Meet a 2015er: Nicole Cardinal

“An analogy we often use when talking to member states is if we were designing a life boat and you don’t think of children, you may only equip the boat with adult-sized life jackets. So children have all the same needs as adults, but they also have specialized needs as well.” — Nicole Cardinal

This is the fourth installment of our “Meet A 2015-er” series that profiles the women and men who are helping to shape the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Change negotiations as they take form later this year.

Today, we get another perspective from civil society. Nicole Cardinal is the Senior Advocacy Adviser on Post-2015 for Save the Children.

Tell us about Save The Children’s role in the post-2015 negotiations.

Save the Children has been heavily involved in the post-2015 agenda since about 2012…which seems like years ago in post-2015 time! We’re obviously a children’s organization but really recognized early on that this is a holistic agenda and issues you would naturally think impact children like health, education, and child protection are important but so is energy, environment, and all of these other things. We also consult with youth and children directly because [they] often have a lot of the solutions as well…they often know what they need and can articulate it. It’s just a matter of us sharing that with governments. So we were actually one of the first groups to come out with a holistic agenda in January 2013.

How was your proposed agenda different than the final one on the table now?IMGP4017

We had 10 goals at the time and then revised in April 2014 to come to 12 goals, so less than the SDGs…but one kind of overarching target is to end extreme poverty in a generation.

We had a proposed standalone goal[s] on energy…climate change and disaster risk reduction. In talking with experts during the Open Working Group, we know that having sustainable electricity, and particularly just having a light bulb, can be just as important for children’s health [and] under 5 child mortality, just as much as traditional health interventions.

A lot of our agenda was based on broad consultations with staff around the world but it’s also based on the kind of work we do on the ground. We are a dual humanitarian and development organization. [Since] we have actually have worked in a lot of countries that are struck by man-made and natural disasters…the proposed goals on climate change and disaster risk reduction are fundamental because we have that direct experience of knowing what populations deal with [on a day to day basis].

So really all the goals apply to your work and affect children around the world.

Absolutely! I think sometimes people think of children’s issues as being a very narrow focus but what we know from what we’ve been doing for years is that if you’re reaching all people, then you’re reaching children. Everybody is interconnected. It’s a life cycle approach that I know other organizations have advocated for and it’s something that we’ve approached the post-2015 agenda with.

So for instance, how is economic development related to children?

Decent work and employment [are part of economic development], but it also matters for families with children.

Child labor is fundamentally damaging for children on a whole range of levels, but particularly in terms of health outcomes and education. We talk about an integrated agenda, we really see that practically so a target to end hazardous forms of child labor because unless you’re ending those, you’re not also going to be meeting targets in terms of children learning in school. You really see that connection in a very practical way.

There are currently 17 SDGs and a lot of people we’ve talked to say that’s too many. What do you think of that and if they are actually practical?

It is a bit of a concern. We’re well aware of the politics surrounding the processes and how fundamental the Open Working Group outcome was, but yeah I think there has to be more consideration of implementation. I think for countries, in particular least developed countries, is this an agenda they feel comfortable implementing across the board? If not, then I think we have to ask those hard questions.

I guess what makes me smile is that in the beginning of the processes – and I mean going back to the High Level Panel Report as well as the Open Working Group – I think most states were unanimous in that they didn’t want a ‘Christmas tree.’ I thought about it the other day and I think we may have indeed ended up with a bit of a Christmas tree. Those states didn’t want all the priorities listed in the world [like everyone hanging their ornaments]; they wanted a narrow set of concise, limited, measurable goals.

Sounds like those concerns weren’t really heard. Is there still some tension about it in the negotiating room?

I think there’s wide acceptance of the Open Working Group outcome document but there are some member states who have a concern about the agenda potentially being too big and specifically in terms of the quality some of the targets that are sitting underneath the goals…about what that will that mean for implementation if there’s not clear guidance.

Another way to look at it is, this is an agenda that’s going to be implemented at the national level so even if you have a big target that would be adapted to each national circumstance.

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What makes the targets sitting under these goals effective?

Ultimately the agenda needs to be implemented at the local level to be effective for everyone including children. The reality is, we can come up with an agenda that sounds elegant and eloquent but unless it’s implemented correctly it means nothing for the world’s poorest people and marginalized, vulnerable children.

