Ahead of the SDGs, where do negotiations currently stand?

Some 200 delegates from various stakeholder groups — governments, civil society, development organizations, philanthropy and the private sector — gathered April 8-10 in Incheon, South Korea, for the U.N. Development Cooperation Forum. Photo by: Manola De Vos / Devex

As the world prepares for the adoption of a new global development framework to stamp out extreme poverty by 2030, leaders and policymakers are in a final sprint to address the toughest — yet most fundamental — aspect of it all: How to implement it.

Last week, some 200 stakeholders met in Incheon, South Korea, to discuss fundamental requirements for the successful implementation of a post-2015 development agenda. Organized under the auspices of the U.N. Development Cooperation Forum, the high-level symposium’s recommendations will feed into major processes leading up to the final sustainable development goals — including the International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held July 13-16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

After two days of intense discussions and workshops, Devex caught up with some the symposium’s participants to get the inside track on where negotiations around the post-2015 agenda currently stand.

Country ownership

One topic that is front and center of debates is country ownership.

Despite widespread consensus on the importance of country ownership for effective and sustainable development results, symposium participants shared with Devex that current debates have yet to propose concrete avenues for progress.

“We have to make sure that behind the commonality of language, there is real substance,” Luca de Fraia, deputy secretary general at ActionAid Italy, said. “We talk extensively about country ownership, but nobody raises the question of how little progress has been made on that front.”

Others also noted a lack of fresh thinking — and at times, commitment — in operationalizing the ownership principle.

“We have been talking about this since the Monterrey Consensus [on Financing for Development] in 2002,” Jeroen Kwakkenbos, policy and advocacy manager at the European Network on Debt and Development, underlined. “But clearly, we still haven’t found a way to address it that is effective and leads to actionable activities.”

Further, negotiations have so far failed to take into consideration the greater and more versatile role civil society can play in building country ownership — particularly through decision-making processes.

“Negotiations and discussions related to the post-2015 agenda all mention civil society, but only in [a] watchdog role,” Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron, co-chair of the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, told Devex. “Beyond monitoring development budgets and strategies, we should be able to successfully raise the bar and highlight the multiple roles that civil society can play.”

Aid transparency and accountability

Aid accountability and transparency also figure prominently in ongoing discussions surrounding the post-2015 agenda.

“Thankfully people now see it very clearly as an enabling condition for the rest of the post-2015 agenda,” Amy Dodd, director at U.K. Aid Network, said. “I think it’s an area where we’ve made progress in recent years.”

The so-called zero draft of the outcome document of Addis Ababa calls for an increased focus on data and monitoring — a commitment that holds much promise for policymakers and citizens to track progress of the SDGs and hold their governments accountable. But Dodd remains cautious.

“Looking at the zero draft, elements on aid quality are quite strong, but references related to aid effectiveness are quite weak,” she told Devex. “I’m not entirely positive that this is going to move in the right direction, because there are a lot of politics and tension behind it.”

The zero draft also requests the U.N. Statistical Commission to facilitate enhanced tracking of data, and to regularly assess and report on the adequacy of international statistics related to financing for sustainable development. But details on what this data will capture — or not — have yet to be hashed out.

“Statistics might be technical but it’s also a very political act. What gets counted matters, but what doesn’t get counted matters even more,” Nera-Lauron explained.

ODA allocation

Despite growing emphasis on the increased relevance of various forms of finance — both public and private — for development efforts, the vital role of official development assistance flows remains at the forefront of most consultations.

Of particular interest is how ODA can be made more effective and responsive to the needs of the poorest. A policy that has gained considerable traction suggests moving beyond an income- and country-based allocation of ODA to target the poorest 20 percent.

This would be a welcome shift — even if some note it could go one step further.

“While all this talk about redefining ODA and targeting the poorest 20 percent in developing countries may sound progressive, it remains limited in terms of scope and ambition because it still relies on the World Bank’s $1.25 estimation of poverty,” Nera-Lauron said.

Discussions on improving ODA allocation have also prompted the humanitarian community to advocate for better operational and financial linkages between crisis preparedness, response, recovery and development.

“So far, humanitarian funding and development funding have evolved on two separate tracks. It’d be ideal if the post-2015 agenda could find a way to link the two, although it will be very difficult,” Helen Alderson, director of financial resources and logistics at the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Devex.

The global economy

Finally, while negotiators have shown great commitment to align the post-2015 agenda with earlier agreements — including the Monterrey Consensus, the Doha Declaration and Rio+20 — far-reaching reforms remain largely off the agenda.

In particular, stakeholders Devex spoke to mentioned a lack of political will to tackle the global economy’s inherent deficiencies.

“Current debates on the future of financing for development are not addressing the root causes of poverty and systemic barriers to development,” CPDE co-chair Nera-Lauron underlined. “We need more discussions on how trade imbalances and the [World Trade Organization] regime are creating more hardships for people, how increased liberalization is destroying livelihoods, and how illicit financial flows and tax dodging are draining economies.”

All in all, a deeper reflection on the issues that undermine prospects for inclusiveness and sustainability — and thus any hope for a transforma­tive post-2015 agenda — is still wanting.

“For the most part, conversations so far seem to be focused on tackling existing issues and repackaging them in a way that makes them appear new and dynamic,” Eurodad’s Kwakkenbos said. “Current negotiations could benefit from a bigger dose of self-analysis and self-criticism in terms of what we haven’t accomplished and why not.”

In the lead-up to the SDGs, what are the broad areas of discussion where you feel real progress is most feasible? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Manola De Vos

    Manola De Vos is an Engagement Lead for Devex’s Analytics team in Manila. She leads and designs customized research and analysis for some of the world’s most well-respected organizations, providing the solutions and data they need to grow their partner base, work more efficiently, and drive lasting results. Prior to joining Devex, Manola worked in conflict analysis and political affairs for the United Nations, International Crisis Group and the EU.