On 25 September UN Member States agreed 17 'Sustainable Development Goals' at an extraordinary Summit of the UN General Assembly. At various points during the negotiations, the UK Government expressed concern that 17 goals was too many. Debates continue over how far the goals embody a 'transformational agenda'.
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UN summit agrees the SDGs…
On 27 September 2015, following a negotiating process lasting four years, UN Member States attending an extraordinary Summit of the UN General Assembly on the post-2015 development agenda agreed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 goals, with 169 associated targets for human development, to be achieved by 2030. The rallying cry throughout the negotiations was ‘leave no one behind’.
The SDGs are the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – eight goals with 18 associated targets for human development, which were agreed in 2001, most of which were to be achieved by 2015.
These goals are contained within a final outcome document adopted by the Summit called “Transforming our World. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
The culmination of four years of consultation and negotiation…
The intergovernmental negotiating process to agree the SDGs began in earnest at the beginning of 2015. However, this was the culmination of three years of prior endeavour involving a wide range of actors. including: a UN System Task Team established by the UN Secretary-General; a High-level Panel, also established by the Secretary-General and co-chaired by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron; and an Open Working Group with a mandate from the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
Civil society, including the private sector, has also been involved in the consultation process. All in all, the approach has been much more inclusive than was the case with the MDGs.
Other relevant summits on development finance and climate change taking place in 2015…
The extraordinary Summit later this month is the second of three major UN conferences taking place in 2015, all of which are of critical importance in agreeing the parameters of the post-2015 development agenda.
In July, an international conference on financing for development was held in Addis Ababa. This conference was meant to lay the foundations for successfully funding the implementation of the SDGs. Views differ markedly over how well it met this challenge.
In December, governments will meet in Paris in search of an effective global agreement to tackle climate change for the post-2020 period at the UN. Evidence from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that all of the proposed SDGs could be affected by climate change.
A ‘transformational agenda’?
During the negotiations leading up to the September UN summit, many stakeholders called for the post-2015 development agenda to be ‘transformational’ in character. Inevitably, there were many different interpretations of what transformation should involve. Some worry that the agenda agreed is over-ambitious, others that it is insufficiently radical. Others again think that it is not well-founded. A crucial point to note in assessing future prospects is that – as was the case with the MDGs – the SDGs are not legally binding. Successful implementation therefore depends entirely on political commitment.
The UK Government stance…
The SDGs can be expected to play a part in shaping the development policies of the UK Government (and the Devolved Administrations) over the period to 2030.
During the course of the negotiations, the Government expressed concern that 17 goals was too many and that this could undermine effective communication and implementation. On the face of it, these concerns do not appear to have strongly influenced the negotiations. A relevant consideration is the fact that the EU has competence on development issues and has negotiated on behalf of Member States, including the UK.