Weaving a single thread for people and planet

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) being devised by the General Assembly’s Open Working Group could mark an evolution in United Nations development thinking. The Group will come together for its fifth session from 25-27 November in New York, to discuss sustained and inclusive economic growth, macroeconomic policy questions, infrastructure development and industrialization, and energy.

“Properly conceived, the sustainable development goals offer a transformative moment,” said Nikhil Seth, Director of UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development. Past development efforts had often kept to thematic silos. “Discussions on the post-Rio+20 and post-2015 agendas made evident that a truly integrative vision is needed,” he explained. There are essentially two sets of challenges: achieving universal human development and ensuring humanity does not exceed critical ecological thresholds. “The sustainable development goals have the potential of weaving one strong, resilient thread out of these two very closely associated – but until now separate – strands,” said Mr Seth.

There are essentially two sets of challenges: achieving universal human development and ensuring humanity does not exceed critical ecological thresholds.

A proposal for SDGs

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012, United Nations Member States had agreed that a set of SDGs should be developed by an Open Working Group. The Group had its first meeting in March 2013. From this first meeting through to February 2014, it will discuss key themes related to sustainable development and how these might be reflected in the SDGs. In its second phase of work, from February to September 2014, the Group will prepare a proposal for SDGs and present it to the General Assembly.

Participation in the 30-member Open Working Group entails an innovative regional rotational procedure that allows for the actual participation of 70 countries.  However, all 193 United Nations Member States, as well as representatives of civil society Major Groups, can attend meetings.

Report shows good progress

The good progress made during the Open Working Group’s first four sessions has been summarized in a Co-Chairs’ progress report. It emphasizes the wide support for a single post-2015 United Nations development framework containing a single set of goals – goals that are universally applicable to all countries but adaptable to different national realities and priorities. The advancement and completion of the Millennium Development Goals is seen as the starting point of the SDGs. However, the latter will need to be more comprehensive, balanced, ambitious and transformative, also addressing the challenges ahead.

Furthermore, the report maintains that poverty eradication remains the overall objective of the international community. It underlines that poverty eradication can only be made irreversible if sustainable development is considered in a holistic manner. This means incorporating its social, economic and environmental dimensions.

The Open Working Group covered a wide range of issues in its first meetings, including the following subject areas: (i) conceptualizing the sustainable development goals; (ii) poverty eradication; (iii) food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation and drought; (iv) water and sanitation; (v) employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture; (vi) health and population dynamics.

Involvement of non-state actors is central

Involving non-state actors in the Open Working Group process has been central from the beginning, and there are a number of ways for them to engage. Like all sustainable development processes convened under the United Nations, the Open Working Group interacts with stakeholders through the Major Groups structure. Representatives from each of the nine Major Groups participate as official observers. Beginning with the third session, the Co-Chairs of the Open Working Group also held daily meetings with representatives of Major Groups and other stakeholders before the start of the official part of the meetings. Contributions to the sustainable development goals process can also be made online, through the Thematic Clusters on the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.


Further details on the upcoming session, which will be live-streamed, can be found here: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1665

Link to the Major Groups section of the SDKP: