Agenda 2030

Informal meetings between diplomats, UN officials and civil society chart evolution of Agenda 2030

In Brief: 
  • A series of breakfast meetings on the post-2015 development agenda at the Bahá’í International Community offices in New York reflect the new norm of inclusion that defined the negotiation of Agenda 2030.
  • The meetings provided a venue for diplomats, UN officials, and civil society to discuss the evolution of Agenda 2030 in an interactive and informal manner.
  • The topics — from climate change to finance — paralleled the negotiations on Agenda 2030 at the United Nations.

NEW YORK — By all accounts, Agenda 2030 represents the most ambitious and far-reaching global development program ever undertaken by the United Nations — or any other organization.

Approved by the UN General Assembly in September 2015, the Agenda has at its core 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that address virtually every major challenge facing humanity today, from poverty to climate change, from gender equality to peace and security.

The Agenda’s preamble speaks to the scale of aspiration: “We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”

The plan was devised during a several-years long process that included the participation of not only governments and UN agencies but also thousands of civil society representatives and stakeholder organizations, who gave input in a series of more than a hundred global and regional consultations. By the UN’s count, more than 130,000 people in at least 86 countries participated directly or online in these events, with many more giving their input via surveys.

In this regard, the process that led to the creation of Agenda 2030 is now widely considered to be among the most inclusive ever at the UN — and a model for future global consultations.

On a small scale, the new kinds of interactions between governments, UN officials and representatives of civil society that gave birth to Agenda 2030 have been reflected in a series of breakfast meetings held at the offices of the Bahá’í International Community. Indeed, the discussions at those gatherings track quite well the evolution of the post-2015 development agenda.

Launched in July 2012, and cosponsored with International Movement ATD Fourth World, the meetings have been held roughly once a month. Each has focused on a particular topic, in parallel with the negotiations at the UN. And the meetings have sought explicitly to bring together diplomats, UN officials and civil society representatives in an informal, egalitarian setting, to enable a free exchange of views. [See page 8]

In 2014, the breakfast meetings addressed key issues facing UN negotiators as they sought to devise a replacement for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), covering topics like how to finance the Agenda, the end of traditional “north-south” lines, the impact of conflict and violence on development, and the role of civil society.

The series of meetings in 2015, of which there were eight, addressed a different set of issues, reflecting a shift from what the Agenda should be to questions about how it can be most effectively communicated, implemented, and monitored.

“The range of themes we addressed in 2015 was broad,” said Serik Tokbolat, a representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the UN. “Our criteria for topics were mainly just to follow closely what was being discussed at the UN, and then choosing the most relevant or important theme in relation to that. It is basically reading reality.”

According to those who participated in the meetings, the result over time was a fruitful process of learning and the generation of new ideas and knowledge that were carried back to the formal negotiations among member states. The series also reflects an underlying theme of integration and inclusion found in the Agenda.

Communicating the goals

The first two meetings of 2015 addressed the question of communicating the Agenda. On 11 February, David Donoghue, the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN, who was then co-chairing the negotiations, said the new goals must “in some way capture the imagination of ordinary people around the world.”

Amina Mohammad, then the Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on post-2015 development planning, agreed that communicating the significance of the new goals will be crucial in their ultimate success, saying they must have support from the international to the grassroots.

“It is not just about governments and businesses,” said Ms. Mohammad. “There are many more partnerships that will hold this all together.”

On 24 March, Hahn Choonghee, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the UN, said the UN must find “very touching and inspiring ways of communicating” the significance of the goals. One way to do that, he said, is to focus on inspirational qualities, like human rights, equality, and justice.

Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division of the UN Department of Public Information, said new technologies will need to be used. “The world is much more connected. About one-third of humanity has access to high speed internet.”

How to pay for Agenda 2030

On 20 April, the breakfast focused on how to pay for the proposed SDGs. Discussing “Mobilizing Resources for Economic Justice: The Road to Addis Ababa” were Mahmoud Mohieldin of the World Bank and Tamer Mostafa of the Permanent Mission of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the UN.

