This piece is written by Ambassador David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Ireland to the UN. He was one of two co-facilitators for the intergovernmental negotiations which began in November 2014. This piece is the third in a series aimed at capturing the inside story of the negotiations for history’s most ambitious development agenda.
My role was that of co-facilitator, with the Permanent Representative of Kenya, for the intergovernmental negotiations at the UN which began in November 2014 and culminated on 2 August 2015 in an agreement among all member States on new global Sustainable Development Goals for the period 2016-30. This agreement, known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was formally adopted at a summit of world leaders held in New York on 25 September 2015. I was a member of, but did not have wider responsibility for, the earlier Open Working Group negotiating format which in July 2014 agreed on a draft set of goals and targets to be proposed to the General Assembly as the basis for the post-2015 development agenda. A main purpose of the intergovernmental negotiations (IGN) which began in November 2014 was to test whether the goals and targets proposed by the OWG would command consensus among the wider membership (the OWG had involved strictly speaking only thirty MSs whereas the IGN extended to all 193 member States). The IGN also had to agree a political declaration which would accompany the new goals and targets, to address the issue of ‘means of implementation’ for the latter (with a parallel Financing for Development negotiating track considering these issues in detail) and to propose arrangements at the global, regional and national levels for monitoring and review of implementation.
The first notable factor which helped us towards success in the IGN was the strong emphasis by the “G77 plus China” on the need for the OWG outcome to be preserved intact. Although some of its members entered formal reservations about aspects of that outcome when adopting it in July 2014, this large group of developing countries on the whole considered that any attempt to reopen the OWG package in the IGN risked undermining the delicate political balances which had been achieved during the OWG phase. They took the view that the outcome represented a careful and hard-fought compromise between many diverse interests; nobody had secured all that they were looking for, everyone had had to swallow hard and accept parts with which they were not comfortable and the entire edifice could collapse if efforts were made to adjust it, even marginally. While one or two member States (notably the UK) had toyed with the idea of seeking a reduction in the number of goals, it rapidly became clear that the G77 plus China would resist this tooth and nail. Furthermore, even if there were agreement to reduce the number of goals, it was clear that there would be no agreement on which ones should be dropped or amalgamated with others. When a wider number of member States wanted to carry out some technical refinements of the 169 targets (a number of which, it was widely recognized, had been rushed through without full technical appraisal in the final stages of the OWG negotiations), the G77 plus China were equally resistant. They feared that something represented as a “technical” improvement of a target would in fact amount to a substantive change and we would find ourselves on a slippery slope towards effective renegotiation of the targets concerned.
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