of focus on poverty reduction could be a very early casualty of such a dust-up.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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