Friday, October 25, 2013

Future Development Goals: ‘The Tough Work is About to Begin’


Macharia Kamau, the Kenyan representative to the UN in New York, has taken up the co-chair of the open working group on sustainable development goals (SDGs), a relatively low-profile UN initiative set up after the Rio+20 conference in Brazil last year. The group’s large task is the design of a new set of ambitious, global goals that will apply to all countries and help orient international attention – and resources – towards tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To do this, he and Csaba Kõrösi, his Hungarian counterpart, will have to bring together governments, NGOs, campaign groups, and civil society.

So far, Kamau says, discussions have stayed close to poverty, hunger, water and other topics covered by the millennium development goals (MDGs) – the UN’s flagship development campaign set in 2000 and structured around eight goals to be met by 2015. From November, however, Kamau says debates will have to move on to trickier territory.

“The tough work is about to begin. People will have to face up to that,” he says. Issues on the table range from trade and debt, through to human rights and conflict, to biodiversity, oceans and forests. “I mean, the WTO has been stuck on trade for years, and here we are wading into that, but we have no choice.”

Unlike the MDGs, which Kamau describes as a “top-down arrangement” focused on developing countries, this new set of goals will apply to rich and poor countries and has to be built on progressive, negotiated agreements by UN member states, he says.

“There is a growing realization that we are all in the same boat. On some of these issues – biodiversity, climate, environment – there is no getting away from the fact that everyone has to contribute,” says Kamau, though he concedes that rich countries did initially seem a bit surprised, and a little sceptical about goals applying to them as well. There remains “a bit of a wait and see approach” from some governments, he adds.

Between now and March, the working group is looking for broad consensus on what the main issues are and how they affect all countries, says Kamau. The group will then get into detail on specific goals, and by September 2014 should have a set of proposals ready to unveil at the UN general assembly.