Sustainable Development Goals Negotiations Update

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Photo: Delegates reading final draft released Sunday afternoon

The Sustainable Development Goal negotiations concluded Sunday, August 2, 2015, two days after their original scheduled adoption, and including an all night session beginning after 12:30AM Saturday and a day and a half of discussions among Member States. Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Ambassador David Donoghue of Ireland facilitated the negotiations.

The text of the Declaration and Goals agreed upon will be officially adopted in September by the heads of state and government attending the 70th General Assembly.  These negotiations represent the end of a three-year process to set the course for development after Millennium Development Goals expire at the end of this year.

Last summer, the Open Working Group adopted a document which included language referring to abortion in two goals. The reinsertion of this language, “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health-care services”, occurred at the end of a marathon session that started on a Friday and did not finish until Saturday afternoon. Although the targets include a reference to the International Conference on Population & Development (ICPD), which recognized that abortion is the subject of national law, it also included references to review conferences, which often ignore the limitations included in the ICPD Programme of Action.

A number of Member States made reservations on this issue following the adoption. There were also assurances at the time that the document would still be open to negotiation. This quickly changed into only “technical proofing” and a reticence to reopen the goals and targets and disturb the “delicate balance” found in the OWG document.

However, the actual negotiations made several substantive changes to the targets, including on the last day.  Yet despite the many reservations showing a lack of consensus on the problematic targets 3.7 and 5.6, no discussion on changing these was seriously entertained. Several Member States noted problems with them as well during the process. The Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria, Ambassador Sarki, was particularly dedicated, including making these concerns known during comments at the final session shortly before its adoption.

A number of changes were made to the Declaration, including on issues related to responsibility in taking measures to address climate change, family, national sovereignty, and whether to incorporate reservations on the OWG document into the text in some manner.  Some changes were positive, recognizing the rights of States and their ownership of implementation of the development agenda. However, the problematic reference to “reproductive health care services” (emphasis added) in the Declaration remained, bolstered by its presence in target 3.7.

Although we were not able to remove problematic language in the goals, we believe a number of States will make reservations, which are formal statements given at the time of adopting an international agreement that withhold consent from particular provisions of the agreement.  These must be made by circulating a letter or orally at the time of adoption, which will occur at the Summit in September.  We will encourage States to protect human dignity through making reservations on the problematic targets.