Reading UNSG’s post-2015 synthesis report: ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030’


Today saw the publication of the UN Secretary General’s long-awaited synthesis report on the post-2015 development agenda. Here’s a quick analysis from CAFOD’s point of view, remembering that the report has to tread a fine political line between many different priorities.

The Secretary General delivers a positive input to the post-2015 process

The Secretary General delivers a positive input to the post-2015 process

On substance

The SG had special dispensation for a longer report than average and he’s made use of that extra space to deal with things that can’t be easily captured in a tweet or fridge magnet.

At points the report takes risks and pushes the level of ambition above and beyond what’s gone before – not everything will be accepted easily by all governments. Ban Ki-Moon has stuck his neck out on some issues, making good use of his last opportunity to shape the post-2015 agenda, nut on other issues he hasn’t gone far enough.

On structure

The report opens with a call for action and a synthesis of what we’ve learnt, not only through the last three years of the post-2015 process, but from the two decades that precede it. The first two chapters remind me of CAFOD’s COMPASS 2015 report on the post-2015 agenda, which brought together the multiple voices of research participants rather than combining them to produce a single linear narrative. For those who like their UN documents crispy, these chapters will feel a little incoherent and disjointed but it means that groups who have engaged in this process will feel they’ve been heard. The report could have done with a little more finessing but overall the rhetoric has a good level of ambition.

It’s the third chapter where the report really hits its stride, making a suggestion on framing the new agenda. The report is clear in its support for the 17 goals and 169 targets put forwards by the Open Working Group and proposes six essential elements of dignity, people, planet, prosperity, justice and partnership as a way of framing this complex global agenda.

SG's synthesis report image

The SG’s six essential elements of the post-2015 agenda

The call for dignity, not the first to come from Ban Ki-Moon, echoes the call to recognise “the transcendent dignity of the human person” from Pope Francis “recognizing that he or she possesses inalienable rights which no one may take away arbitrarily, much less for the sake of economic interests”.

The report doesn’t suggest ‘clustering’ the goals and targets under these six elements so outstanding questions remain on whether these are merely a communications tool or will they have more significance?

Will the new narrative stick?

It takes time to refine a new narrative and to make it resonate with relevant stakeholders. We’ll see how this one will be picked up and how much it resonates with member states, both in missions in NY and in capitals around the world to be integrated into the future framework.

The report also focuses on the all-important means of implementation (including financing and technology) and implementation and accountability. It makes me realise that 2015 will be a year of stark choices: a year when we need the global institutions of the world to demonstrate that they can deliver and for world leader to show that they have political will. This unique opportunity will not come again in our lifetime.

The good:

  • Identification of our irreversibly interconnected world and that challenges faced by any of us are challenges faced by us all. The report strongly suggests integration and links together the different pillars of the UN’s work on human rights, peace and security, and development. This pushes back against some member states who said that this should only be a traditional development agenda.
  • A strong emphasis on the universal agenda. This offers us the most hope for transformation in 2015 and the emphasis on inclusive development with people and planet at the centre.
  • Commitment to Human Rights, reinforcing the principle of non-regression of agreed standards and objectives in other forums, and human rights as universal principles.
  • Recognition that this is complex agenda and that we need to include all 17 goals: “Because human dignity and planetary sustainability cannot be reduced to a simple formula, because their constituent elements are so interdependent, and because sustainable development is a complex phenomenon, the proposal by the OWG of such a far-reaching set of goals and targets is to be welcomed as a remarkable step forward in the international community’s quest for effective solutions to an increasingly complex global agenda.”
  • Strong inclusion and recognition of the role of both people and civil society. ‘High mobilized civil society, ready and able to serve as a participant, joint steward, and powerful engine of change and transformation.’ It also recognises that the inclusive post-2015 process has paid dividends. ‘Having now opened the tent wide to a broad constituency, we must recognize that the legitimacy of this process will rest in significant measure on the degree to which the core messages that we have heard are reflected in the final outcome.’ Inclusion through enabling people to participate in different ways results in ownership. But it comes at the price of ensuring that the messages that are shared and views aired are reflected in the final decision making.
  • Filling in the gaps left by the MDGs – strengthening effective, accountable, participatory and inclusive governance, for free expression, information, and association, for fair justice system, and for peaceful societies and personal security for all.
  • Calls for regulation of the private sector. But there are concerns around the role of the private sector in financing.
  • Participatory approaches throughout, especially in the mechanism to review implementation at the national, regional and global levels.
  • Bringing together the processes that will take place next year, particularly the UNFCCC and post-2015 . The synthesis report has succeeded in including climate change at its heart and it’s encouraging that the Secretary General identifies climate change as a core challenge to a much broader agenda.

The bad:

  • Despite good language around accountability, it slips into softer calls for monitoring and review when it’s talking about practical steps. But the principal components for a universal review are good
  • Inequality has been diminished and weakened. It doesn’t feature as one of the six essential elements, and it’s inequality of opportunity, not inequality of outcome. Civil society around the world who are part of the Beyond 2015 campaign recently reaffirms their call for inequality to be at the core.
  • Misinterpretation of the Data Revolution report ‘A world which counts.’ It’s not a world where everyone matters but a world where everyone is counted. This fundamentally misses the active participation of people to engage in this debate, and not to be counted as passive objects.
  • A contradictory approach to economy. Whilst it calls for us to go beyond GDP as a measure of progress, it also pushes for sustained growth, which will be interpreted by many member states as business as usual (especially in light of the recent G20 outcome). A good definition of inclusive growth comes later.
  • Some of the language on climate needs to be stronger.
  • On financing, while the report recognises the 6 pillars of the Monterrey Consensus, it also uses the framing from the ICESDF of public/private, domestic/international. And seems to have missed a trick on the need for private funds as well as public to positively impact the poorest and most vulnerable in all societies.

As we approach the final phase of negotiations on the post-2015 agenda, let’s not forget that stakes are incredibly high. We are discussing an agenda that will have tremendous effects on people’s lives and ecosystems. The synthesis report stresses the need to focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized people and those explicitly affected by climate change. This should be at the center of an agenda that intends to leave no one behind.

5 Responses to “Reading UNSG’s post-2015 synthesis report: ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030’”

  1. Sylvia Hordosch Says:

    The report is weak on gender equality and women’s rights. It mixes some good language with outdated concepts such as “accommodating the voices of women”. It’s odd that the synthesis report is weaker on gender issues than the OWG report.

    • Neva Frecheville Says:

      Thanks Sylvia. That’s a good point – and odd that something that is meant to synthesise different inputs has a lower standard than the source material. My understanding is that different agencies and actors within the UN were meant to offer input on different areas – but maybe this one slipped under the radar?

  2. Sylvia Hordosch Says:

    That’s part of the problem. Call it structural barriers, discriminatory stereotypes, etc. Half of the world’s population slips under the radar – and nobody notices it.

  3. The first post-2015 negotiations: stocktaking | Serpents and Doves: A development policy blog Says:

    […] issue that immediately became highly politicised was the ‘technical review’ recommended in the SG’s synthesis report (para 137). While some such as the UK, Canada and Norway were supportive of a technical proofing […]

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