What next for the Sustainable Development Goals?

What next for the Sustainable Development Goals?

In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have guided so much of what the development community has done for the past 15 years, will expire and the international community will need to decide on what will replace them. But how can businesses understand and engage with the process?

The development community has shown a growing interest in the role the private sector, big and small, can play in delivering the MDGs and the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) that are to replace them from next year. Current proposals for the SDGs give much greater attention to economic growth and the private sector than their MDG predecessors. They cover issues such as the economic policies, support to entrepreneurs, environmental reporting, procurement, infrastructure, decent employment and access to finance. They also promote multi-stakeholder partnerships, including public private partnerships, as key mechanism to deliver the goals. The purpose of the goals is to create a global vision for sustainable development that will inform the actions of governments, international organisations, the private sector and civil society, and to set targets against which they will be measured.

At the same time, many businesses are keen to demonstrate their contribution to development and engage in the debate on the future goals. However, the post-2015 process, as it is known, is far from easy to follow, particularly now, when the next steps remain unclear.

This is what we do know.

In early December, the UN Secretary General is expected to publish a report which will make proposals on the goals based on the conclusions of the UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and, more recently, the UN Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals – as well as other inputs. This report will also include sections on financing and the means by which the goals will be implemented, building on the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, published in August. It is also expected to put forward proposals on how the goals could be monitored and evaluated.

This report will help to inform the intergovernmental negotiations that will run from January to July next year. A series of ten meetings has been proposed as the forum for discussions, before, it is hoped, a final set of goals will be launched at a Summit in New York in September.

Who exactly will be involved in those meetings – all member states or a sub-section of them – and how those meetings will be structured is not yet clear.

Whatever the precise structure, there are a number of obstacles to consensus among member states. Many feel that the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the OWG are too many to be implementable, particularly by the poorest countries. On the other hand, some key member states are said to favour the inclusiveness of the OWG’s process and proposals. The inclusion of governance, peace and security, and reproductive rights in the goals and targets are also significant areas of disagreement, as is the sharing of responsibility for tackling climate change. How the agenda will be financed is a crucial question and there will a parallel process to discuss that culminating in a conference in Addis Ababa in mid-July.

There is, however, widespread support for the greater attention given to economic growth across the proposals put forward so far, though the nature of that growth is hotly debated with many wanting to see the final goals give more attention to inequality and others wanting to ensure that the promotion of growth does not promote unsustainable development.

The arcane nature of the process can make it difficult for businesses to work out how to feed into the process. A Global Business Alliance on Post-2015 was launched last year to bring together businesses to engage in discussions around the post-2015 agenda. A number of multinationals have come together to put forward a business manifesto for post-2015. As this document makes clear, the enabling environment for business is crucial and the OECD has recently launched this consultation on what an indicator on the business environment could look like.

Once the final pieces of the process are in place, Portland and Trio Policy, an agency specialising in international policy and advocacy, will be joining forces to develop an interactive timeline for the final year, helping organisations, including corporates, to navigate the waters of the post-2015 process. This timeline, and related analysis pieces, will build on the stakeholder maps and timelines developed by Trio for the earlier stages of the negotiations. We hope this will help shed some light on the process for the many who are finding it hard to follow.

Claire Hickson is director of Trio Policy, an agency specialising in international policy, advocacy and communications.

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