Pivotal Moments in 2015 for Delivering the Post-2015 Agenda

Ashley Skiles

This post is adapted from What Happens Now? Time to deliver the post-2015 development agenda, by Alex Evans and David Steven. The report serves as a guide for all those interested in the post-2015 debate. Previous posts reviewed the post-2015 story so far and proposed guiding principles and a tactical playbook for delivering the post-2015 agenda. For more detailed information and complete citations, please see the full report here.

As we enter the final year of post-2015 negotiations, the debate on the new global development agenda to 2030 will take place along three tracks.

1. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development, 13-16 July, Addis Ababa

This meeting is aimed at “high-level political representatives, including Heads of State and Government, and Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation, as well as all relevant institutional stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and business sector entities.” According to an ‘elements paper’ published in January 2015, the main focus will be on domestic resource mobilization; private finance; international public finance; trade; technology, innovation and capacity building; sovereign debt; and the systemic issues that have been exposed by a string of economic and financial crises.

The financing for development (FfD) process is being co-facilitated by the UN Permanent Representatives of Norway and Guyana, with preparatory negotiating meetings on the outcome document due to take place in New York in April (in advance of which a ‘zero draft’ of the outcome document has been published) and June

However, the process is still struggling to gain momentum:

  • There is an unresolved tension over whether the conference is purely about finance, or should take on a broader suite of implementation questions – especially given that the 17th SDG also covers delivery and financing.
  • A much bigger question is what the FfD summit can deliver in terms of headline results. There is a real risk of a somewhat underwhelming package, with the political incentives for countries to make far-reaching ‘offers’ far from clear.
  • This is exacerbated by the UN’s marginal role on economic governance. The post-2015 agenda has implications for all aspects of the way the global economy is run, but economic governance is not managed from New York.

The ‘zero draft’ of the Addis outcome, published ahead of the April preparatory negotiations, set out to identify a range of policy and investment opportunities that will deliver synergies across the SDGs, drawing together “different combinations of public and private financing, trade, technology, innovation, and capacity building, underpinned by effective institutions, sound policies and good governance at all levels, and a strong commitment to address key systemic challenges and constraints.”

Inevitably, much of the text consists of exhortations to do better (“to encourage innovation, countries should remove barriers to entrepreneurship”) or broad promises that would need to become much more specific in order to exert real impact on policy (“we will adopt policies to internalize [environmental] externalities”).

It is far from clear how significant a milestone the Addis conference will be – or even, who will go.  A major push to bring together as many finance ministers as possible could also alert them to the responsibility they will bear for delivering the sustainable development agenda. Above all, the FfD summit needs to build political momentum, as the first of the big political showpieces in 2015.

2. The UN Summit for the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 25-27 September, New York

Second, a parallel intergovernmental negotiation will prepare for the UN Summit for the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be held in New York from 25-27th September.

This summit will be built on the model of illustrious predecessors such as the Earth and Millennium Summits. Most of the world’s leaders will attend, while a panoply of celebrities, philanthropists, and Nobel Peace Prize winners will be used to build media profile.

The main business of the summit will be the adoption of the new goals. Given that the Open Working Group’s (OWG) proposal is likely to be adopted in its entirety, or with minor modifications, this raises the question about what months of negotiations ahead of the summit are intended to achieve. According to the Permanent Representatives of Kenya and Ireland, who lead these negotiations, their main purpose is to integrate the goals into a broader framework capable of mobilizing the political will and resources that are needed for their implementation. Aside from ‘technical proofing’ and discussion of indicators, this will mean:

  • An attempt to forge a declaration that is concise, memorable, and inspiring.
  • A further push on ‘means of implementation’ (MOI) for the post-2015 agenda. This aspect of the summit’s work will depend heavily on what has – or has not – been achieved at the FfD summit in Addis Ababa, with a significant risk that things could go sour in New York if the Addis outcome is widely perceived as disappointing. (In particular, there is the potential for the charged issue of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ to re-emerge as a key flashpoint issue, as it threatened to at points during the OWG negotiations.)
  • Debate about the nature of the public-private partnerships that will be expected to help deliver the new agenda. The OWG called for the development of new generation multi-stakeholder partnerships capable of mobilizing the knowledge, expertise, technologies, and finance needed to meet the new goals. The launch of new partnerships could offer tangible and newsworthy ‘deliverables’ for the September summit.
  • Discussion about arrangements for “follow up and review” – in other words, how (or indeed whether) governments plan to hold themselves accountable for the commitments they are making. Like their predecessors, the SDGs will not be binding: they are not part of a treaty. But the development agenda must have some teeth to be credible.

3. The wider political context

For the UN, 2015 is also about more than just development. From 30 November to 11 December, a major climate change summit will be held in Paris. As at the ill-fated Copenhagen summit in 2009, most countries are expected to send their leaders, with President Obama one of the first to commit to attending. Ban Ki-Moon has promised that Paris will deliver a “meaningful universal climate agreement” and that it will “galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

There are many links between the post-2015 and climate processes, with long arguments in the OWG about whether and how climate should be included in the SDGs given the need not to step on the toes of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (In the end, the climate goal was included but with an explicit deferral to the UNFCCC as “the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.”)

The ‘atmospherics’ of the post-2015 and climate negotiations will also inevitably influence each other, as the UN prepares for two major summits in just 100 days. Some observers still believe that the two processes can be kept in separate silos, but lines are already becoming blurred and will become more so as heads of state become involved. In the best case, a successful post-2015 summit will pave the way for similar success in Paris. In the worst, the UN could enter 2016 seriously weakened.

As ever, there is much else on the international agenda, with the usual round of meetings such as the World Bank/ IMF Spring Meetings (April), the G7 (in Germany in June), the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (June/July), and the G20 (in Turkey in November), each of which will be used to build political momentum on one aspect or another of the post-2015 agenda.

In June, three processes – the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, the Review of the UN’s Peacebuilding Architecture,  and the High Level Panel on the Humanitarian System – will report on aspects of the UN’s peace and security mission, with each having important implications for implementation of the peaceful societies SDG. These, and other initiatives, form part of Ban Ki-Moon’s commitment to making the UN ‘fit for purpose’ to deliver the new agenda.

And to add another multilateral pressure point to the latter part of the year, there is a WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December, where the WTO is once again promising a decisive breakthrough on the long-delayed Doha round.  With the additional risk that an international crisis could emerge to absorb scarce political bandwidth during the run up to the New York summit, the post-2015 process cannot be viewed in isolation from the broader political context.

What happens elsewhere will have a critical influence on any last minute political horse-trading, and on how the new development agenda is perceived when it is launched in September 2015.

Publication Date:
May 07, 2015
Ashley Skiles
Post 2015 Development
Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

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