Intergovernmental Negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals from the Sideline

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Neha Ganesh, C+S ’15

Delegates convene at the follow-up and review session of the post-2015 development agenda, at UN Headquarters.

Delegates convene at the follow-up and review session of the post-2015 development agenda, at UN Headquarters.

At the end of Climate and Society spring semester and the beginning of my summer internship, I was sitting across from various diplomats of the United Nations (UN) member states in conference room 4 at the UN Headquarters in New York. With interpreters speaking rapidly in the background and everyone scanning through the volumes of notes sitting in front of them, the atmosphere was electric with buzz of policy ideas and back and forth discussions about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets.

Diplomats were hammering ideas and themes for discussion that can be taken up for the UN Summit next month. I had an epiphany that each one of these individuals no matter their background and affiliation, are truly trying to make this world a better place. I was also being introduced to the formal UN language and learning new terms pertaining to the post-2015 development agenda.

I witnessed the intergovernmental negotiation process as an intern this summer with the Climate Action Network-International (CAN), a global network of over 900 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in more than 100 countries focused on climate change and sustainability. This was my first experience working with an international NGO where the team is distributed across the world. In the academic world or private sector, the outcome is often clear-cut. But in the NGO world, there is much more of a subtle interactive platform but highly effective way of conducting sustainable development negotiation processes. I witnessed this first hand through my internship, seeing people who wish to make a positive impact on the world converge on ideas and ways to create the necessary protocols.

Delegates convene at the Follow up and Review session of the Post-2015 development agenda, May 18-22, 2015 at the UNHQ in New York.

The modern world has already entered a very significant phase of sustainable development. The Brundtland Commission’s 1987 report is considered the first important definition of sustainable development. It defines it as, “(d)evelopment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need.”

Much action has been adopted globally in this regard with positive outcomes. Much still needs to be achieved.

The post-2015 development agenda is the new global agenda put forth by the UN aiming to integrate sustainable development into all aspects of development for the next 15 years. To help achieve more global successes in health, poverty eradication, education and overall in sustainable development, the UN has put forth a proposal for development of a framework of SDGs under the agenda. There are 17 of these goals and 169 targets.  These goals (and targets) will replace the Millennium Development Goals that are expiring this year. Through the next 15 years, the hope is that the world will evolve onto a more sustainable path.

The member states of the UN have to agree upon the SDGs through the intergovernmental negotiations process and these goals are slated to be globally adopted at the UN Summit where there will be dialogue on six agreed themes that broadly cover poverty and hunger, empowering women and girls, sustainable economic growth, climate change, effective and accountable institutions and global partnerships.

The SDGs will go into effect on January 1, 2016. The path to the UN Summit follows a timeline of post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations since the grand declaration at the Sustainable Development Conference at Rio in 2012. This process thus far has involved a series of stock-taking, declaring, proposing, follow up and review sessions and negotiations on the outcome document. On August 1, 2015 the finalized outcome document text was released as a result of these negotiations.

During these talks, many organizations also host side-events. I was fortunate to be a part of one such side-event hosted by CAN. I helped organize our side event featuring a panel on connecting climate with other policy processes. I had the opportunity to develop meeting minutes and a follow-up report. A summary report of this event is available on the UN sustainable development website. I helped draft formal invitations to Permanent Representatives to the UN and engaged myself in the network.

And that is how I felt like I am directly a (tiny) part of the sustainable development movement.

Aside from the nitty-gritty, it is interesting to note the various questions and challenges that have arisen in the SDGs process. Trying to form an opinion about something is a major one. Should we be rigid to form our position or should we be treating it as an optimization process? For example, a policy that restricts water use in one location is tied to energy production and GDP.  When there is less water, there is less hydroelectric generating capacity and thus less growth for that region.

Intergovernmental negotiations process is not straightforward. Various unknowns that can emerge at different time scales make it challenging yet possible. We need the world to be on a more sustainable path for generations to come and for that we need binding global agreements.


One step at a time!

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