Sketching the road map for post-MDG framework

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Notes and comments from Expert Group Meeting on post 2015 UN development framework

UNDP and DESA organized an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) from 27-29 February 2012 in New York to support the advancement of the Post-2015 UN development agenda. As outlined in Under-Secretary Sha Zukang’s opening remarks, the EGM should look at lessons learnt from the MDGs in terms of content and processes, taking into account current development challenges, to figure out implications for the post-2015 agenda. The EGM informs the ‘UN System Task Team on post-2015 UN development agenda’ (UNTT), established by the UN Secretary-General, which is tasked to produce a report by May 2012.

The EGM brought together around 100 people, the majority were UN focal points to the UNTT joined by other experts and stakeholders, including NGO representatives from Beyond2015 (which was highlighted by the UNTT as the most active organization on the field) and GCAP. One positive outcome of this meeting was certainly, that the UN focal points could meet and share their input. Naturally they stated their UN entities’ priority which sometimes led to stark warnings against producing a ‘shopping list’ to make sure no topic is left behind rather than a clear and concise list of priorities. Overall I felt that the EGM also contributed to asserting the UN’s leadership on the post-MDG process.

Below is an overview of recommendations on content, form and process discussed at the EGM accompanied by some personal thoughts. But let’s remind ourselves that only the report in May will show which recommendations the UNTT ultimately agrees to put forward.

Content

Back to the roots

There seemed general agreement that the UN Millennium Declaration is now as valid as back then and its fundamental values (freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, shared responsibility) could well serve as a basis for the second round of development goals after 2015.  I think the fact that the declaration was the part that was actually signed by all Heads of States should remind Member States of their political commitment and can help inspire further ambitious engagement.

Filling the gaps

Issues that were not adequately addresses in the MDGs and need to be incorporated in the new framework include sustainable development, inequalities within and between countries and human rights although opinions how the latter should be included differed widely.  There seemed also general agreement that the new framework must be for all countries and shouldn’t be as donor-centred as the current MDGs.

Form

K.I.S.S.

The message was clear – the new framework should Keep It Short and Simple. One of the main attractions of the MDGs has been the fact they are not too many, they are concise and therefore easy to communicate.  These characteristics need to be maintained for the next time round and many warnings were issued against trying to include all topics deemed relevant.

Relevant for all

The idea currently on the table is to have a set of not too many global inspirational goals evoke commitment, provide guidance and a basis for advocacy. In addition, we should have country targets or objectives based on the reality and context of each country.  The principle of common but differentiated responsibility, stemming from the Rio principles and a cornerstone of sustainable development, was mentioned a few times as a useful guiding principle.

Process

Consultation, consultation

It was stated several times that the process to formulate the post-2015 framework needs to be informed by broad and inclusive consultations with all stakeholders.  The UN Development Group (UNDG) is setting up consultations in roughly developing 50 countries – which are due to be announced shortly – to inform the post-2015 agenda. There will also be thematic consultations, a global conversation using social media and regional consultations which are already well underway in Africa (UNECA), and Asia Pacific (UNESCAP) with other regions (UNECLAC, UNECE, UNESCWA) to follow suit.  Beyond2015 has also been promoting national consultations and produced a toolkit together with GCAP and the UN MC.  In addition, Beyond2015 should certainly engage as much as possible in the ongoing UN consultations.

However, it might be worth checking if these consultations really deliver sufficiently on Beyond 2015’s vision ‘that the process of developing this framework is participatory, inclusive and responsive to voices of those directly affected by poverty and injustice’.  I wonder if creating space and time for civil society, for example in an NGO forum, to share priorities and views and agree on common positions wouldn’t be extremely helpful.

How slow can you go?

To ‘hasten slowly’ was a phrase quoted at the EGM many times and the speakers seemed generally fond of the idea.  It was coined by Jan Vandemoortele who suggested to use the time from 2012 to 2014 for wide consultation and national reviews with an interim report to the General Assembly (GA) at the UN MDG summit in 2013. Then, early 2015, the final suggestion will be submitted to the GA to be adopted in late 2015.

Beyond 2015 would certainly welcome more time for inclusive, high-quality consultations and input but I am not convinced if it is wise to leave the actual negotiations for the last few months. Can we assume that they will be swift, nobody will stall and ambitious commitment will prevail? I feel we should allow for a precautionary time buffer, just to leave enough time for a plan B, a little leeway in case something doesn’t run as smoothly as hoped towards to end of the post-MDG road map. We should better be cautious and leave also a bit of time to think about implementation of the new framework so it is really ready to go after 2015.

In any case, we will only see in the UNTT report in May how slow they are prepared to go.

UN Task Team here to stay?

The original task for the UNTT was to come up with recommendations and put them into a report by May 2012. Several working groups as well as the EGM have been contributing to this report. One point that might be included in the report deals with the future of the team itself. The idea is to have the UN Task Team stay on as a sort of expert group or technical panel to work alongside the UN High Level Panel which will be established after June and, I presume, also alongside the senior advisor who will coordinate these efforts as announced by the UN Secretary General in January. This set up makes sense to me and hopefully does justice to the complex task at hand but I don’t think there is room for yet another panel doing same but different… see below.

Road to Rio and beyond

Standing at the intersection with the road to rio

Sustainable Development Goals are getting increasingly popular and they are likely to form part of the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development dubbed ‘Rio+20’ which takes place this June in Brazil.  Paula Caballero from Colombia is definitely right to say that the Rio+20 conference shouldn’t aim at producing a ready-to-go set of SDGs. In her vision – somewhat alluded to in the zero draft of the outcome document – the aim of Rio+20 should be to get the mandate on a general direction and main priorities. After June, Ms Caballero sees a ‘Rio+1’ process taking place where technical experts and scientists work further on the SDGs to come up with a suggestion that will be handed over to the post-MDG process at the 2013 MDG summit.

SDGs = post-MDGs?

Rio+1 is where I think the real duplication starts. At the moment the SDGs and post-MDGs are very similar in that they both want to use learning from the current MDGs, they both want the goals to be applicable to all countries, they want to put sustainable back into development and end up with a simple straight forward set of goals that inspire political commitment, help with advocacy and build momentum.

But having an additional panel running, and if it is even just for a year, parallel to the High Level Panel and the UN task team (if they act on the recommendation above) would be an unnecessary duplication. This set up runs the risk that the different teams veer off in different directions and it will need even more extra effort and resources to pull them back together in 2013. Resources that could instead be invested in, let’s say, meaningful stakeholder consultations and ensuring that people who are directly affected by poverty and injustice get their say and are taken into account.

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