Following informal discussions on modalities for the final phase of negotiations on the post-2015 agenda, the Kenyan and Irish co-facilitators have released a ‘food for thought’ paper which outlines the shape of the year ahead. It’s framed as a think-piece and so open to change, but holds some important jigsaw pieces. While outstanding questions are still to be answered, it nonetheless allows us to start to piece together the puzzle of 2015. January to June is the final window to influence, before a series of high level summits decide our global development trajectory for the coming decades. Below is an analysis of the key points.
The Open Working Group on SDGs (OWG) introduced the concept of “troikas” where member states were organised into trios and pairings as a solution to allow more countries to share the 30 seats of the OWG. Many governments reportedly found it easier not being part of traditional political blocs. The UK, for example, in a troika with the Netherlands and Australia may have felt less “restricted” EU positions due to the inclusion of their antipodean partner. The think-piece suggests that future post-2015 negotiating sessions will continue with this approach, as well as creating space for all member states to express their views, ‘whether individually, as part of informal combinations of states or through traditional group structures.’ Will countries who were not part of the OWG but want to be involved in the final phase of negotiations form troikas? Will any bridge the great ‘north/south’ divide within the UN? This could be a great opportunity to form new alliances and overcome entrenched political divisions. Although many countries who were not officially part of the OWG participated, there were some notable absences from the formal roll call, such as Sweden and South Africa. As incoming chair of the G77, South Africa will be particularly important.
So what will they actually discuss?
What should be the content of next year’s negotiations has been the subject of intense debate in NY. Would the OWG proposal be reopened to once again focus on goals and targets – or are there other more important issues to discuss, such as institutional architecture, non-financial means of implementation, monitoring and accountability. The ‘food for thought’ paper suggests:
- An introductory declaration
- Sustainable Development Goals, targets and indicators
- Means of Implementation and a new Global Partnership
- Framework for monitoring and review of implementation
This list alone doesn’t give much clarity on what will be discussed or when. It’s a big agenda for a short timeframe, considering that the OWG struggled to come to consensus on just the goals and targets in 16 months. Another possible agenda item is the ‘UN fit for purpose’ discussion, being advised on by John Hendra, previously of UN Women, and the implications of the post-2015 agenda for the UN system and its institutions. This development dialogue paper gives an indication of some of the issues that are on the table.
The co-facilitators suggest that ‘some technical proofing of proposed targets’ will be needed. Many governments are worried about the ‘implementability’ of the new agenda, and propose reducing the number of targets by removing duplication, with further work needed on other targets to make them ‘SMART’. It depends on whether member states are willing to cede control to technical experts or want to retain the sanctity of the OWG proposal. Previously, the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) had outlined its expectation to agree the process and modalities to develop the indicator framework in March 2015, before agreeing ‘in some form’ the indicators in early 2016. However, ‘Food for Thought’ suggests that the UN Statistical Commission will play a supplementary role, with Member States still to confirm their agreement. It is important that indicators do not become political footballs and should not be negotiated. While the open, inclusive and transparent approach that has become the touchstone of the post-2015 agenda must continue, this process should be led by the UN Statistical Commission, as it suggests, with the “proper involvement of Member States, international and regional organizations, the scientific community and other stakeholders as appropriate”, including civil society.
Review vs. accountability
One linguistic sleight of hand within the ‘Food for Thought’ paper is the shift from accountability to review. As a colleague of mine recently noted, “whether a framework is voluntary or mandatory is less important than its effectiveness, impact and implementation” but the replacement of accountability with review diminishes the potential for governments to deliver tangible actions at the national level, decreasing potential positive impacts for people in poverty.
Mapping multiple processes
Next year three processes will culminate in big summits: post-2015, the climate change talks, and financing for development. Coherence between them will be crucial as at the UN, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Without strong leadership, political playoffs and horse-trading could undermine ambition across all three. The think-piece suggests arrangements between all three for ‘close interaction’ but the devil will be in the detail. 2015 could be a game-changer in terms of power realignments and policy breakthroughs. We need to be pragmatic by seeking concrete change whilst keeping an eye on the bigger picture.