While much of the world spent this year watching the World Cup, some of us were watching a very different kind of international tournament. The Open Working Group, mandated by Rio+20 in 2012 to produce a set of proposals for Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals when they run out in 2015, delivered its outcome document this weekend. I for one was gripped.
I’m sure there are many comparisons that could be made between the skill and agility of footballers and the skill and negotiating agility of the negotiators (the only physical stamina required is the ability to endure marathon negotiating sessions, with the final one lasting some 35 hours), different tactics adopted, countries playing on the offense or defence. But unlike the World Cup, where Germany held the trophy aloft, in the post-2015 debate we all stand to win or lose.
So in this global game, who (or what) are the winners and who are the losers?
Let’s start with the winners.
The OWG report has taken some of the ideas from the High Level Panel (HLP) report onboard, with reference to data disaggregation needed to ensure that no one is left behind. This is an important idea which needs to be front and centre of everyone’s minds when the intergovernmental negotiations start in earnest early next year. However, the lack of a direct reference to the HLP report amongst the many UN docs listed is a considerable snub – a bit like signing Lionel Messi then leaving him on the bench. Discrimination, disability and inclusion are referenced throughout but the report lacks a rights-based approach; language around access is used instead.
There were differing opinions on what the status of the OWG report should be. Some countries, chiefly from the G77, pushed hard for the OWG document to be the final version of the goals and targets but this is like celebrating the win at half time – we’re only halfway there. Others, including the UK, want the OWG report to be seen as an important input to the process but with the ongoing negotiations further refining goals and targets.
Each goal contains Means of Implementation (MOI) targets, referenced by letters (i.e. 12a, 12b, etc.), as well as a dedicated goal. These MOI targets relate to the particular interventions needed within each sector. This is seen as a win by the G77, while some northern governments are less pleased, believing it to be messy and unwieldy. But suggestions that MOI should be discussed in a separate track would kick that ball into the long grass – commitment from developed countries to deliver tangible, concrete actions needs to be central to the framework, so it’s a good goal from the G77.
And who are the losers?
In general, a lot of the language is weak, with no clear actions, responsibilities or timelines. This is particularly apparent under the Gender Equality goal (PG5) and Means of Implementation and Global Partnership (PG17), but it’s common across the board, showing the need for further work to deliver clarity, ambition and measurability.
With the report including 17 goals and 169 targets, governments and civil society need to be careful in how we streamline goals and targets. While a global development framework should be a tool for prioritisation, it will be a balancing act to ensure that the areas removed are not those that offer transformative change for those who need it most.
The next steps are for the report to be submitted to the General Assembly for ‘consideration and appropriate action’, as mandated at Rio+20. These instructions are suitably vague, meaning it is unclear what the exact status of the report is. However, it has been approved as an agreed outcome of the OWG, rather than a co-chairs progress report. Outstanding questions remain around the UNSG’s report and the intergovernmental negotiations.
Man (or men) of the match
Leadership on the global stage is rare to come by but the co-chairs of the Open Working Group, Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Ambassador Csaba Korosi of Hungary did an impressive job of delivering a near-impossible task. While agreement on all issues has not been reached, their commitment to ensuring an open and inclusive process that listened to stakeholders means we’re in a good position for the final match.
If this process were the World Cup, this marks the end of the group stages. We’ve had some great battles, with victories and defeats, and now we have 14 months to whittle what remains into the final framework. What I’d like us all to remember is why we play this game – not to win for ourselves but to deliver real, positive impact for the people who are most often excluded and for a planet that can support us all. As in any World Cup, the closer we get to the Final, the higher the pressure and the greater the tension. But it’s all to play for.