Policy Update #1

The Regional Implementation Meetings for Rio+20 Follow-Up: An Analysis of the Outcomes

As part of the discussions on the post-2015 UN development agenda and the follow-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development's (UNCSD, or Rio+20) call for a set of sustainable development goals, the five UN regional commissions organized various consultations to bridge the gap between New York and the regions over the past year. Among these consultations were the five regional implementation meetings, traditionally part of the multi-year programme of work of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). These meetings historically provided governments, regional organizations, Major Groups and other representatives of civil society the opportunity to offer a regional perspective on the themes and outputs for each two-year cycle of the CSD's programme of work.

The 2012-2013 series of regional implementation meetings, however, took on a new flavor with the Rio+20 decision to replace the CSD with a high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF). Instead of addressing the original CSD agenda items, delegates focused on Rio+20 follow up issues, including the elaboration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the HLPF, green economy, means of implementation and other issues. While each of the five meetings was structured differently and addressed distinct regional and international sustainable development issues, including the possible establishment of regional cooperation mechanisms, this brief analysis of the regional meetings will focus on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and regional perspectives on the elaboration of the SDGs.

The African meeting was the first in the series, and was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October 2012. The region stressed that the SDGs should be based on a number of key principles, notably, the Rio Principles, especially the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and the three dimensions of sustainable development. They also agreed that the SDGs should be action-oriented, measurable, universal in nature, built upon the MDGs, accompanied by adequate means of implementation and promote human-centered development. Delegates also noted that given the lack of participation of national governments in drafting the MDGs prior to their adoption in 2000, countries have to be fully engaged in the design of the SDGs.

The most important issue for the African region is poverty eradication, but the region's list of priority issues for the SDGs also included: food security, hunger and nutrition; safe water and adequate sanitation; quality education and health services; gender equality and women's empowerment; equitable and universal access to social services; sustainable economic growth; reducing vulnerability and promoting resilience; creating decent employment; enhancing infrastructure development; access to affordable and sustainable energy; combating land degradation, desertification, drought and deforestation; addressing climate change challenges; promoting sustainable water resource management; ensuring favorable access to, and transfer of environmentally sound technologies; and fostering peace and security.

In March 2013, the Latin America and Caribbean regional meeting took place in Bogota, Colombia (see ENB coverage). The discussion on the post-2015 development agenda and the elaboration of SDGs included Colombia's conceptual model illustrating how these two agendas could be integrated and how interlinkages among issues could be addressed to incorporate the MDGs through a ‘dashboard' approach. Colombia stressed that a single agenda requires: a differentiation method that addresses global challenges, while taking into account regional, national and local specificities; and balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches. She suggested countries develop their own goals, indicators and benchmarks, but that a dashboard could be developed at the international level that countries could adapt and modify.

Other ideas that emerged in Bogota included: prevention and reduction of violence against women and children; universal access to justice; peace and security; climate change; sustainable consumption and production; the need to address declining official development assistance (ODA) flows; corporate social responsibility; inequality; low-carbon development; respect for national sovereignty over natural resources; a universal declaration on the rights of nature; and including culture as a fourth dimension of sustainable development.

As was the case in Africa, there were calls for the process to develop the SDGs to be open and inclusive and allow inputs from countries that are not members of the Open Working Group (OWG). There were also many calls for ensuring complementarity between the MDG follow-up and SDG processes, and the need to ensure that poverty eradication, people-centered development, CBDR, and means of implementation are addressed.

In April 2013, the European regional meeting took place in Geneva in a one-day session within the context of the 65th session of the Economic Commission for Europe (see ENB coverage). The discussion focused more on governance and the establishment of the HLPF, but some participants included points about the SDGs. Reflecting some of the ideas from the previous two meetings, the European delegates agreed that the OWG on SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda process should ultimately converge into one single framework. In addition, they agreed that any proposal for SDGs should reflect three overarching objectives and essential requirements for sustainable development: poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development.

There was agreement that the SDGs should be global in nature and universally applicable to all countries, limited in number, action-oriented and easy to communicate. However, a reservation was voiced against broadening the concept of sustainable development by including issues like peace and security in the post-2015 development agenda. Echoing earlier regional meetings, delegates agreed that a regular mechanism needs to be established for monitoring the achievement of goals, but they also noted that the regional economic commissions could play an important role in this regard. They also implicitly supported the dashboard approach by noting that measuring the regional and global dimensions with the same indicators might not be possible and that some flexibility will be required to take into account regional and national circumstances when developing targets and indicators.