An analogy we often use when talking to member states is if we were designing a life boat and you don’t think of children, you may only equip the boat with adult-sized life jackets. So children have all the same needs as adults, but they also have specialized needs as well. Unless the post-2015 agenda has that over-arching approach then we’re just missing out on a future generation, you’re leaving out the present generation as well.

Is there one particular touchstone goal for Save the Children; one goal that must be successful in order for the others to be achieved as well?

I wouldn’t say that, but maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this for so long! I think they are all really needed! What we see as an organization [is that] you need to provide education, health, social services, they need to be protected in emergencies, they need to be protected normally in a domestic environment. If you’re not meeting all those at the same time, you’re not going to be fulfilling children’s rights. I would say what’s most important to us though is an approach to all the goals and targets that really seeks to reduce inequality and leaves no one behind. We would really like to see a commitment by Member states that no target is met unless it’s met for all relevant social and economic groups.

How do you know if certain children are left behind or if a target is met for all groups?

We want to see targets and specially data dis-aggregated by age, gender, agenda item, region, etc. By doing that we feel like that’s a really transformative way…to be able to tailor policies at the national level to ensure that we are reaching the most vulnerable children, the most marginalized.

I think on the one hand it will be [all about] the data collection and measurement. On the other hand, it’s about mere transparency of information. Coming from an NGO perspective we find it critical to have that information partly so that we can hold member states accountable but partly so that when we’re delivering programs on the ground…we’re applying the latest evidence and have a good idea of who we’re reaching and who we’re not reaching.

It seems like measurement and data collection haven’t really been hot topics of discussion thus far in the negotiations.  

In the Open Working Group process I think there was a notion that dis-aggregated data was something that was quite important to actually form under Goal 17. Some Member States have acknowledged the need [to talk about it] but not until later stages, closer to the signing of the Declaration.

Certainly we’ll be pushing more Member States to recognize that this is fundamental to delivering on the Agenda. I expect we will hear more from Member States as we go through the different sections of the agenda. Monitoring and Review is…where we’ll start to have more comments on the need for data revolution.

At the current pace, will negotiators actually make progress on how to measure the SDGs before the September Declaration needs to be signed? Or is it an issue that forms in the post-2015 era?

It needs to be part and parcel of the agenda. It will be fundamental for delivering on all the goals and targets. In some respects we would like to see some reference to a need for dis-aggregated data or a commitment to [it] in the Declaration. If you don’t have the data to know who’s been left behind, where you’re reaching people, or where you’re not then you simply can’t have coherent policies to follow that!

We’re a big proponent as well of recognizing the constraints of certain countries like the LDCs and their needs for capacity building for data collection…because there are a lot of new initiatives and priorities that are identified in this agenda that are different from the MDGs. While we don’t necessarily have all the data for those issues, they are issues that for which we can have data.

We need the commitment to seek out that data and then assistance from the wider UN system to actually do it.

What can we learn from the MDGs? We’re all hoping we’re doing better this time around since so many people were unhappy with the formulation and effectiveness of the MDGs, but are we really?

I absolutely agree with the criticism of the MDG process formulation. Everything that we know is that it was formed in the back room by a few people, not a consultative process. We’ve done better with post-2015 and the agenda for children [on this point].

One example of a shortcoming of the MDG on education [is that it] measured ‘bums on seats’ but not necessarily…how many children are learning [which is addressed in the SDGs].

We’re also pleased with some of the Open Working Group outcomes: the [inclusion of] specific targets under Goal 16 to end violence against children…and the target on ending the use of child soldiers were in particular important to us.

One of the things we advocated for very strongly…was this idea of zero goals, or a 100% coverage. This is really building on another shortcoming of the MDGs which were a bit odd in that they said ‘reduce’ under 5 child mortality by two-thirds. A lot of the human rights conventions that member states have endorsed basically say that child mortality should be ended completely. So we’re pleased the [SDGs] will have the idea of…ending something completely because that’s more in line with human rights obligations.

What’s the message you would like people to know about the SDGs negotiations and ultimate declaration?

It’s important to recognize that finishing the job of the MDGs isn’t finishing the job that needs to be done. We need this agenda to go much further than the MDGs in the first place.