Heat in the Room – Day 4 OWG12

by khristian méndez //

Temperature has risen in New York City, both on all of the concrete and glass surfaces of this giant man-made complex, as well as in the negotiation rooms. Everybody can agree that we need to eradicate poverty, have access to food, education and health, but as we descend down the list of goals, the views become more and more heated.

Divergence on Biodiversity

This morning picked up on goal 15 on Forests and Biodiversity, which triggered views in all directions.

One of the most contentious exchanges was sparked by issues that are covered under Convention on Biological Diversity: biodiversity loss, and sustainable use of genetic resources. Each of these topics has a separate target under goal 15 currently. The views range from keeping both targets, to merging them, to deleting them. The most curious (though certainly not surprising) view was that of the US, who claimed that these issues are being dealt with in other spaces, by which they meant a convention that they are not a Party to.

Aside from this topic, land degradation and desertification, deforestation, the inclusion of mountains as ecosystems, illegal trade and trafficking of species, and the inclusion of traditional knowledge. When framing positions around these issues, countries made reference and asked expertise of other parts of the UN such as the UN Environmental Programme, and other treaties such as the Convention to Combat Desertification, Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, and the Aichi Targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Mexican negotiator made a very articulate point when explaining how countries were referring only to part of these agreements and tried to incorporate text or targets from the CBD or Aichi. He explained that a balance has been achieved in those texts, and cherry-picking from them might disrupt that balance.

Reference to existent or on-going agreements and treaties is certainly not a new consideration at the SDGs, which begs the question of where do the SDGs fit, not only within the Post-2015 Development Agenda, but within the UN structure and the international community. The Colombian negotiator, when referring to Goal 16 later that day, articulated that her delegation and Guatemala don’t think the SDGs are the center of the United Nations, that other agencies will keep carrying their work.

UK/Netherlands/Australia explained they would be fine without the stand alone goal (or goal 14, for that matter), provided they have “visibility”. and Bolivia recalled attention to Rio Principle 1, which states the importance of “harmony with nature”.

The biggest gap in this goal as it is in the text right now, is that there is no text for Means of Implementation. That is, there are no paths suggested to achieve this goal, compared to others which have up to 16 goals. The G77 has put forward a proposal on Means of Implementation, yet developed countries made no mention of this aspect.

Strong Institutions (?) Peaceful and Inclusive Societes (??) and Rule of Law (!)

Ironically, the goal on Peace was the one which brought quasi-fluorescent responses from member states to the room. As it is now, the Goal has two subtitles. the first one, with 10 targets under it, spells out targets for peaceful societies. The second subtitle announces targets for rule of law, and strong and capable institutions.

The first address was by Austria, who stood by the goal, and warmly announced they can share ways of measuring these targets, something which concerns several countries. Portugal expressed they wish to see each of these subtitles become its own goal.

One of Portugal’s former colonies, however, shared a slightly different view: this morning Brazil held a meeting with Civil Society. The Brazilian minister who called the meeting expressed that they believe in the spirit of the goal, but that “peace” has a particular meaning within the UN. Furthermore, Rule of Law is a punitive approach to development, and that they believe on a more positive approach to create inclusive societies. (As I was taking notes in this meeting, I almost wanted to ask him about inclusion in Rio, where thousands from favelas where displaced and “pacified” in preparation for Rio+20, the World Cup and the coming Summer Olympics). He also mentioned that the Rule of Law is a very western concept, which is not suitable to other cultures. The last last dart towards the current text was kindled by the fact that most of the targets address issues in developing countries, but that conflict and inequality also exist in developed countries (or are triggered by them). This was repeated in the negotiation room, where it received positive responses from several other developing countries.

Finally, there was sizzling opposition from a few countries: the Russian Federation explained that as it is right now, it would interfere with internal affairs and expose them to the UN system, something which goes against UN principles. Cuba, in one of its few interventions throughout this process, expressed that a goal under this content “is not under the mandate of this Group”. Saudi Arabia followed Cuba’s statement, and stated they don’t see this goal being relevant to sustainable development. China nodded, yet expressed they would be open to mainstream some of the targets into other goals, but they didn’t see how any of the targets (including the one on freedom of speech) were relevant at all.

Tomorrow, the last day of the 12th Open Working Group, countries are light up the discussions on colossal Goal 17 on Means of Implementation. This would finish the first review of all of the proposed Goals. While some countries have been referring to the targets under this goal throughout the negotiations, reaching the end of the list will push countries to decide whether they want to talk about Implementation here. This is something most developed countries opposed, as they want to wait for a conference on Financing for Sustainable Development. This proposal has been punctuated by several developing countries, for whom Implementation is a burning issue.

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