TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun15/03)
25 June 2015
Third World Network

Post-2015 development agenda: North-South differences persist over “political declaration”

New York, 25 June (Mirza Alas) – Intergovernmental negotiations on the Post-2015 development agenda continue to be fraught with North-South differences even as there remains one more official session for the talks.

The sixth session of the United Nations negotiations on the outcome document of the Post-2015 development agenda is taking place on 22-25 June at the UN headquarters in New York. Member States started deliberations on the zero draft of the document that will be presented at the Development Summit in September for adoption by the General Assembly.

The zero draft document is currently called จTransforming our world by 2030จ (the title is still been negotiated) and contains a preamble, an introduction (declaration), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Targets (agreed by the Open Working Group on SDGs in July 2014). There is also a proposal for a follow-up and review framework as well as three annexes: a proposed revision for 21 targets out of the 169, a possible Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the “chapeau” that was part of the report by the Open Working Group on SDGs.

Member States were encouraged to provide comments on the current draft regarding the different parts.

On 22 and 23 June Member States provided general views on the draft as well as began looking into the specific parts starting with the declaration and moving to each section with the Means of Implementation discussion left to the end of the week if time allowed.

The developing countries, led by the Group of 77 and China, highlighted their agreement with the centrality of poverty eradication in the draft document and the strong emphasis on ensuring that “nobody will be left behind.” The G77 also praised the mention of the Rio Principle 7 on Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), policy space, condemnation of foreign occupation and the right to development. This was further supported by many other developing counties and their respective grouping such as the Arab States, The Caribbean Community, the Least Developed Countries, The African Group and the Alliance of Small Island States.

While all the Member States agree on the centrality that poverty eradication plays for the Post-2015 agenda there are still many disagreements regarding the role of the preamble as well as the current draft of the declaration.  The main disagreements include the outlining of the principles in the declaration, particularly CBDR, and the explicit mention of the “right to development”. The European Union stressed that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights should come before the mention of the Rio agreements and that all the Rio principles were of equal importance, therefore there was no need for the singling out of the CBDR principle.

(A strong statement was made by India on 23 June on the centrality of CBDR, in which India debunked 6 myths that underpin developed countries’ rejection of this principle – see TWN Information Service mailing of 25 June titled Post-2015 development agenda: India speaks out on “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”.)

Below are the highlights of a selection of interventions by Member States on the declaration.

South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77 and China (G77) welcomed the draft declaration and noted that it takes into account a number of issues of global development importance that need attention in the context of the post-2015 development agenda, in particular, the important reference to poverty eradiation that is an overarching priority and a central imperative of the post-2015 development agenda. The G77 emphasized the need to address poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon, and therefore in accordance with SDG 1 the declaration should state that poverty should be eradicated "in all its forms and dimensions."

The Group stressed that the mention of CBDR, policy space, condemnation of foreign occupation and the right to development should, inter alia, be lauded and that the principles of territorial integrity, national unity and political independence of countries should be reaffirmed in the text.

The G77 also pointed out some areas of concern in the declaration such as the distortion of CBDR in the context of climate change (paragraph 27) that calls for "historic responsibilities for all states."  It stressed that developed countries must assume their historic responsibilities and address issues of mitigation and adaptation as it is the developed country partners that have been disproportionately contributing to climate change and attendant challenges largely precipitated by the phenomenon. The responsibility cannot be for "all states" as developing countries are responsible for a relatively inconsiderable margin of greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the mention of shared responsibility in paragraph 29 contradicts the essence of the principle of CBDR.

The Group also noted that the issue of migration requires re-calibration as it is reflected in the text as a negative phenomenon while there are mutual benefits for both sending and receiving states.

Rwanda of behalf of the African Group stressed the importance of the principle of CBDR in the declaration and said that currently there is a disproportionate emphasis on human rights and that this should not overload the agenda. The African Group also noted that the declaration needs to reflect peace and security and requested that all SDGs and targets are included in the zero draft as well as the chapeau and the reservations contained in the Open Working Group report.

Algeria on behalf of Arab States welcomed the declaration provisions on poverty eradication and global principles primarily those enshrined in international law and human rights. It also noted that occupation is a big obstacle for sustainable development and wanted to stress the importance of sovereignty as well as the right to development and the CBDR principle. The Arab Group also wanted to include a reference to the adverse impact of violence, extremisms, terrorism and the causes of migration. 

Algeria proposed some improvements for the text that included a paragraph about positive impact of migration in both the sending and receiving countries.  It also pointed out that the declaration should make a reference to end unilateral sanctions against states as it violates the UN Charter.

