Review of the Thirteen Work Sessions of the OWG SDG and its Draft Proposal

shutterstock_186063581smallThe thirteenth and final session of the UN General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took place from 14-19 July 2014, at UN Headquarters in New York.

On 19 July 2014, the OWG completed its mandate following three complete readings of drafts of the proposed SDGs and associated targets. On Saturday, 19 July 2014, following an all-night session, the final formal session of OWG-13 convened at 10:30 am to adopt the “Proposal of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals.” At 1:20 pm, after nearly three hours of statements—both in support of and opposed to the final document—the OWG adopted the document by acclamation, with a standing ovation for the Co-Chairs.

Negotiation text

Following 16 months of work, the final proposal contained 17 goals and 169 targets (including 62 targets on means of implementation) and represented the best outcome that could be hoped for.

The proposed goals and the negotiations that accompanied them can be found at the following web address:

The proposal covers a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests.

The 17 goals are as follows:

shutterstock_160347107smallGoal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*

*Acknowledging that the UNFCCC is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change .

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Moving on from the OWG SDG

The OWG’s proposal on SDGs will now be submitted to the UNGA for consideration as part of the broader post-2015 development agenda that is to be adopted in late 2015.

Many delegates and the Co-Chairs clearly indicated that there was still another year’s worth of negotiations before the proposed SDGs are adopted by the UNGA along with the rest of the development agenda that will supplant the Millennium Development Goals.The adoption of this new UN development agenda is scheduled to take place at a  Global Summit in September 2015.

About the OWG SDG process

shutterstock_208616548smallDuring the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012, governments agreed to launch a process to develop a set of SDGs. They called for establishing an OWG that is transparent and open to stakeholders, and comprised of 30 representatives from the five UN regional groups, nominated by UN Member States, to elaborate a proposal for SDGs. They also called on the OWG to submit a report to the 68th session of the Assembly, containing a proposal for SDGs for consideration and appropriate action.

Brief analysis of OWG SDG

The list of goals and targets of the SDGs came into sharper focus as the last sessions of the OWG proceeded (11, 12 and 13).  These sessions also represented the closest thing to full intergovernmental negotiations that the Group conducted. The careful shepherding of the process by Co-Chairs Kőrösi and Kamau was ultimately applauded on Saturday morning, when Member States expressed their gratitude to the Co-Chairs for ensuring that the OWG fulfilled its mandate.

Nonetheless, delegates faced several hurdles during the final three sessions as they tried to connect all of the pieces. Almost from the beginning, it was possible to identify which sections of the puzzle might be the most difficult to finish, including: climate change and the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR); sexual and reproductive health and rights; rule of law and peaceful societies; and means of implementation.

shutterstock_207743548smallOn the issue of climate change, many delegates expressed concern about the possibility that the language in the proposed SDGs could prejudge the outcome of the current round of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, especially on the principle of CBDR. Several delegates feared that this might impact the post-2020 climate change framework, which is supposed to be designed for application to all parties. If the SDGs emphasize and pronounce issues of differentiation, one delegate warned that it would be “exactly prejudging” the outcome of COP21 in December 2015.


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