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Tenth and Eleventh Sessions of the UNGA Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

Monday, 19 May 2014
The 10th Session of the United General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was held from 31 of March to 4 of April 2014, causing an indicative debate based on clusters related to the revised and amended focus area document from the 9th session of the OWG. The nineteen focus areas were divided into the following eight clusters: 1. Poverty eradication, Promote equality; 2. Gender equality and women's empowerment, Education, Employment and decent work for all, Health and population dynamics; 3. Water and sanitation, Sustainable agriculture, food security, and nutrition; 4. Economic growth, Industrialization, Infrastructure, Energy; 5. Sustainable cities and human settlements, Promote Sustainable Consumption and Production, Climate; 6. Conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, oceans and seas, Ecosystems and biodiversity; 7.Means of implementation/Global partnership for sustainable development; 8. Peaceful and non-violent societies, rule of law and capable institution.

The process for defining possible goals and targets was initiated by reference to two informational documents, a compendium* of existing goals and targets under the 19 Focus Areas being considered by the Open Working Group, and a document highlighting  the interlinkages between the nineteen focus areas. Major Groups and other stakeholders issued a compilation document on sustainable development goals and targets as well.

Regarding the 5 days proceedings, the majority of delegates and stakeholders concluded that each and every goal must be short, clear and understandable -“tweetable”- in order to be widely communicated to, and inspire action by, the global public, while some other delegates proposed detailed targets including percentages, rates and timetables. Specific targets were suggested for achievement by 2030, including the halving of the intensity of poverty and of those vulnerable to extreme poverty, and the increasing of the proportion of people that are food secure. Despite growing consensus on some issues, most of the goal “headlines” are still up for discussion, while the proposed targets for implementing them will require further discussion and elaboration.

During the closing discussion on “the way forward”, Co-Chair Kamau noted that the Group had discussed an incredible number of ideas over five days. He said that narrowing them down is not going to be an easy process, but that it is the challenge that UN Member States set for themselves at Rio+20, and it is doable if the Group remains committed to the objective. According to their proposal for the remaining three meetings of the OWG, the Co-Chairs revised the focus areas document based on the discussions at 10th OWG, and issue another version.

The 11th Session of the UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was held from 5 to 9 of May 2014, with participation from Member States and Major Groups for the third of five sessions in the OWG’s second phase. OWG-11, marked as a “critical juncture”, was the last meeting before delegations turn to the long-awaited direct negotiating format.

OWG-11 delegates commented on a list of 16 “focus areas” and approximately 150 potential targets related to each focus area, which had been distributed by the Co-Chairs two weeks before the session**. Following the discussion on focus areas related to the “unfinished business in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)”—poverty eradication, food security, education, health, gender, and water—Co-Chair Kőrösi noted the general agreement that these concepts should be included as goals in the new framework. The discussion on “newer” issues, such as climate change, ecosystems, oceans, sustainable consumption and production, energy, industrialization, infrastructure and economic growth and employment, human settlements, means of implementation, peaceful societies, and rule of law, revealed that delegates still have not settled whether these focus areas should be included in the framework and whether some of the areas should be combined or divided. Delegates also discussed how the OWG should continue its work, including four points of order that were raised on the first day***. Some preferred to begin direct negotiations for the formation of the zero draft immediately and to hold inter-sessional negotiations. Others highlighted the number of participants attending from capitals and supported the Co-Chairs’ guidance under the current process.

In addition to the procedural questions, questions were raised about the responsibilities and implementation methods, reflecting the struggle between developed and developing countries in terms of common but differentiated responsibility and possible means of implementation.   Questions of process were also raised regarding the OWG’s place as one of several intergovernmental processes**** that will help set the post-2015 development agenda, while Co-Chair Kőrösi suggested to delegations that the OWG’s priority is to set targets, and that implementation will belong to another part of the negotiation “sequence.”

The OWG will continue the consideration of sustainable development goals, targets and indicators in its next session in June, whereas the next draft is expected to be available at the end of May, in advance of OWG-12.

*The compilation is the product of submissions made by members of the UN inter-agency technical support team (TST). It is an unofficial compilation intended solely for information of the OWG and Member States. Given the very large number of existing intergovernmental commitments, the compilation is necessary but is not exhaustive or complete. When more information will be received, the compilation will be updated accordingly.
**OWG-10 featured the first extended discussion of possible targets to accompany each focus area, with over 300 targets presented by Member States and Major Groups. Based on the OWG-10 discussions, the Co-Chairs released a “working document” on 18 April, to guide delegates’ preparation for OWG-11. The new document contained 16 focus areas and approximately 150 targets. The Co-Chairs also prepared a document entitled “Encyclopedia Groupinica” which contained all the proposals presented during OWG-10.
***Points of order were raised by Saudi Arabia, Argentina, South Africa and Guatemala, see: Rules of Procedure, Conduct of Business, Rules 71&161 (Art. 22, IV, UN Charter).
****For example, there are also in progress  the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing.

Source: ISSD Reporting Services, UNDESA
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