What if? Scenario planning for post-2015


CAFOD has written a discussion paper on potential scenarios for 2015. Download it here and share your thinking in the comments section below >> What if Scenario Planning discussion paper

Negotiations across three processes at the UN are now in full swing. 2015 was always going to be a busy year for multilateralism, with the Financing for Development conference in July, the Post-2015 Summit in September, and the UNFCCC COP 21 in December. Big outstanding questions remain on how this year is going to deliver ambition across multiple fronts.

Which scenario do you think is most likely?

Which scenario do you think is most likely?

The Beyond 2015 global Executive Committee recently met on the fringes of the World Social Forum in Tunisia. While Beyond 2015 has a decentralised structure which allows national and regional groups to be independent, the global Executive Committee has the responsibility of giving guidance to the campaign and setting long-term strategy.

To help us navigate the final phase of the post-2015 process from January to September, I’ve pulled together a set of four ‘scenarios’ to stimulate thinking. These scenarios are not intended to be an exact template of how events will unfold this year, but to encourage discussion on risks and opportunities, and to help us think about what actions we need to take to respond effectively.

Download the paper here >> What if Scenario Planning discussion paper

The four scenarios are:

  1. ‘The Train Wreck’ – in this scenario, no goals are agreed, meaning there is nothing to implement. This represents failure for the UN system and has profoundly negative results for UN-led multilateralism. While this scenario is plausible, it is unlikely due to the amount of political capital invested in the post-2015 process by member states and the UN. However, COP15 in 2009 shows that political investment does not necessarily result in agreement.
  2. ‘The Paper Agreement’ – this situation sees a potentially ‘transformative’ package of goals agreed but lacks strong ownership, with weak implementation and accountability mechanisms resulting in little impact. This scenario is probable but undesirable as it delivers no real change.
  3. ‘Business As Usual’ – in this scenario, a mediocre set of goals and targets are agreed, representing an ‘MDG+’ agenda, with mixed implementation and accountability mechanisms. Some member states take up the challenge but overall progress is patchy. This scenario is also highly probable, based on analysis of current trends.
  4. ‘A Transformative Agenda’ – in the ideal scenario, ambitious goals are underpinned by strong implementation and accountability mechanisms. While this is by far the most preferable option, it will be the most challenging to achieve.

It would be great to hear your opinion on this. Do you think that these four scenarios are the right ones or is something vital missing? What do you think are the most important factors that will shape outcomes from the UN this year? Are there any other ‘wildcards’ that could substantially change the landscape over the next 6 months? What actions should civil society and other stakeholders take to ensure the best outcome possible? Please comment below or speak to me on twitter @nevafreche.

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5 Responses to “What if? Scenario planning for post-2015”

  1. Stu Solomon Says:

    Hi Neva,

    Thanks to you and Beyond for the interesting analysis. I think it is very important for us to reflect on where we are right now to be able to plot how best to ensure that we don’t end up with an SDG agreement we are not happy with.

    I agree with your analysis that we are somewhere between the paper agreement and business as usual. My view from Sendai is that we may, unfortunately, be closer to the business as usual tract. The battle lines were clearly drawn for future Post2015 negotiations and it didn’t seem to me that anyone came out on top. The worrying thing is that if we do not start to see more high level political commitment and leadership across the processes, we could end up with disjointed agreements with little policy cohesion. What if we have a great set of goals and no new means to do it? What if we decide on new funding mechanisms but can’t agree a new climate framework? How will we view the processes then?

    I agree that there is far too much political investment to not getting something out of this process but how transformative this can be is yet to be seen. Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu while we were negotiating the new DRR framework. Many of us hoped that this would unite the political leadership to include some of the more transformative components. Instead, we were left with most controversial sections excluded.

    I hope that one of the wildcards come into play, and soon, as otherwise we may have an uphill battle in front of us as we begin on the implementation pathway.

  2. Nicolas Sautejeau Says:

    Thanks for the insight Neva, great piece!

