Taking the SDGs from ‘main basis’ to effective vision – what’s the roadmap?

Working and discussion papers
September 2014
Andrew Norton, Andrew Scott, Paula Lucci, William Avis
Drafting a new set of goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was never going to be easy. The MDGs had a good level of thematic focus based around the notion that human-development outcomes tell you what you need to know about progress. That needs to evolve to incorporate themes of sustainability, growth and livelihoods. But if the new set tries to be all things to all people there is a risk of failure. The challenge is to find a ‘coherent and singular purpose’. The General Assembly has resolved that the OWG proposal should be the main basis for integrating SDGs into the post-2015 development agenda. The Secretary-General’s synthesis report, expected in November, will need to provide guidance for the intergovernmental process leading up to an agreement in 2015. This guidance will need to build on the many positive elements to be found in the OWG proposal as well as address its shortcomings and provide clarity on how the SDGs should be used by member states.There are four major hurdles to overcome if the 2015 United Nations General Assembly outcome is going to drive positive global change. 

·      First and foremost is the politics of shaping and sharpening a coherent vision while maintaining the strong level of member- state support generated during the OWG process.

·      Second (and almost as foremost…) is the challenge of intellectual and policy coherence. It is going to be hard to find a perspective to drive the 2015 goal set in the same way the human-development paradigm drove the 2000 set. But the beginnings of this are there – in the strengthening of understanding of sustainability and the global challenge it poses.

·      Third is the challenge of getting the goal and target sets into a shape where they work both individually and together, so that each goal and its accompanying targets are sufficiently clear, measurable and coherent in and of themselves.

·      Fourth is working out how it all works in practice. The notion of targets set at the national level (in line with the goal framing) is now so firmly embedded in the key texts (the High-Level Panel report as well as the OWG outcome document) that it is hard to see that changing. There are a range of significant challenges to the architecture and operating process of the follow-up system.