MMS News from the UN -August 2015

Dear Readers,

The beginning of August was the historic completion of a 2.5 year long process of post 2015 agenda now called “‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” which will be officially adopted at the September summit in New York.

Influence of Pope Francis on the Post 2015 process “Transforming our world”.

Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya made the following concluding remark at the closing of the Post -2015 Intergovernmental negotiations: “I want to send a message to the Holy Father Pope Francis through the Holy See. Not because we are Catholics, we are not, but because he has continuously prodded us on over the last few days and weeks to maintain a very high level of ambition and a true dedication to the very issues central to this agenda – on poverty, on the suffering and the forgotten and of Sustainable Development. I must say, knowing that he was following this particular issue personally and directly always helped me realize in many ways there was something very special going on here.” This is a wonderful tribute. (Ambassador Kamau is not a Catholic. When Laudato Si came out, he suggested all the delegates “a book you must read”. He was present at the UN Hall too when cardinal Peter Turksin spoke on the Papal Encyclical.

The seventh and eighth sessions of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015
development agenda took place from 20 July to 2 August 2015. The session was extended for an additional two days, including an all-night meeting on Friday, 31 July, as UN Member States attempted to bridge differences on several contentious issues. Delegates continued to meet informally at UN Headquarters on Saturday and Sunday, 1 and 2 August, as the reconvening of plenary was postponed several times to allow time for delegations to reach consensus on the entire text. Link to the Outcome Document is :

A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE MEETING (excerpts from the UN’s iisd Summary)

The post-2015 journey began, on two parallel tracks, and for several years, no one was quite sure whether and how these two tracks would merge into a single agenda. One track began over five years ago when the GA adopted resolution 64/236 in 2009 and agreed to hold the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The second track originated in 2010 at the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals when, in the outcome document, the
Secretary-General was asked to make recommendations to advance the UN development agenda beyond 2015.

At many moments over the past three years, it seemed all but impossible to achieve the task of negotiating the post-2015 development agenda: agreement by 193 UN Member States on an expansive and unwieldy agenda that attempted to bring together all aspects of human and planetary well-being. Yet, as delegates trickled out of UN Headquarters under a full August moon on Sunday evening, 2 August, they could take satisfaction that they had made history by charting a course to transform our world, having birthed, in the words of one delegate, an agenda of breathtaking ambition and scope.

This brief analysis in effect is a story of how the environment and development tracks have been knit together, and how the post-2015 era builds on two legacies, that of the Millennium Summit and that of the UN conferences on sustainable development.

The Rio+20 outcome document, The Future We Want, called on the UN General Assembly to establish an Open Working Group (OWG) to elaborate the SDGs. The OWG met 13 times from March 2013 to July 2014. Midway through the OWG process, in September 2013, an UNGA special event took place on follow-up efforts towards achieving the MDGs. This outcome also called for a single framework and set of goals, thus providing an additional mandate that would bring together poverty eradication concerns with those for environmental sustainability. In effect, the two tracks began to come together with the SDGs at the center of the new agenda.

The package of 17 SDGs and 169 targets, when it was agreed in July 2014, however,still needed to be placed in context. While there was broad commitment it was still to be determined just how the agenda would be spelled out. It was no coincidence that a large part of the outcome document is devoted to means of implementation and arrangements for follow-up and review of the ‘how’ and beyond the ‘what’ of the SDGs.

However, the longest discussions at this meeting centered around the preamble and Declaration on the “why” of the new agenda. These sections of the document were where governments grappled most intensely with the true meaning of their collective effort, what was new and different about it, and how to balance the concerns of the present with the needs of future generations with the need for more effective stewardship of the planet’s resources, while ensuring that no one is left behind.


In the attempt to make the new agenda easy to understand beyond the UN bubble, and to inspire everyone to help bring it to life, Member States crafted a preamble and a political declaration to accompany the SDGs and targets, the chapter on means of implementation and the chapter on follow-up and review.

However, the drafting of the preamble and declaration illustrated just how difficult it was to maintain balance among competing interests. The preamble, in particular, sought to provide, in an easy-to-remember format, the critical areas of the agenda: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, also called the five P’s

Furthermore, unlike the MDGs, the SDGs are to be universally applied to both developed and developing countries. In fact, at a press conference the day after the outcome document was adopted, the Co-Facilitators suggested that US$3.5 – 5 trillion would be needed annually to fully implement the new agenda, providing an inkling of the scale of public and private sector support that will be needed for the international community to fulfill the lofty, newly agreed goals.

While the preamble and declaration successfully outline a vision for the future, and elaborate on the principle of “no one left behind” it is clear that much more will be needed to launch its ambitions to the wider public.


Sustainable development still suffers from a lack of clarity. Is it different from the development track? Is it mainly about the environment? Is it something new, or a big umbrella that covers everything? Is it a step on the way to poverty eradication, or a result of it? Even at this meeting that was supposed to be elaborating a sustainable development agenda, comments indicated that not all delegates shared a common working definition of the concept.

This lack of consensus on the meaning of sustainable development was demonstrated when some delegates called for the title of the agenda to encompass poverty eradication and sustainable development. Doing so would have set poverty eradication as a counterpoint to sustainable development, and maintain the silos that so many wanted to dismantle. Instead, the agreed title, Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, maintains sustainable development as the all-encompassing framework, in which eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty is the greatest global challenge.

The tension between the environmental and development tracks was reflected in the heated debate on the scope of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Developed countries insisted that CBDR applies only in the environmental context and is not appropriate in the post-2015 development agenda, calling for it to be replaced by the principle of shared responsibility. Developing countries, in contrast, called for making CBDR the overarching principle of the post-2015 development agenda.


With the conclusion of the negotiations, the merging of the development and environment tracks seems to have succeeded on paper. Many of the difficult issues, including the references to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities ( CBDR), people(s) under occupation, countries in special situations, financing, follow-up and review, and climate change, were overcome largely based on the trust that had been built between the Co-Facilitators and negotiators, which one delegate said in his closing statement had remained unbroken, and the consensus-building process that Co-Facilitators Kamau and Donoghue nurtured throughout the course of the negotiations.

During the closing plenary, many Member States had warm praise for the process and the Co-Facilitators, noting that even though they hadn’t got everything they wanted, the perfect must not be the enemy of the good. Civil society also shared the frustrations with their concerns and reservations particularly about the growing interest toward the private sector.

Now it is up to the UN system to prepare for the September summit that will adopt the agenda, and it is up to the UN Statistical Commission and its Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators to develop an indicator framework and a list of indicators for the monitoring of the goals and targets at the global level. The coming months will also be busy with consultations on how the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will undertake the challenging task of follow-up and review of the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda.

As delegates applauded with tears of Joy at the end of the meeting on Sunday night, Co-Facilitator Kamau noted the end of a long, long process. Yet, he said “ the end of this journey marks the beginning of another implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

Celine Paramunda MMS