Digesting ‘Food for thought’ – the post-2015 roadmap


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.

Updated roadmap with confirmed dates - 09/12/2014

Updated roadmap with confirmed dates – 09/12/2014

Working methods

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Digesting ‘Food for thought’ – the post-2015 roadmap”

  1. Thomas Schwarz Says:

    …this is obviously the outline of a (closed) intergovernmental process. Nevertheless, I still see many civil society networks and thematic campaigns discussing and proposing edits to the outcome paper of the OWG, mainly on targets and indicators related to “their” particular topic of interest/concern, and assuming/pretending that the results of these deliberations will afterwards be fed into the UN process. Is this just making noise in order to keep the crowd in good mood? Or are there, in addition to lobbying our countries’ UN delegations, any realistic entry points for “integrated” civil society positions at a global level? I do not see any.

    • Neva Frecheville Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Thomas, and you’re right to highlight mechanisms for civil society participation as an outstanding item on this agenda. Many organisations, networks and campaigns have been working on this, such as Beyond 2015 (http://www.beyond2015.org/sites/default/files/Beyond2015%20Recommendations%20to%20Post2015%20Negotiations%20Modalities%20Final.pdf) and CESR with other human rights organisations (http://cesr.org/article.php?id=1664).

      Depending on your point of view, the OWG either broke boundaries in being open to a wide range of non-state voices, or it continued to make decisions in closed spaces with a façade of inclusivity. My perspective is that this process should be led by member states at the UN but that of course transparent civil society participation strengthens the outcome and builds ownership.

      I suspect that there will be similar modalities for civil society participation as existed for the OWG, although the co-facilitators have been asking what changes can be made to make participation more effective. There may also be civil society hearings as happened in 2010 on MDG progress, but we should be careful of being siphoned off into a separate stream that has no impact on the official decision-making process.

      And until we know exactly what is being discussed when, it’s hard for civil society to prepare effectively. We don’t know how much room for manoeuvre there will be in the final phase – but it makes no sense to ease the pressure now.

  2. Neva Frecheville Says:

    And I should have read all the emails in my inbox before replying…

    There will be a ‘Stakeholder Preparatory Forum’ held on 16th January 2016 in NY in advance of the first negotiating session from 19 – 21st January, which aims to:

    – Enable stakeholders to share their positions and strategize on the way forward in the post-2015 processes;
    – Hear from experts and leaders in these intergovernmental processes and provide insights on how stakeholders can engage most effectively in the coming months.

    A steering committee is being elected – TORs and link here: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5498ToR%20steering%20committee_21%20Nov.pdf

    Deadline is 30th November.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: