By: Patricia Chaves, Senior Sustainable Development Officer UNDESA – Division for Sustainable Development
On Saturday 19 July 2014, after more than 24 hours of exhausting negotiations, the Open Working Group on the sustainable development goals (OWG) finalized its report containing 17 goals and their associated targets, as well as a four-page introduction framing the context of the report. The report reaffirms the universality of the future development agenda with enough flexibility to adapt the goals and targets to national circumstances as well as presupposes a timeframe until 2030 for the implementation of the goals.[i]
The OWG was established in 2013 as mandated by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20. Its members from Governments and observers from the United Nations system and civil society completed their work after having held thirteen formal sessions and several informal discussions over a period of one-and-a-half years.
The SDGs will constitute one of the most important pieces of the puzzle of the new post 2015 development agenda which leaders around the world will adopt on September 2015 at the United Nations.
Concretely, the goals can be summarized as follows.
Goals 1 through 7 build on and advance the core agenda of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Target 1.1 contains the commitment to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere. In emphasizing a universal agenda, target 1.2 commits countries to reduce by half those living in poverty according to national definitions, thus making the poverty goal relevant for all countries (Least Developed Countries, middle or high income as well as developed countries). Goal 2 reinforces and expands the commitment to end hunger and achieve food security. On health, Goal 3 provides for the ending of the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, while also committing to cut by one-third the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). On education, targets introduced the dimension of quality of the primary and secondary education as well as contained a new commitment on access to early childhood development, care and pre-primary education. The stand-alone goal on gender equality contains strong targets, including ending discrimination, and eliminating violence against women and girls. The issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights proved very sensitive, but the relevant target under the gender goals is in line with agreed language which member states have agreed in other fora. Goal 6 on water addresses key dimensions of this critical issue, containing targets on access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, addressing water scarcity as well as an end to open defecation and improving water quality through reduced pollution.
The OWG report broke new ground in including several goals not reflected in past MDGs. Particular references were embraced on goals on energy, economic growth, reducing inequality, cities and sustainable consumption and production. Targets under energy are addressing access to energy for all, substantially increasing the share of renewable energy, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency. A target addressing fossil fuel subsidies was included in goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production. Goal 16 also included references to peace and inclusive societies, with targets promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice of all. A stand-alone goal on climate change represents a recognition of the importance of this issue to sustainable development. Other goals address aspirations on oceans, marine resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, desertification and land degradation, among others.
The report of the OWG has certainly solidified the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development and has brought core issues of the global commons into the goal and target framework. These issues would be of key importance when defining the post 2015 development agenda next year.
Procedurally, it is still to be determined how member states would like to forward the report of the OWG to the General Assembly for further action and how this report would be taking into account in the negotiations of the post 2015 development agenda. For now, the report has been received with great expectations and hopes.
Finally, a word of praise and recognition to the Co-Chairs of the OWG, H.E. Mr. Mr. Csaba Kõrösi, Permanent Representative of Hungary, and Mr. Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations. The working group would not have accomplished its task without their leadership, perseverance and creativity to conduct and facilitate the discussions.
 For further information, including all documentation and the report of the OWG on SDGs, please visit http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/owg.html
About the Author: Patricia Chaves is currently a Senior Sustainable Development Officer at the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development. She has 20 years of in-depth knowledge and experience in international policy development and policy making. As a member of the UN Secretariat’s team servicing the Rio+20 Conference (Brazil – 2012), Ms. Chaves was instrumental in the conceptualization and organization of the Partnerships Forum at that Conference which is considered the largest conference ever convened by the United Nations.
Before joining the United Nations, Ms. Chaves was a career Foreign Service officer of the government of Costa Rica.