Mr. Mohieldin, the Bank’s corporate secretary and the president’s special envoy on the post-2015 process, stressed the importance of working with national-level institutions.

“While it is very useful to have goals and targets and the initiation of interesting proposals to get things done at the global level, if you don’t really have well-coordinated policy at the national level, if you don’t have institutions, if you don’t have leadership, and if you don’t have the means of implementation, these goals and targets are going to remain either unfulfilled or just aspirational,” said Mr. Mohieldin

Mr. Mostafa said in his view all countries — developed and less developed alike — must take increased responsibility for the progress of the whole. “If this is going to be a shared responsibility, rather than ‘common but differentiated responsibilities,’ we need everybody to stand up for that challenge,” he said.

High Level Political Forum

On 28 May, the meeting focused on the need for new modes of monitoring and review. Christian Wenaweser, the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein’s mission to the UN, said countries involved in negotiations on the SDGs had generally reached agreement on the need for a review mechanism, but had so far only decided it should be “state-led” and “principally voluntary in nature.”

He added that his country — along with an ad hoc group including Egypt, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland — were pushing for a strong review mechanism that would obligate the input of civil society and other stakeholders. Specifically, he said, the seven were calling for the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to become “the key forum” for review — an idea adopted in the Agenda.

Climate change and the SDGs

On 28 July, the breakfast examined the interrelationship between climate change negotiations and the post-2015 agenda. Ronald Jean Jumeau, the Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing State Issues of the Republic of Seychelles, said recent UN meetings had established clear links between the two processes.

He noted the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD), held in July in Addis Ababa, explicitly connects development financing to the fight against climate change, while the SDGs call it “one of the greatest challenges of our time” which will “undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development.”

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of the Worldwide Fund for Nature in the UK, said: “If we look at the SDGs as analogous to putting out some of the fires that are burning around the world — poverty, malnutrition, etc. — then climate change, if you will, acts like petrol being poured on those fires, making them burn more intensely.”

SDGs and humanitarian crisis

On 22 September, the meeting looked at the growing humanitarian crises in the world and the SDGs.

Guillermo Rishchynski, then the Permanent Representative of the Mission of Canada to the UN, said “the sense of urgency that exists in so many quarters around our planet” and the “understanding that if we don’t come together to act” there will be increased “vulnerability” was one reason diplomats were able to agree on the SDGs, which in their 17 overall goals and 169 specific targets in effect also address the root causes of these disasters, whether natural or man-made.

Kyung-wha Kang, an Assistant Secretary General at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled for May 2016, will strive to link the humanitarian agenda with the development agenda.

“Our appeal to the developmental sector is that they have to come in more quickly and link up with the humanitarian intervention [sector] so as to make that transition seamless, and in support of enabling people to grow out of their chronic vulnerabilities,” she said.

Need for indicators

The breakfast on 5 November considered the challenges of developing good indicators of progress towards meeting the Agenda’s 169 targets. Linda Hooper of the UN Statistics Division briefed the group on the outcome of the Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, held in October in Bangkok, while John Romano of the Transparency, Accountability and Participation (TAP) Network, talked about the “deep and complex” issues delegates to that meeting faced as they sought to balance “ambition and reality.”

Fit for Purpose

On 24 November, the meeting considered whether the UN is “fit for purpose” in its administrative structure to effectively implement the SDGs. John Hendra, Senior Coordinator of UN Fit for Purpose, noted that the SDGs are “much more universal” than the MDGs, and they take a human rights based approach. “This is a transformed agenda — we need transformed responses,” he said. “We need to make sure there is accountability, inclusiveness, and that financing is transparent.”

Naiara Costa, Advocacy Director of Beyond 2015, said reform is not an end in itself. “Being fit is not only about losing weight but gaining muscles,” she said.