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OPINION: Post-2015 framework – Arriving or departing?

Simon Maxwell, CDKN’s Executive Chair, reviews the report of the United Nations Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, including the specific proposals to deal with climate change. Register today to join a workshop on African views on climate change in the post-2015 framework. 

When the Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals finally agreed its final report on Saturday, 19 July, it probably felt like an arrival. For many outside the room, however, it feels more like a point of departure, the beginning of the negotiation that will culminate in September 2015, with a General Assembly Resolution to cement into place a post-2015 framework.

My view is that progress has been made, but that there are too many goals, a ragbag of targets, and work still to do on ‘means of implementation’ and climate change. It is true that the best may be the enemy of the good. However, there is surely scope to rationalise, simplify and strengthen in the year remaining to the process.

With respect to climate change, it has always been an awkward fact that the climate talks and the post-2015 talks are on separate tracks, with the climate talks coming to a conclusion after the post-2015 process. This is because what happens at the Paris climate talks will have a significant effect on the feasibility of delivering the post-2015 goals and targets. In the worst case, there will be only a weak deal in Paris, the climate will deteriorate further and more money will have to be spent on adaptation and disaster relief. That is likely to leave fewer resources available for health and education. In the best case, the reverse might be true, for example with lower fossil fuel subsidies releasing funds for renewable energy.

The OWG document is careful not to second guess the UNFCCC. However, it contains repeated references to climate change and to the policies needed to deal with it. Thus,

  • Paragraph 8 of the preamble specifically references to the ‘global nature of climate change’ and calls for ‘the widest possible collaboration by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response’. It also cites the UNFCCC has recognising that countries have ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (which is not quite the same, I note, as making that statement a self-standing commitment by the OWG).
  • Goal 7 and its five targets deal with energy and reference the need for sustainability and the need to increase the share of renewables.
  • Goal 8 on growth refers to the need for sustainable consumption and production.
  • Goal 9, on infrastructure and industrialisation, refers to the need for infrastructure to be resilient.
  • Goal 11 deals with the need for cities and human settlements to be resilient, and has a target (11.5) relating to reduced losses from disasters.
  • Goal 12 deal with sustainable consumption and production and has a target on fuels subsidies.
  • Goal 13 is a climate change goal, acknowledging the work of the UNFCCC and proposing targets on national planning, education and finance.

The strategy seems to be to make only general statements on climate change per se, but focus instead on practical measures at sector level, especially energy, water and infrastructure. If that is the strategy, it does not seem to have been applied very systematically. For example, I would have expected to see significant references to resilience in the agriculture section, and to the impact of extreme weather events (including heat stress) in the health section. I would also have wanted to see more on the transformative impact of climate change in the sections on all productive sectors, including those dealing with agriculture, growth and industrialisation.

There is no shortage of work on climate change to suggest it will be a game-changer in the world economy. Our work in CDKN on climate compatible development points not just to mitigation and adaptation at national or local level, but also to major changes in prices and the structure and geographic location of global production. There is a job to be done, I would say, in working through the linkages between post-2015 and climate. This is a task to which CDKN has already made contributions, and will contribute further. There have been or will shortly be workshops in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It is important to recognise that the best may be the enemy of the good with respect to post-2015. The point remains, however, that we all want the post-2015 framework to be as strong as possible, and to have the same impact as the original Millennium Declaration and Statement of MDGs. For that reason, my conclusion is that it is right to think of the OWG report as signalling a departure rather than an arrival. The next year looks like being a bumpy but potentially exhilarating ride.


This is an abridged version of Simon Maxwell’s review of the Open Working Group final report, published at .


Image: Pakistan, courtesy DFID.


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