Belize on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) noted that the declaration should capture political will, but it requires refinement including a balance description of the SDGs. It also asked for language clarity in paragraph 16 and clarity about the terminology used in paragraphs 8 and 39.

Maldives on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) noted that important concerns were not addressed in the text such as water, climate and oceans, and so it wanted added language from Rio documents in the text. The Maldives also pointed out that the concept of resilience should be included in the declaration. Furthermore, national disasters should be recognized as contributing to vulnerable situations.

It said the declaration should speak to all goals (SDGs) in their full context – it should not summarize or paraphrase because this leaves out agreed language. According to AOSIS, the declaration does not need to include the Secretary-General Synthesis report.  However, the declaration needs to recognize the special needs of countries such as SIDS and that the declaration should contain the whole SDG Open Working Group report including the chapeau and the reservations.

Benin on behalf of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) proposed reaffirming global partnerships for development recognizing LDCs need enhanced global support and appropriate mechanism for achievement of SDGs.  It stressed the need to recognize that LDCs need preferential treatment because of lack of resources and technology.

In emphasizing the importance of differential and preferential treatment for LDCs, Benin proposed reaffirming the need for achieving sustained economic growth in LDCs at at least 7% per annum by structural transformation and integration into global economy/regional economy. It also stressed that structural transformation is a means of increasing development and building resilience, and that agriculture and food security be made stronger, recognizing that this is vital for LDCs. It also pointed to the importance of linking LDCs to global value chains.

Benin proposed language in paragraph 36 on recommitting to partnership with understanding of LDCs as the most vulnerable group of countries. It also proposed language on resilience building, operationalize crisis response and mitigation to build capacity to respond to various kinds of crisis without compromising development processes.

India made a statement that centered on debunking 6 myths of the CBDR principle gleaned from comments made by developed countries.  The myths that India highlighted are the following:

  •     The principle of differentiation is in contradiction to a universal agenda 
  •     This principle is a historical relic and has no contemporary relevance 
  •     This principle is only applicable to environmental action 
  •     This is merely a political principle and has little or no professional relevance 
  •     North South divide in international cooperation has already vanished and those who invoke this principle are flogging a dead horse 
  •     The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities means inaction by some on a global agenda.

India stressed that the principle of CBDR “is a call for action, it is a call for ambition, but above all it is a call for equity, a fundamental principle that underpins the UN Charter and the Millennium Declaration and a fundamental article of faith that cannot be left behind in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.

(For details of the debunking of the myths see TWN Information Service mailing of 25 June titled Post-2015 development agenda: India speaks out on “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”.)

In addition, India also made two other key points. Firstly, it would be “a grave remission” not to refer to the World Summit outcome document of 2005 in this political declaration. It said that the document “was adopted at the level of our Heads of State and Government exactly a decade ago and is a landmark document”. It requested that the document be referenced along with other important documents and declarations.

(The 2005 outcome document was adopted at the follow-up summit meeting to the UN Millennium Summit of 2000. More than 170 heads of states and governments were participated.)

Secondly, India said, it would be “remiss if through this declaration world leaders do not pronounce themselves on the urgent imperative of reform of global governance, in particular the institutions responsible for maintenance of peace and security”. It added that “especially since Peace is one of the five main themes now for this document, it is important that the important ideal of enhancing the legitimacy and representativeness of institutions of global governance, including that of the UN Security Council be unequivocally affirmed in the declaration.”

Uganda welcomed the zero draft as a good basis to prepare for negotiations and stressed the importance of policy coherence for sustainable development as an enabler. It said that this remains as a target under Goal 17. The pledge for "leaving no one behind" should come forward by giving attention to the poorest countries which are already left behind, said Uganda.

Looking at COP 21 (the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that will take place in December in Paris), historical responsibility of reducing greenhouse emission lies with industrialized countries. The responsibility of each state should be reflected like in Rio (referring to the 1992 Rio Summit).

Peace and security are a prerequisite of sustainable development and a desired result in and of itself, said Uganda.  It also said that the ambition of SDGs is too much with current methods and a mechanism should be put in place to enable the scientific and technological community to step up for the implementation of the agenda.

Uganda further said that the (zero draft) document lacks deliverables on leaving no one behind, stressing that means of implementation are an integral part of the agenda, and an ambitious transformative agenda must depend on that.

Ecuador hoped to have a negotiating method that will include negotiation with national institutions, which was done by the website portal. Given the 14 days remaining for this process, it said we can have the zero text on the screen to visualize the comments, and this will make the process transparent. It stressed the need to recognize the integrality of the human person and nature, paying attention to the needs of all groups in vulnerable situations, women, children, elderly, migrants, indigenous peoples, etc.

