Although more and more people seem to be convinced that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be an outcome from the Rio+20 conferences in June, the process how they should come about and what should happen with them after Rio+20 is still very unclear. One recurring element in the suggestions currently on the table is to combine the SDGs process with the process that is working on a successor framework for the Millennium Development Goals to be implemented in 2015. To find out if this is feasible, let’s have a look where we stand on both processes at the moment.
The SDG process is being decided some time soon.
While the world have been aware for some time (technically since the year 2000) that the MDGs might need a successor framework in 2015, the SDGs are a recent addition to the conversation borne out of the urgent need to adequately integrate environmental protection into efforts to eradicate poverty. This should have already happened following the original Rio conference twenty years ago through the concept of sustainable development and its three interconnected pillars – social development, economic development and environmental protection – which certainly provides strong motivation for Rio+20 to get a handle on this the second time round.
However, the process around the SDGs is not decided yet. It is being discussed as part of the pre-rio+20 meetings. A seemingly popular suggestion from Colombia is to come up with a mandate and principles for SDGs by the end of the conference and then install an expert panel for a year to flesh out the actual goals which should then be somehow integrated in the post-2015 process.
The post-2015 process has already started.
In September 2011, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, asked USG Sha Zukang (DESA) and USG Helen Clark (UNDP) to set up a group of technical experts on the UN development agenda post-2105. Hence the ‘UN System Task Team to support the preparation of the post-2015 UN development agenda’ (fetching title!) comprising experts from all relevant UN entities was established in January 2012 with the aim to produce a report in May 2012 that includes a vision and road map for the post-2015 agenda. There has been a suggestion that this expert panel is not dissolved after fulfilling their task in May but to stay on and serve as technical expert panel on post-2015.
The post-2015 High Level Panel will be in place after Rio+20 (as per suggestion of Mr Sha who is also heading Rio+20 – it’s a small world!). This panel will include a special coordinator put in place by the Secretary General as he announced in his speech on the next five year’s priorities in January. By the by, this special coordinator will probably be a women from the global south and the Beyond 2015 campaign is currently deciding on a set of civil society reps that they would like to recommend as panel members.
The two processes can and should go hand-in-hand.
It all depends on what should actually come out from Rio+20 regarding the SDGs. If all parties included resist the temptation to scramble for a final set of goals by the end of the conference and opt instead for Colombia’s suggestion to agree on the mandate and basic principles for the SDGs in June to then have experts looking into it, then we would be presented with a host of advantages:
- If there is a clear mandate and agreement on the basic principles after Rio+20, the post-Rio process could be easily merged with the already existing post-MDG process. After all there is already a technical expert panel in place. With a few additions it might just fit the bill for a joint way forward.
- Valuable groundwork, like for example further thinking on how to put environmental sustainability back into Sustainable Development, can be achieved and would form a great legacy from Rio+20.
- The report from the UN Task Team on vision and road map for post-2015 that comes out before Rio can inform the SDGs discussions at Rio+20.
- The post-2015 team has already identified Sustainable Development as a crucial focus area for the post-MDG framework. Merging with the post-rio SDG process might provide just the right kind of guidance.
- There will be more time to do meaningful stakeholder involvement and consultations with people most affected by poverty and injustice to inform the merged process.
Not trying to rush for goals in Rio+20 could also leave time and space to decide on urgent action that cannot wait to be implemented earlier than 2015 to safeguard the environment and protect environmental goods and services which are a vital prerequisite to eradicate poverty.