Road to the Sustainable Development Goals

Road to the Sustainable Development Goals

Everything you wanted to know about the post-2015 process but were afraid to ask

As intergovernmental negotiations take place in New York this week, Portland and Trio Policy are delighted to launch their interactive timeline on the final stages of the post-2015 process and the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This process has already been running for a couple of years. Key milestones along the way have been the outcome of the Rio+20 conference in 2012, the report of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in 2013 and the publication of the Open Working Group’s proposals for 17 goals in 2014. It is the last of these that forms the core of the intergovernmental negotiations taking place in New York this week.

As can be seen from the map, however, we still have a way to go before there can be a final agreement in September. A number of key issues remain to be settled in that six-month window.

The goals and targets have largely been agreed – despite the fact that some member states and many commentators are of the view that the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the Open Working Group are too many. The prevailing view among member states, particularly the G77 group of developing countries, is that they do not want to reopen this agreement for renegotiation. So this week’s discussions will focus on whether the targets need to be tweaked and what indicators can be used to measure them, rather than revisiting the number or content of those goals and targets.

This does not mean, however, that this is all a done deal. The goals and targets are only part of the picture. Another fundamental part of the final agreement will be how those goals will be implemented, including how they will be resourced, and how they will be monitored and reviewed. The next two sessions of intergovernmental negotiations in April and May will look at these two issues, but much of that discussion will also take place in the Financing for Development (FfD) process that is running parallel to those intergovernmental negotiations.

FfD is looking at a range of potential sources of finance: international public finance (aid), international private finance and improving domestic resource mobilisation. But it is about more than money. ‘Structural issues’, the way in which areas such as trade, access to technology and international governance are organised, are also on the FfD agenda. The politics of the process will be largely around these issues, which developing countries feel need to be addressed if there is to be a level playing field for future development.

The principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ is also key. CBDR was originally conceived to recognise that countries bear a common but varying degree of responsibility to address climate change based on their level of development and resources. Developing countries, particularly China, India, South Africa and Brazil, are pushing for CBDR to be part of the SDG discussion – in part to put pressure on the developed world to make and meet their commitments on, for example, aid. Tackling tax evasion will also be part of the FfD discussions.

Consequently, those looking to add to the goals and targets have probably missed the boat. Those in the know are increasingly shifting their focus to the FfD process where there is more scope for influence prior to the final agreement at the Third Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July. A zero draft outcome document for Addis Ababa, covering the range of issues outlined above, was published in mid-March.

The intergovernmental negotiations on the SDGs will pause to await the outcome of the Addis Ababa conference so that its conclusions can be incorporated into the SDG discussions and agreement. The close links between the two processes mean that failure to reach a satisfactory agreement in Addis Ababa would have serious implications for the rest of the SDG process.

Less closely linked but equally significant are the climate change negotiations that will conclude at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Paris in December. The key dates for those discussions are therefore in the timeline. The sustainable element of the Sustainable Development Goals means that the two discussions should be connected and 2015 is a landmark year for both issues. However, there are no formal linkages between the two processes.

Finally, another less discussed but significant event will take place at the very end of this negotiation-heavy year – the WTO Ministerial Conference, which takes place every two years. Again, there are no formal links between the SDG process and the WTO discussions, but trade is a key element of the FfD agenda so it is expected its conclusions will feed into the December WTO conference.

Clearly, this is a complex, multifaceted process. We hope you find our timeline  helpful in understanding how it is expected to play out during the remainder of year.

For further information, please contact Claire Hickson at Trio Policy or Robert Watkinson at Portland  



Portland and Trio Policy are delighted to present this interactive timeline of the final stages in the post-2015 process, leading to the launch of Sustainable Development Goals later this year.

Click through the panels below to learn more about the key meetings and negotiations taking place in the run-up to the UN Summit in September 2015. Our timeline kicks off with a quick recap of the first key events of the year.

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