UN development negotiations hampered by excessive targets

The UN must agree on a target for improving literacy under the new SDGs. [Julien Harneis/Flickr]

The UN is this week finalising its post-2015 development agenda in New York. Big questions remain over the implementation and evaluation of the new SDGs. EURACTIV France reports

Following the International Conference on Financing for Development held in Addis Ababa from 13 to 16 July, the international community has moved on to New York for a marathon conference on the post-2015 development agenda.

From 20 to 31 July, negotiators from the 193 member states of the United Nations will apply the finishing touches to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals at the end of this year.

>> Read: Sustainable Development Goals are not fit for purpose, experts warn

After two years of negotiations at UN level, the list of 17 goals, as well as a good number of the 169 accompanying targets, is now finalised.

Inclusive method

The process may be approaching its end – the final agreement is due to be adopted at the New York summit in September – but a certain amount of frustration is beginning to show from developed and developing countries alike.

A European Commission source told EURACTIV that “the EU has been able to make the questions of peace and governance central issues, thanks to the open way in which these negotiations have been handled”.

But this inclusive method, which takes into account the views of all the participating countries, has greatly increased the number of targets.

As a result, the 17 SDGs and 169 targets that will form the backbone of the development agenda are more than a little vague.

The United Kingdom at one point tried to cut down the list of objectives, but could not persuade the G77, a group of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to renegotiate.

>> Read: Tax evasion to dominate Addis Ababa development conference

“The European position has been to find stability,” even if the result “is not very good,” the Commission source said.

Faustine Bidaud of Association 4D, a sustainable development NGO, is worried that the sheer number of goals and targets will prevent countries from effectively evaluating their implementation. “With 169 targets, they will need 169 different sources to evaluate them!” she said. “Many observers believe that there are far too many targets and that evaluating them will pose serious problems,” she added.

The lack of clarity in the long list of goals and targets has proved a stumbling block for negotiations.

Target number six of goal number four on education, for example, is to “ensure that all youth and at least x% of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy” by 2030.

“Some countries want to keep the ‘x’, particularly the small island states, and others want to replace it with ‘a significant increase’, but for developed countries it is unacceptable for the document to be left in its current state,” said Faustine Bidaud.

Multiplier effect

The question of performance indicators is another potentially problematic area. “There are usually five indicators per target,” a European expert told EURACTIV. But employing five different performance indicators for each of the 169 targets would burden the post-2015 development agenda with over 800 indicators. “We have brought up the idea of finding indicators that can be used for several targets, in order to limit their number,” he added.

Means of implementation

The UN member states must also agree on how they will put this global development plan into action. With World Bank estimates placing the global development financing gap at over $1,000 billion per year, this will be no easy task.

While the Addis Ababa agreement gives a broad outline for the financing of the SDGs, “many NGOs and countries from the global South are not satisfied with it,” said Faustine Bidaud.

“For now, only Brazil has tried to bring the question back to the fore, but it is playing the lone ranger. The question of financing is being avoided for the moment,” she added. 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for the international community's efforts to make the planet fairer and more sustainable by 2030. The General Assembly of the United Nations will adopt the future SGDs in September 2015. These goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs), which expire at the end of this year. 

  • 25 to 27 September 2015: New York summit

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