Curtis F.J. Doebbler Professor of law at Webster University Geneva
In the run-up to Rio+20, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were originally expected to be defined before the start of the meeting of more than 100 Heads of State and governments from 20-22 June 2012. However, by the start of the fourth round of negotiations in Rio de Janeiro this week, aspirations for SDGs have now dropped to mere hopes to launch a process for the eventual determination of the SDGs.
Of the ten possible paragraphs being considered for inclusion in Section B on the SDGs, only three paragraphs are agreed. And one of those paragraphs is offset by another version with numerous brackets, indicating it is not yet agreed. The other paragraphs are also contested with bracketed text, which illustrates the sharp divide in opinion between States – especially between the G77 and a handful of developed States.
Developing countries are tending to favour a more general text that will guide a process to define the SDGs and be initiated sometime after Rio+20. They are seeking to lay some basic ground rules, so that SDGs become a set of easily understood, aspirational goals. Little attention has been given by any State to ensure that the SDGs have the ambition which human rights defenders seek to instill the SDGs with a rights-based approach. In summary, those within the G77 seek to maintain the focus and consistency with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), conserve the consistency with the declarations and instruments established at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and focus on poverty eradication and other priority measures to achieve equity in development among all countries.
While there are some common agreements among countries on the aspirational nature of the SDGs, most developed parties have differing viewpoints from the developing countries. The developed States are seeking more clarification about the goals and are urging for specification in any written text emerging from Rio+20. These States see the SDGs as universal goals on a specified number of areas of concern that have measurable criteria, and are agreed upon on the basis of a process initiated by the Secretary-General. On this latter point, the G77 seeks to initiate a more State-driven process. At the last round of negotiations, States traded conflicting views about the relationship between the SDGs and MDGs, leaving a major question mark over the process for determining SDGs, which is now unlikely to be answered in Rio de Janeiro. No agreement on this issue was reached at the third round of informals in New York, with the Co-Chairs, who had opted for the Secretary-General's leadership, recognising that there was a significant divergence of views.
Another point of continuing contention is whether priorities should be specified by selecting some of the twenty-five thematic areas mentioned prior in section V, subsection A, which lists diverse concerns ranging from water and energy, to Africa and climate change. Developing States thought such specification was premature, while developed States appeared to have prepared criteria for definition and measurement that they wish to be included. Again, no agreement was reached during the last round of negotiations and significant differences of opinion remain.
Member States are trying to bridge these remaining disagreements in informal 'Contact Groups’ during the final round of negotiations in Rio de Janeiro. SDGs were the first item on the agenda for the discussions scheduled at RioCentro. This Contact Group, however, also had to deal with climate change, water, chemicals, sustainable consumption and production, and means of implementation. A daunting task to say the least.
Despite the fact that the text on SDGs remains peppered with brackets, the Secretary-General of the Conference, H.E. Sha Zukang, was nevertheless hopeful that agreement could be reached just in time for world leaders to c.onsider it when they start arriving on 20th June for the high level segment of the long and ongoing Rio+20 process.