Mr. Thomas Gass Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs

2015 International Cooperation Days: Universal Goals, Canadian Challenges

Ladies and Gentlemen

At the end of March, the Economist published several scathing articles about the Post-2015 process and particularly about the large number of goals and targets that form part of the sustainable development goals. One article referred to 169 commandments alluding to the fact that we remember the Ten Commandments because they are ten and that no one would remember 169. Another article argued that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were stupid because their implementation would require 4 per cent of global GDP or 15 per cent of global savings when everyone knew that ODA is far from the promised 0.7 of GNI.

So what happened here? Did the international community stray so far from reason, or is this just a serious case of miscommunication? The reality may be more complex and more consequential, as this Post-2015 process is part of an important shift in paradigm. A shift in paradigm that affects the relationship between developed and developing countries and the way development cooperation is perceived and implemented.

Whereas it can be argued that the MDGs were a strategic plan for development cooperation, prepared by experts to address the most pressing issues in developing countries, the SDGs, by virtue of the intense participatory process that they resulted from. The many interactions with non-State actors, with science and academia and the survey of 7 million individuals, all this made the SDGs different. Although the task was a strategic plan and although log-frame vocabulary is used throughout, the SDGs are different. They are a shared vision of humanity in 2030. This has important implications going forward and requires a considerable adaptation of our mind set.

When I started my career in 1989, the first thing I had to do was a log-frame course. We were told at that time, that any strategic plan needed to have no more than three outcomes, otherwise the plan was confused.

The SDGs do not provide that sense of priority and focus. They are universal and right-spaced. They require fundamental changes in society. They are not about the 4 per cent but about the 100 per cent. If I were to read the targets of goal 13 on climate change, this would be clear to everyone. How much more this is the case if we look at all 17 goals. The SDGs can and must become a solid basis for a new social contract between governments and people, between duty bearers and rights holders.

This shift in paradigm has several important elements and consequences. The ones most talked about is the universality of our agenda, which is now valid both for developed and developing countries. Also the integration of subjects as expressed in the way the three dimensions of sustainable development are integrated in the formulation of the goals and targets.

We are witnessing the redefinition of sustainable development which is now much broader and more complex if one considers these 17 goals and integration of aspects such as good governance, access to justice, issues such as leaving-no-one-behind for example.

I would like to focus however, on two characteristics of this new agenda, which in my mind are very significant for development cooperation. The first one is the fact that it needs to no longer be a deal between donor countries and recipient countries, but much more a compact between governments and their people. What this means, basically, is that when the heads of government and of State come to New York in September, they don’t come so much to strike a deal with each other, but much more to communicate to their people back home that this new agenda, this new shared vision of humanity, is also valid for them.

For development cooperation this means that we still have to become better at becoming a facilitator of that relationship, a supporter of that relationship between governments and their people. This is something that is already factored into existing quality criteria for development cooperation but could be strengthened even further.

The second characteristic that I would like to focus on is the commitment of the Post-2015 agenda to leaving-no-one-behind. The Secretary-General echoed the call by civil society that the goals and targets should only be considered achieved if they are achieved for all social and economic groups. While the MDGs focused on reducing a given indicator by a certain percentage, the SDGs are nearly all formulated as absolute, meaning that all should benefit.

What this means is that we can no longer hide behind averages or just focus on “lower hanging fruit” or activities with a high leverage. The SDGs, the way they are formulated and this concept of leaving-no-one-behind, places the most vulnerable at the centre. This means that we have to begin by identifying who the most vulnerable are, what are the threats that they face, including the natural, social, economic, political threats, and also how these threats can be mitigated. Placing the most vulnerable in the centre also means that we have to combine humanitarian action with development cooperation in a different way, focusing much more on building resilience.

The May session of the negotiation process will deal with the question of reviews and monitoring. It is a part of the agenda that has not benefited from much discussion, and remains somewhat unpredictable. The Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report deals with this subject of gauging progress in section 5c.
It is clear that the comprehensive nature of the SDGs and their very high level of ambition will require all hands on deck. Implementing the SDGs cannot be about turf control and coordination, but must be about enabling and empowering maximum participation at all levels. Also there is no appetite for the creation of costly review structures or mechanisms. This will force us to work with what we have and make it more effective.

The post-2015 agenda can only be built on national ownership, transparency and participation. For the agenda to be universal, all countries must be urged to benchmark themselves against all goals and all targets, to conduct regular national reviews, and, perhaps three to four times during the 15-year SDG timeframe, present their progress at the global level.

At the regional level, existing institutions should be used to strengthen and compliment these national reviews. In some regions this can go as far as peer review; other regions may be less ambitious. Each region will have to agree on its own mechanisms.

Thematic reviews are also envisaged. The apex of the review mechanism, the HLPF, i.e., the entity that will be tasked with reviewing the progress annually at ministerial level and every four years at Heads of State/Government level, will need to rely on the in-depth work carried out on a continuous basis by relevant intergovernmental thematic review platforms.

For example, SDG2 on food and nutrition could be reviewed by the Committee on World Food Security. SDG13 on climate change could be reviewed by the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change. SDG5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment could be reviewed by the Commission on the Status of Women. These platforms could be devoted to a goal, or to a group of targets, or to an important transversal set of targets, such as, for example, resilience, or economic empowerment of the poor, etc.

The advantage of these platforms is that they can multiply the access and participation of relevant stakeholders, including relevant science and academia. They can also analyse a subject from a vertical or horizontal perspective in much more depth than the HLPF could. They can also do so every year, and in so doing, promote implementation. And finally they can access and process soft and big data in the way that the HLPF probably cannot do because of its more political nature.

Of course there will also be a review mechanism for SDG17 – the global partnership for sustainable development. The SG’s Synthesis Report proposed that this could be dealt with under the review of the Addis financing for development implementation track, together with the global partnership on effective development cooperation. But this is a subject of negotiation.

In conclusion, we are at a crossroads. You have grown accustom to hearing Christiana Figueres saying that about climate change, but it goes much further. Our globalized economy and sophisticated technology allow us to accelerate the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and keep the rising global average temperature below 2 degree Celsius. But they also enable us to end extreme poverty and hunger.

The alternative is the continued degradation of our planet and intolerable inequalities that sow bitterness and despair. Our choice must be inclusiveness and shared prosperity in a peaceful and resilient world where human rights and rule of law are upheld.

Thank you.

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