It’s Official: Sustainability Will Be Included in the Post 2015 Development Agenda

The General Assembly this morning  approved a key document that will set the terms of the debate for replacing the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in two years. Negotiations went down to the last minute, and the outcome document reflected new and shifting alliances in the UN system.

One of the key points of contention was whether or not the MDG replacements would also take into account environmental sustainability, or whether environmental sustainability issues would be discussed and debated separately from a the so-called “Post 2015 Development Agenda.” The outcome document approved today calls for including environmental sustainability in that debate — a consequence of a unique and new  coalition that is taking shape at the United Nations around environmental issues.

“An emerging alliance between some of the poorest countries in the world and the wealthy north are coming together to push for aggressive action on climate change,” says Sen. Tim Wirth, a former climate negotiator and Vice President of the United Nations Foundation. “Sub-Saharan Africa is being hit hardest by drought and desertification. Small island states are at risk from rising sea levels.”

In the past, these sorts of big discussions around international development tended to pit wealthier countries against the global south. This time,  Europe, the United States, Japan, and other wealthy countries joined forces with some of the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries on earth to push for the inclusion of environmental issues in the Post 2015 Agenda. Until this morning, some of the rapidly developing countries like India and Brazil wanted to keep them generally disaggregated. In the end they joined the international consensus.  Here’s the relevant portion of the outcome document:

We are resolved that the post-2015 development agenda should reinforce the international community’s commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development.  We underscore the central imperative of poverty eradication and are committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency.  Recognising the intrinsic interlinkage between poverty eradication and promotion of sustainable development, we underline the need for a coherent approach which integrates in a balanced manner the three dimensions of sustainable development. This coherent approach involves working towards a single framework and set of Goals –universal in nature and applicable to all countries, while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies and priorities.  It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.

So what to expect next? The outcome document sets a timetable for the forthcoming debate, calling for the substantive discussions from various working groups to wrap up in one year’s time. Then, the debate will commence in earnest at the start of the General Assembly next September with the aim of having a final outcome one year later.

Much can happen over the next two years, but thanks to today’s action at the General Assembly we can be that whatever replaces  the MDGs will include sustainability. That was decided today. And that is significant.