The Asia and Pacific regional implementation meeting took place in late April 2013 in Bangkok (see ENB coverage). During the discussion, many countries emphasized that the SDGs should: be universal in nature, taking into account differing countries' circumstances and stages of development; integrate and be based on the three pillars of sustainable development in an equal manner; and maintain poverty eradication as a foundation. Many delegations stressed the need for strengthened global and regional partnerships, recognition of the right to development, the principle of sovereignty, and the Rio Principles, including CBDR.

As was the case in the previous regional meetings, delegates pointed out that the SDGs should serve as an integral part of the agenda beyond 2015, and that there should be one universal framework. Others expressed the view that the SDGs should be constrained to the three dimensions of sustainable development without including the proposed fourth dimension related to peace and human security. Civil society participation in sustainable development mechanisms at both the deliberation and implementation stages was emphasized by some delegations. Participants also implicitly supported the dashboard approach by noting that measuring the regional and global dimensions with the same indicators might not be possible and that some flexibility will be required to take into account regional and national circumstances when developing targets and indicators.

Delegates, including governments, regional organizations and Major Groups, highlighted: promotion of economic growth as critical for job creation; quality of growth and jobs; greener growth; sustainable consumption and production; elimination of discriminatory trade measures; attention to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as low-carbon and resilient development pathways; energy efficiency and renewable energy; and sustainable use of natural resources. Small island developing States (SIDS) raised the issue of the “blue economy” and its benefits. On social development, delegates recommended that multidimensional approaches should be used in addressing: extreme poverty and inequality; hunger and malnutrition; health (infant and child mortality, maternal health); women's empowerment; education; water and sanitation; food security and food price volatility; sustainable agriculture; sustainable cities; and energy security and access. On environmental issues, delegates highlighted the need to promote sound ecosystem management, including that of mountain ecosystems, oceans and forests. The issues of transboundary water systems and integrated water resource management were also highlighted. Across the board, delegates called for the development of indicators as well as an accountability and feedback mechanism, and stressed the importance of engaging civil society and the private sector.

The Western Asian meeting in Dubai in late May marked the final regional implementation meeting (see ENB coverage). Arab countries, Major Groups and regional organizations highlighted a range of priorities for the SDGs, including peace and security, poverty eradication, freedom from violence, implementation of a green economy roadmap, health services, migration, foreign occupation, good governance, access to water and the energy-food-water nexus, climate change, desertification, disaster risk reduction, and biodiversity preservation. They also noted that the SDGs should take into account specific challenges of the Arab region such as demographic changes, lack of stability and governance, economic and food crises, and exploitation of natural resources.

As was the case in the previous regional meetings, delegates referenced the importance of the Rio Principles especially the principle of CBDR, ODA for developing countries, the acknowledgement that different countries have different national priorities and circumstances, addressing differences between developed and developing countries, considering the needs of future generations and inclusive consultations on the post-2015 agenda at the country level.

The Way Forward on SDGs

The OWG, which began its substantive work in March 2013 is now at the halfway point in its conceptualization of the SDGs. Many of the key points raised during the five RIMs have been reflected in the work of the OWG thus far. For example, there is emerging consensus that the SDGs must be limited in number, simple, practicable, measurable and coherently integrate and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development so as to address the gaps between the MDG agenda and sustainable development. Many delegates agree that poverty eradication should remain the overarching objective of the post-2015 development agenda. Also emerging is a common understanding that the SDGs need to be accompanied by a vision and narrative that centers on the transformative level of change needed to realize poverty eradication and universal human development in the context of sustainable development. Governments agree on the importance of all the Rio Principles, but there is less agreement on how a set of universal goals can be elaborated under the principle of CBDR. Perhaps the dashboard approach, as presented by Colombia, can address that issue.

One issue, however, that has not yet emerged during the work of the OWG, but was front and center at the regional level, is the role of the regional economic commissions and other regional organizations in both the elaboration and implementation of the SDGs and the overall post-2015 development agenda. It is not yet clear if the ideas presented at the regional meetings about setting up bodies or processes at the regional level to address the SDGs will be discussed in New York. At this point, it is up to the delegates and the regional commissions themselves to ensure that these messages from Addis Ababa, Bogota, Geneva, Bangkok and Dubai get reflected in the work of the OWG so that the regional dimension is adequately reflected.

Pamela Chasek previously contributed a guest article on the Regional Preparatory Committee Meetings for Rio+20: http://uncsd.iisd.org/guest-articles/the-regional-preparatory-committee-meetings-for-rio20-an-analysis-of-the-outcomes/