Comments and expectations about the UN General Assembly and the 2030 agenda

Comments and expectations about the UN General Assembly and the 2030 agenda

Filomena Siqueira, Ação Educativa, with collaboration of Maria Graciela Cuervo, ICAE


On September 15th the General Assembly of the United Nations took place, at New York City, celebrating 70 years of existence of the organization. This Assembly was particularly important for having hosted the Summit for Sustainable Development, between 25 and 27 September, in which leaders from 193 countries agreed upon the new development agenda for the next fifteen years.

Replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which marked the beginning of this century and that have expired this year, the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were agreed, with 17 goals to be reached until 2030[1]. The construction of SDGs began after Rio+20, in 2012, and since then has been developed through intergovernmental negotiation sessions, open global consultations, hearings between the UN and civil society organizations and creation of thematic task force groups.

Throughout the Summit, several high-level panels and other side events inside and outside the United Nations Headquarters were held, as well as a variety of activities in different places around New York. It was a challenge for the organizers and participants to guarantee attendance of civil society and other stakeholder at the Summit and other official events. Even for organizations with adequate credentials to attend the UNGA, it was necessary to undergo a parallel accreditation process to apply for a secondary badge in order to the events and get inside to the UN Headquarters.

There were many people both in official and parallel activities from Government representatives, foundations, consulting firms, members of the academy and civil society organizations, The formulation process of the current ODS was characterized by a more comprehensive approach compared to the MDGs, with different consulting spaces with civil society. At the national level some initiatives to push the Governments to discuss the construction of the agenda and the actions of implementation were also noted.

The concern with the follow-up of the goals was really an issue at the Summit. Several discussions aiming to think about the actions that will come related to the implementation of SDG took place. During the goals’ formulation process there was some concerns regarding the extent of the agenda with 17 goals, 169 targets and hundreds of indicators required for monitoring them. From the point of view of those who advocated for this broad agenda, the amount of goals reflects the complexity of development on a global scale and need to be pursued. From those who criticized, the breadth of it would be at odds with the need to prioritize actions. Despite the discussions generated in relation to its scope, the new agenda was agreed, consisting of 17 goals, and now demands actions to make them happen.

According to the actions taken so far, the States remain the main subject to operationalize the agenda, supported by the strengthening of partnerships and international cooperation, following the guidelines presented on the Finance for Development Action Agenda of Addis Ababa[2]. Several questions, however, exist regarding the meaning of these multiple stakeholder partnerships, on the role of the private sector in ensuring the goals and about the real prospects for realizing Addis Ababa agenda, given that the previous one, the Monterrey Consensus, was not fulfilled and international cooperation has lost strength in recent years, and due to the lack of accountability frameworks to guarantee the transparency of these partnerships.

In this context, the challenges of how to operationalize the new agenda leads to many questions about the availability of financial resources, and on the balance between the stakeholders involved in the process and the technical capacity and interests of countries in developing this agenda. In this sense, the activities carried out during the Summit and Side Events aimed to discuss these implementation challenges by: addressing many different issues related to the translation of the agenda to the national context; strengthening new paradigms for international development; looking for ways to equate the agenda’s ambition with the countries’ reality; engaging civil society participation both at the local, regional and global levels; developing the initiatives created within the UN system for monitoring the goals; among others.

In the field of education, the activities sought to identify bridges between what was accomplished in the context of the MDGs and its continuity in the SDGs, mapping strategies for implementing the agenda and the ongoing initiatives. The primary and secondary education has received great attention, with various organizations and foundations developing actions to ensure the enrollment of children and young people, and working to increase the financing of international resources as well as domestic for this goal. Efforts related to the development learning metrics and quality of education were discussed at the activities, with focus on the development of data and statistics for the monitoring of the goals.

Notwithstanding, although on the education goal lifelong learning was mentioned, little was developed about this theme, with the education of adults remaining marginalized in the debates and an ambiguos adult literacy target of the SDG4. There is a strong speech about the importance of having clear measures for each goal, saying that what has no indicator will not be monitored and, consequently, will not be fulfilled. In this sense, it is extremely worrying, for the field of education, the underdevelopment of indicators on adult education and the little attention directed at this group, both among Governments and civil society organizations themselves.

Through the activities carried out within the framework of the Summit, one can observe that the indicators will be a key issue in guiding the agenda over the next fifteen years. This trend shows, on one hand, the importance of building a database that enables the monitoring of the development of goals, collaborating for their transparency and monitoring not only by the States, but among society. On the other hand, the construction of these indicators is a complex process that involves both technical and political issues. In this sense, the development of indicators, which will happen until March 2016, is a process that does not seem to be as open to civil society as the formulation of the SDGs and targets, although of great importance. Therefore, it is necessary to have more information about this process and who are the actors responsible for their development and final adoption.

The launch of the new ODS is just the beginning of the renewal of a common agenda between the countries, which seeks the construction of sustainable development over the next 15 years and that will only come with commitment from the international community and if translated, by each Governments and its society based on their local needs. In addition, it is also important to consider the inputs built along the various conferences held over the last few decades, which have generated content on many topics, such as Eco-92 in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, focused on environmental issues, the Vienna Conference on human rights, in 1993, the Conference in Cairo about population (1994), the Beijing Conference on women, in 1995, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that has been going on since 1995 (COP), the World Education Forum in Dakar, in 2000, and many others.

These meetings and the documents they produced were the results of collective work between civil society and Government and that can and should be used to promote, in this sense, the improvement of multilateral agreements and avoiding always start from scratch. Especially in wide deals, such as the SDG, to start from contents already developed would collaborate to improve their quality and to strengthen the coherence of global agreements and their continuity.




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