08 Dec 14

A few days ago, I and many other people plugged into the post-2015 development agenda watched the clock and counted down the minutes, waiting for a Synthesis Report from the office of the UN Secretary General (UNSG) to be released. The report, titled “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet”, sets out six essential elements for delivering the next global development agenda – dignity, people, prosperity, planet, justice, partnership - and is one of the last signposts on the long road to finalising the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs). The SDGs and accompanying ‘post-2015 package’ – including how to finance it all, and how to report on progress - will be finalised by the UN General Assembly next September, after almost 5 years in the making.

After a long list of consultations, submissions and negotiations, much of what the next development agenda might look like has already been set out, so why all the fuss about this report, and what difference might it make?

After having a relatively brief look over the report – (a more detailed analysis is to come) – here are our highlights and headlines:


“Young people will be the torch bearers of the next sustainable development agenda through 2030. We must ensure that this transition, while protecting the planet, leaves no one behind.” (paragraph 3)

 Torch bearers

It’s about more than name-checking any given ‘issue’, but that said, young people profile highly in the UNSG report - and with good reason. As the report itself states: “Today, more than ever, the realities of 1.8 billion youth and adolescents represent a dynamic, informed, and globally connected engine for change. Integrating their needs, rights to choice and their voices in the new agenda, will be a key factor for success.” (para. 71)

Of the 1.8 billion young people aged 10-24 years old, 90% of them live in developing countries. Including young people in the sustainable development goals is not only their right, failing to take young people’s needs and priorities into account just doesn’t make sense (1). With the largest cohort of young people the planet has ever seen, it’s great to see ‘young people’ and ‘youth’ reflected throughout the report, where in other post-2015 documents we regularly see young people cut out completely or implicitly included in references like ‘all people’, and ‘people of all ages’.

Reflecting young people’s priorities. Not only does the UNSG’s report highlight the role of young people as key partners and leaders of the SDGs, it also does a fair job of including young people’s priorities. We’ll focus on a couple of key ones here…

“Access to fair justice systems, accountable institutions of democratic governance, measures to combat corruption and curb illicit financial flows, and safeguards to protect personal security are integral to sustainable development.” (para. 78)

Throughout the global post-2015 consultations young people have consistently highlighted governance and inclusive decision-making as a priority. Young women and men have called for ‘an honest and responsive government’, fair representation and inclusive participation in all decision-making, alongside greater transparency and accountability.(2) Throughout Open Working Group (OWG) meetings and negotiations, the proposed goal on governance and peaceful societies was at risk of dropping off the agenda, so it’s particularly welcome to see governance feature relatively strongly throughout the report, especially under the ‘Justice’ element, “to promote safe and peaceful societies, and strong institutions.” Capable institutions and peaceful societies are a basic requirement for the sustainable development goals to succeed, and as we move towards the final stretch of discussions and negotiations starting in January, the UNSG’s prioritisation of this in his report is significant.

“It should by now be recognized that no society can reach its full potential if whole segments of that society, especially young people, are excluded from participating in, contributing to, and benefiting from development.” (para. 68)

Participation is another crucial area championed throughout the report, reflecting the hard work of civil society over the past few years to secure its inclusion in the agenda. This is also a shift from people being the ‘what’ of the MDGs, to the ‘how’ of the SDGs. “Participatory democracy”, “mutual accountability”, and “public-private-people” partnerships are a few of the ways participation is peppered throughout – signalling active citizenship as key to making the SDGs truly transformative. It’s also notable that the report recognises the need to “remove obstacles to full participation by persons with disabilities, older persons, adolescents and youth, and empower the poor” (para. 68). The final post-2015 framework will need to ensure that citizen’s capabilities and political, social and economic empowerment are equally supported if we are to make the call for participation meaningful.

“We know that a data revolution is unfolding, allowing us to see more clearly than ever where we are and where we need to go, and to ensure that everyone is counted.” (para. 31)

Participation is also key in in the sections detailing the data revolution, recognising the integral role young people and citizens can play in generating information and knowledge gaps. The report also calls for an “online, global platform building on and complementing existing initiatives, and with the participation of all relevant stakeholders” (para. 125). The ‘Data Revolution’ has been making waves throughout the post-2015 process, with voices from all sides urging for more reliable, accessible, and disaggregated data, to make sure policies are informed by evidence, and ensuring decision-makers can be reliably held to account for their successes and failures. The report makes a few nods to data throughout, including equal access to information and better sharing of data. Perhaps most notably, linking the role of data to “a rigorous and participatory review and monitoring framework to hold governments, businesses, and international organizations accountable to the people for results”, (para. 56).

Again, this is a very welcome inclusion and in line with our recommendations to the UNSG’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development which draws on learnings from our Big Idea project and Partners for Change report.

“All voices have demanded that we leave no one behind, ensuring equality, non-discrimination, equity and inclusion at all levels.” (para. 51)

The potential for the SDGs to be universal and transformative is pushed throughout the report, echoing calls to ensure “no one be left behind”, and the need to “address inequalities in all areas, agreeing that no goal or target be considered met unless met for all social and economic groups” (para. 65).

Lastly, although the report has to tread a fine political line in order to appeal across all parties to a greater or lesser extent, there are some very encouraging inclusions which should be noted. A call to reflect the voices of LGBT groups (para. 78); the need to secure equality and focus on those most in need, “including those under occupation” (para. 51); and the need for inclusive growth for all, measured in ways that “go beyond GDP and account for human well-being, sustainability and equity” (para. 72) – are all issues that young people have pushed throughout the process, from global consultations to the Colombo Declaration.

Although there are a few references in the report on how to measure progress of the SDGs and ensure accountability - generally this is weak, and instead references “review” mechanisms. One of the most disappointing is the recommendation that “Member States should consider multi-annual reviews under HLPF in a five-year cycle.” This is buried in a paragraph around “knowledge-sharing” with suggested annual “voluntary reviews of progress.” Though it’s important that the SDGs don’t become drowned in reporting commitments, with only two compulsory reviews during the 15 year life-span of the SDGs (not including the final review in 2030), this is unlikely to allow countries to learn from each other, or adequately monitor if we are on track to achieve targets.

Overall, “The Road to Dignity by 2030” does a good job of walking a complex political tightrope, whilst flagging up some essential elements for a universal, transformative and ambitious agenda for global development over the next fifteen years. For the SDGs to be successful, stakeholders must realise the huge potential for young people to become actively engaged in national and local-level implementation and monitoring of the goals. Young women and men are strongly included throughout, and this is something that urgently needs to be reflected in the final framework.

In many ways this is the UNSG’s final wave as we continue our way down the road to negotiating and finalising the SDGs over the next nine months – deciding how ambitious we can agree to be as a global community. As the report itself says:

“We are at a historic crossroads, and the directions we take will determine whether we will succeed or fail on our promises. With our globalized economy and sophisticated technology, we can decide to end the age-old ills of extreme poverty and hunger. Or we can continue to degrade our planet and allow intolerable inequalities to sow bitterness and despair. Our ambition is to achieve sustainable development for all.” (para. 2)

(2) Youth Voices on a Post-2015 World, p 16

Sarah Haynes is our Policy and Research Coordinator