    Personnaly, i think the process is well set in the ‘paper agreement’ scenario, providing that Addis goes reasonably well. I think theres is enough political investment in the process to have a fairly ambitious outcome, which would make things look good on paper: But the devil is always in the details, and that’s where the watering-down gets into play.

    One of the caracteristics of the paper agreement scenario at the national level would also be to have countries that indeed lead the way on paper -meaning they take concretes steps to integrate the goals and targets in existing or brand new development plans, but in such a way that could preempt debates on participation and grassroot ownership. If the way the government implements the agenda is excessively top down, we are likely to see an agenda that doesn’t adress nor challenge traditional economic and power structures, and hence doesn’t deliver on transformative outcomes for people. So we have to make sure the space for people and their organizations in the implementation gets maximized. For the BAU scenario is pretty much the same thing, minus the aspirational goals.

    The good thing with the paper agreement scenario though is that it shoud provide enough room for civil society to use it as an advocacy tool at the national level, and try to increase the political will for the implementation phase outside of the actual UN global negotiation process. But then it will be a country-to-country uneveness type of thing. Meaning that depending on the strenght of civil society in a particular country, the agenda will have more chances to be implemented in a participatory integrated and transformative manner.

    I think the paper agreement should also give some wiggle room regarding the interplay between global/regional/national and national/subnational/local levels.

    Overall though, i think the paper agreement scenario should hinder the universal and integrated quality of this agenda, and its far from being the preferred outcome for this process.

    Not sure it’s clear!

    This is just some preliminary rambling

    Thanks again!

  3. kimbowarichard Says:


    Thanks for the scenario – a futuristic view that is important for each of us to consider. I am following remotely the 3 Multilateral processes (courtesy of Beyond 2015 Campaign) and I think that to-date we are lingering between the ‘paper agreement’ and ‘business as usual’. The key determinant for a possible leap would be how far the FFD conference comes out to beef up the unanswered questions related to Means of Implementation for the Post-2015 Development Agenda + How far countries take the Paris COP21 seriously (commitment to reduce Co2, commitment to the Green Climate Fund etc).

    Once again I appreciate this!

  4. Amanda Lundy Says:

    Thanks for this great and interesting discussion paper, Neva. Perfect framing to kickstart some more constructive ‘what now’ conversations rather than getting too stuck in minutia.

    I think there’s potential to also build on the extensive global-level collaboration between INGOs and bring that down to national level more effectively than we have before – particularly for advocacy around post-2015 implementation. Many of our organisations already work together at national level, but primarily on programming and best practice-sharing. Occasionally on smaller campaigns. It would be good to try to replicate some of these good practices for *advocacy* partnerships at national level between orgs that are probably already working together (or could now do so more, particularly in context of SDGs). This is especially true if we can keep some of the big picture approach. e.g. states need a consultative process of planning now to integrate SDGs into national plans, rather than falling into our silos at national level.

    I also really like your point about a CSO role in trying to bridge divides within states’ ministries and departments to encourage ownership of post-2015. Again, this requires getting out of silos… worth some intensive creative thinking on how to work together as CSOs at national level to facilitate these dialogues.

    Just some rambling first reactions! Thanks for this great think piece.

  5. Naiara Da Costa Chaves Says:

    Hi Neva, thanks for the inspiring words!

    I wanted to reinforce one point in Nico’s comments – the idea that the agreement (even the “paper” one) can be a great advocacy tool for civil society to push for the transformations that we are expecting towards 2030.

    Although the Summit may appear the end of the process it is actually the beginning and even if Heads of State agree on the most transformative agenda in September we know that this will only truly happen if we remain vigilant and keep the advocacy bar high.

    And here, I agree with Amanda – CSOs and citizen representatives need to find ways to remain united and to build on the lessons that we learned during the post-2015 process.

    A universal agenda calls for CSOs to keep united and pushing for strong levels of participation.

    I am still very optimistic!

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