Mr. Wu Hongbo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the International Conference on Small Island Developing States

Second Session of the General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, Introduction of the issues note prepared by the UN Technical Support Team (TST)

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have the honour to introduce the issues note on conceptual issues, prepared by the UN Technical Support Team.

This team brings together the collective knowledge and experience of some 40 entities. Its intention is to facilitate discussion of the many conceptual questions that we face.

The note before you is divided into three parts. It first takes stock of the lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals and the possible implications of these lessons for the SDGs.

It then provides an overview of the current conceptual proposals for framing the SDGs. It concludes with possible options for tackling the core conceptual issues involved in developing the SDGs.


The SDG process will build on the foundation of the MDGs. The issues note takes a look first at the characteristic strengths of the MDGs, with which we are now familiar.

The MDG goals and targets are simple, clear, concise and easy-to-communicate.

The MDGs have helped in setting priorities and focusing resources and energies.  They have offered a multilateral reference point for a diverse array of development actors.  They have been supported by a coordinated monitoring process – the UN system has worked together in gathering more and better data on poverty and other social outcomes.

At the same time, however, the MDGs do not adequately integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development. They could benefit from stronger global partnerships and means of implementation. They are not universal goals and targets.

I am confident that these lessons learned will inform the discussions of the Open Working Group.

The note also provides an overview of several proposed frameworks and goals stemming from academia and civil society.

Overall, most proposals are in favour of a set of limited, measurable and concrete goals, keeping to what made the MDGs successful.

The proposals focus on eradicating poverty in the context of sustainable development, with poverty and environmental sustainability seen as “two sides of the same coin”. All this is very much in line with the Rio+20 Outcome document.


In looking ahead, the issues note raises some key questions, such as: 

  • What does it truly mean to have universal goals that apply to both developing and developed countries? and
  • How will universal goals allow for differentiation in accordance with national circumstances and priorities?

The note presents two possible options:

  • A common set of goals coupled with differentiated targets or timelines, calibrated to the national circumstances of each country; or
  • A common set of goals with multiple targets and indicators under each goal, from which countries themselves could prioritize when devising their own development agenda.

Another key question is how to prioritize and choose the most relevant SDGs when addressing sustainable development challenges of today and in the future.

  • Should we explicitly choose goals that are priorities for different sets of countries? or
  • Should we formulate broad goals so that they cover all countries?

The question on how to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development in the set of goals is also addressed.

  • Should we aim to combine them in each and every goal?
  • Or, should we achieve an overall balance in the whole set of SDGs?

One proposed option could be to develop a few key goals that would combine all three dimensions within each goal and to complement these with more specific goals that stress a particular dimension.

Furthermore, we will need to take into consideration what we can measure. Also, on which issues all the Member States are able to gather accurate, timely and disaggregated information.

At the same time, setting new goals can also stimulate the development of new or improved data and tools for measurement, as well as capacity building for their use.

Finally, the issues note reminds us that the MDGs and SDGs are not competing concepts.

The SDGs have the potential for accelerating and continuing the work begun with the MDGs. They will also take into account the long-term sustainability of poverty eradication and development outcomes, in all countries across the world.

Distinguished delegates,

We have embarked on a historic journey.  It will not be easy.  In fact, if there is something we can already agree on, it is that this journey will be arduous. 

Difficult as it is, we will reach our shared destination.

We owe this to our children and grandchildren.  We have the historic responsibility and the opportunity to contribute to a better world for them.

Let us seize that opportunity.

Thank you.