By Eleanor Blomstrom & Iliana Paul

New York (17 September 2014)-Two months after the end of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its adoption of the proposed SDGs by acclamation, the proposal has officially moved to the 69th General Assembly and will be a main basis for integrating the SDGs into the future development agenda. What does that mean for women’s human rights, gender equality, sustainable development and environmental justice? WEDO offers a quick analysis of the SDGs from our unique perspective working on that nexus – looking at climate, disasters, women’s rights and urbanization.

WEDO is pleased to see that three of its priority stand-alone goals have been included in the final report, recognizing the importance of specifically addressing climate change (Goal 13), sustainable cities and human settlements (Goal 11) and gender equality (Goal 5). Over the course of the OWG, WEDO and its many allies in the Women’s Major Group, as well as other major groups, networks and coalitions such as CAN and Communitas, advocated for specific text and concepts within each of those goal areas, and for the issues to be integrated throughout the suite of goals.

In many cases, the final goals and targets fell short of expectations, in particular in regard to ensuring human rights, means of implementation, accountability (especially for private sector), systemic change, and substantive integration of ideas in multiple goals. Some Member States advocated for a smaller number of goals to make the whole package more accessible, and in moving to shrink the number of goals would suggest to integrate issues throughout. Some Member States would also then say that because the SDGs are a package, then a concept need only be in one goal, so “delete, delete, delete” – leaving a noticeable hole in the substance. It is positive that all 17 goals remained in the final outcome. Further, the SDGs should be a holistic set only considered together in order to maximize impact and avoid the isolated silo approach that would take the “sustainable” out of the SDGs and look more like the MDGs. But, the likely truth is that many countries will focus in on 1 or 2 goals, while looking at the others, and thus integration of key ideas is essential to ensure the SDGs will not fail. Other aspects, such as the means of implementation, financing, indicators and also monitoring and accountability mechanisms remain to be defined, but they must be defined together with a set of far-reaching goals and targets.

The key concepts of each goal should be understandable and relevant to real people worldwide. But achieving sustainable development cannot be done on Twitter, so “tweetable” goals and targets are laughable. Communications around the agreed goals is what is important for buy-in by people on the ground, not the oversimplification of an immensely complex agenda before it is written and agreed.

The SDGs should own their role to inspire and encourage all levels of governments and all stakeholders to think of sustainable development holistically so that leadership is inclusive and diverse; processes and budgets are participatory and gender-responsive; norms of over-consumption, wealth accumulation and discrimination are changed; and economic models are rethought to ensure redistribution and well-being. That is what will support efforts to combat climate change, achieve women’s human rights and promote the well-being of all people of all ages.

General Remarks

The idea of ‘sustainable development’ must not be lost as the SDGs are considered in the post-2015 (sustainable) development agenda to be negotiated in 2015. In leaving out the word ‘sustainable’, the General Assembly still fails to portray post-2015 as a sustainable development agenda; it comes across as a development agenda that includes a set of SDGs by indicating in the GA Resolution that the SDGS will be integrated “into the post-2015 development agenda”.

The Proposed SDGs generally, and Goal 8 specifically (economic growth and decent work), missed the opportunity to frame progress and efforts in terms of decent work, human rights and sustainable economic development. The current focus on sustained growth (with a mention of ‘sustainable growth’) obscures the importance that many developed countries do not need blanket economic growth, and instead need redistributive policies – via fiscal and monetary reform to promote greater equality in terms of income, opportunity, gender. Sustainable growth is contradictory to sustainable development in the current era where climate change, environmental degradation and social and income inequalities are the result of growth-focused efforts, and particularly the actions by the profit-oriented corporate sector.

The SDGs remained focused on GDP, missing the opportunity to promote development and use of alternative indicators that capture the social, economic and environmental impacts of consumption and production and that help to understand well-being. This can still be rectified in the post-2015 negotiations, especially as Member States will consider multiple inputs, including from the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, as well as inputs from civil society into the events of the President of the General Assembly.

Means of Implementation are one of the weakest points, as the structure for MoI was contentious throughout the process. Several colleagues have written pieces assessing the MoI and other aspects of the SDGs, including Third World Network, Campaign for People’s Goals and the Women’s Major Group.

Lost in the proposed goals: Human rights; women’s human rights; sexual rights and comprehensive sexuality education; rights to land unqualified by ‘national law’; inspirational aspirational targets; ambitious climate change action; strong means of implementation; a new economic and development paradigm; private sector accountability; reiteration of the role of the state (public sector finance and programs); focus on sustainable development over sustained economic growth

Found in the proposed goals: Nods to gender equality; a climate change goal; resilience; inclusive cities and settlements; mention of participatory planning in human settlements and participatory decision-making in peace and accountability; right to water in the chapeau; recognition and value of unpaid domestic and care work (falls short of redistribution); goal on inequality; some interlinkages of issues across the goals (glimmers of hope)

Women’s rights and gender equality

The proposed goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment primarily reflects the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, but nonetheless, a standalone goal on gender equality is welcomed in the SDGs. As a women’s rights and feminist organization, and member of the Women’s Major Group, WEDO laments that the goal itself mentions women’s empowerment but not women’s human rights. Sexual rights and comprehensive sexuality education are both missing from the document, denying persons from exercising their full rights but also robbing adolescents of the opportunity to make informed choices. Throughout the document, indications for financing to specific programs or for instituting new practices such as gender budgeting are missing, which can impede passing and implementing of specific legislation.

Climate Change

It was a grand struggle to include climate change as a stand-alone goal. While the goal is weak, it is there – showing that climate change is one of the foremost challenges of our time – of any time. Debate in the OWG raged about whether to tie the goal to the UNFCCC or not, since it is the legal body to negotiate action on climate change. From WEDO’s perspective, the negotiation, legal framework and accountability is absolutely imperative. But, the UNFCCC is focused on reducing emissions and it cannot and will not be the place to make ambitious and necessary progress to incorporate a rights-based set of actions integrated into multiple policies to build resilience in all communities that will support mitigating and adapting to climate change. Additionally, the UNFCCC is currently looking at action beginning in 2020, and the SDGs will be able to influence action during the crucial 2015-2020 time period.

Climate is not mentioned in goal 3 on health, goal 4 on education, goal 5 on gender equality, goal 6 on water, goal 9 on sustainable infrastructure, goal 10 on inequalities, goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production, goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies, goal 17 on MOI and global partnerships—and it could have made a reasonable appearance in all of these places. The argument to mainstream climate change rather than have a standalone goal would have left the SDGs severely lacking adequate references to climate change.

Disaster Risk Reduction

DRR was integrated within the SDGs to an extent, and at the last moment, a reference to the “forthcoming Hyogo Framework” in 11.b (cities and settlements) ensured a direct link between the two processes. In many cases, DRR is integrated together with climate change.

Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements

Starting from a point where Member States showed little support for a stand-alone goal and cities and settlements, the goal itself is a real win. Overall the language of the goal is good, especially the reference to climate change related disasters and climate change adaptation policies in target 11.4 and 11.b. The goal could have been strengthened with an MOI target on the financing of sustainable cities and settlements, including gender budgeting.

A more detailed analysis of the interlinkages, as well as the “found” and “missing” items are in the extended version of this document.

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