Ecuador said that CBDR is covered, but it should also be included in Paragraph 7, where mention is made on climate change.  It said that migration should not be only thought of as a negative phenomenon; it is an intersectional international issue, with social, economic and environmental dimensions while respecting human rights.

It said that despite the fact that means of implementation will be discussed on the last day (25 June), we should speak about it now and these are not even outlined in this draft.

The European Union (EU) said the declaration needs more emphasis on transformative features, noting the reference to the commitment in paragraph 3 to eradicate extreme poverty and that the document reflects the three dimensions of sustainable development. It said climate change needs to be reinforced and interlinkages addressed in paragraph 15.

The EU also said that the spirit of new global partnership and universality should be addressed and should be included in the introduction and vision of the document. It said the promotion of gender equality, human rights, non-discrimination, democracy, good governance references are welcomed but need to be strengthened.  It emphasized human rights of women and girls, mentioning related UN conferences on this.

It said that the UN Declaration on Human Rights (UNDHR) should be mentioned before the Rio agreements. CBDR should not be singled out and should not apply as an overall operational principle of agenda, adding that the agenda is underpinned by universality while taking into account national capacities. The EU also said that the document needs to recommit and build more clearly on the Millennium Declaration and substantive human rights content. It added that the right to development is not on equal footing with the UNDHR.

The EU further noted the need to mobilize all means of implementation – financial and non-financial. It expressed concern on the selective use of the outcome of the Open Working Group on SDGs, particularly in paragraphs 23-28, stressing the need to preserve the balance that the working group represents.

The United States of America (USA) was of the view that there is little more important to the success of the sustainable development goals than a powerful political declaration – a concise, compelling central vision that can itself serve as a call to action.

It recommended that the beginning of this Declaration define and communicate, in practical terms, the central purpose and key elements of this agenda, adding that it sees the Declaration not as an executive summary of the agenda, but rather a vision for our leaders to agree.

Second, the USA said, our text and review of trends should focus not only on the problems and challenges that we face, but also on the enormous opportunities before us, providing a more positive treatment of the possible. It recommended a more comprehensive treatment of the positive momentum of the past 15 years and the opportunities they herald for the next 15.  It said that with the “world today” section, we should acknowledge the enormous opportunity afforded by living in a time of unprecedented connectivity.

Thirdly, it highlighted a common commitment to universality, partnership and shared responsibility with references to some of the USA domestic efforts for its citizens in line with the principles contained in this agenda. It said that “the hallmark of a universal agenda, and of successful development, is that effort and implementation are tailored to national and local contexts to maximize national relevance and to evolve as conditions change.”

On CBDR, the USA said, “we do not see the principle … as a proxy for this nor applicable to this development agenda.”

France aligned with the EU, saying further that the political declaration satisfactorily reflects the ambition of the agenda. Several improvements can be made on the balance of the SDG OWG and its integrated approach, it said, adding that universality and crosscutting aspects should be put more forward. France said that the declaration should stress linkage between different goals and human rights are an essential dimension, and should be reflected more.

On CBDR it did not think the principle was taken up by the international community, and “we should refuse ambiguity”. It also said that climate change reality should be better highlighted in the declaration, and gender equality and empowerment of women better reflected.

Germany said that complexity is difficult to communicate and part of the success of MDGs was effective communication. It mentioned reducing to 5 or 6 goals while avoiding silo thinking.  On universality, it said we must overcome the North-South divide, and welcomed language on paradigm shift, adding that this should be strengthened. Germany said it could not accept CBDR language in the text.

Australia said the political declaration is a credible basis to continue our negotiations, with useful starting points, and that provide principles. It said eradicating poverty and gender equality should be strengthened, adding that poverty eradication is the overarching goal. Without gender equality and full realization of women and girls we are not utilizing the potential of half of the world, it said.

It said it did not support elevating one Rio principle to the other, and did not accept that CBDR extends behind the environmental agenda. It also did not support language on foreign occupation to be included in the agenda.

Japan said that universality does not mean uniformity and criticized the assumption that developed countries need to shoulder responsibility asking why is CBDR bound by traditional North-South divide. It expressed its belief that CBDR is a “contaminated idea” and suggested a new concept on responsibility sharing.

The final scheduled session of the negotiations will be on 20-31 July.

(With inputs from the Women’s Major Group at the UN. Edited by Chee Yoke Ling.)