SDG Restless Development Be More Ambitious

21 Jul 15
International UK

From now until the 31st July, Member States are meeting at the UN in New York, to finalise the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is the very last set of negotiations, which follows on from years of consultations, high level meetings, and campaigning from people around the world, who have told their governments and the UN about the World We Want.

As part of the negotiations, there is a "Zero Draft" that details what States will be promising to act on. Over the next week, Member States and civil society, including young people, will be negotiating the exact text of the document - trying to get their priorities represented, and arguing to take the things they don't like (or don't want to commit to) out of it.

This is our response to the Zero Draft, and what we are pushing for in the final two weeks.

Merybell Nabilah, youth delegate speaking at a UN SDG negotiation on behalf of the Major Group for Children and Youth

[Youth delegate Merybell Nabilah at a UN SDG negotation on behalf of the Major Group for Children and Youth]


In the final text for the Sustainable Development Goals, including the Declaration, Means of Implementation & Follow-up and Review, we expect to see young people represented in a way that:

  • Ensures young people’s needs and rights are fulfilled
  • Recognises young people’s abilities, skills and potential
  • Enables and promotes their participation as partners and leaders in development

Young people - in all their diversity - make up over half the world’s population, with 1.8 billion youth between the age of 15-24, and over half of the world under 30 years of age. The majority of these young people live in the poorest parts of the world; 9 out of 10 people aged 10-24 live in developing countries. The size of the youth population will continue to increase, especially in less developed countries well into the foreseeable future.

Young people have shown unprecedented commitment to shaping the new development goals - from meeting with the High Level Panel, to making direct contributions in New York through the UN Major Group for Children and Youth. Of the 7.7 million votes on the My World Survey, 58% have been cast by 16-30 years old.

We also know that young women and men continue to be marginalised and underserved across development programming and policy. Where ambitious youth-focussed policies do exist, (ICPD, Beijing Platform for Action & World Programme for Action on Youth), investment in implementation and follow-up can be woefully patchy and inadequate. Added to this, data on youth is scarce: Youth Policy Labs recently found that 17 countries (49%), there is no data on the budget of the youth ministry; for 16 countries (46%) there is no data on unemployment rates of young people; for 15 countries (43%), there is no data on the prevalence of HIV among young people.

Without adequately recognising young people and their active role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, not only do young people themselves risk being left behind, but the SDGs are less likely to be achieved effectively or efficiently. We want to see a framework that recognises young people’s abilities, skills and potential.


As we approach the final round of negotiations, we need to ensure the level of ambition is maintained, raised and meaningfully embedded across the whole text. Whilst young people, their priorities, potential and participation is recognised to varying degrees throughout, we need the text to strike the right balance between young people as beneficiaries, and promoting them as key partners and leaders in achieving an ambitious and transformative set of Goals - recognising that the framework cannot be achieved without them. Alongside young people as agents for change, we know that ensuring responsive governments, inclusive accountability and access to transparent data are vital to changing the way we “do” development. We’ve included some recommendations for changes to the text that raise the level of ambition, and will ensure crucial elements to achieving the SDGs are meaningfully highlighted throughout, leading to collaborative transformative change for people and planet.


1) Youth Agency and Leadership: We welcome, and call to maintain the active role of young people as agents of change in their own lives and in their communities, and the commitment to a “nurturing environment for the full realization of their rights and capabilities (PARA 23”). We very much welcome the insertions of “young people”, “age” and “youth” since the previous text, including this powerful statement (PARA 46): “Young people, in particular, will find in the new Goals a platform to enable them to become positive agents for change and to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world.” Finally, we welcome the recognition of ‘volunteer groups’: volunteering is a powerful and effective means for young people to take up active roles in their communities.

  • Be Ambitious: We recommend the following addition (PARA 41): “Governments and public institutions will also work closely on implementation with... academia, philanthropic organizations, [add: youth-led organisations], volunteer groups and others.” We also suggest this amendment (People Preamble): “and secure the participation of all people and groups, including children [add: and young people], in the realization of the new Goals and targets.”

  • We support additional wording suggested by Beyond 2015 making the case for investment in children and young people should be included: ‘Children's and young people’s ability to be positive agents of change depends on the investments we are willing to make in their health, nutrition, education, safety, protection and well-being starting in early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood and thus ensuring that no child is left behind (PARA 46).’

2) Human Rights: We welcome, and call to maintain commitments to the protection of human rights (Declaration), including the right to development (PARA 3), of all men, women, boys and girls (PEACE) in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law (PARA 17), and without discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, age (PARA 18).

3) Participation of People and Citizens: We believe that this must be a people-centred agenda and we welcome the commitment to ensuring that we build “dynamic, sustainable and people-centred economies”. We welcome, and call to maintain: “It is an agenda of the people, by the people and for the people – and this, we believe, will ensure its success.” (PARA 47).

  • Be Ambitious: The specific roles of citizens, marginalised groups and civil society are extremely weak in the document, especially in the Follow-up and Review section (see below). We recommend the following amendment (PARA 40): “It will facilitate an intensive global engagement in support of implementation of the goals and targets, bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society [add: and citizens, including all marginalised groups]

4) Governance: We know that transparent, accessible, responsive and inclusive governance will be key to achieving the SDGs. Young people have consistently highlighted “honest and responsive governments” as a top priority for the new development agenda, in both online and offline consultations. We welcome the addition of text on strengthening governance and institutions at all levels (PEACE). We call to maintain the need to build peaceful, just and “inclusive societies” based on effective and accountable institutions. (PARA 3,14, 30).

  • Be Ambitious: We support the TAP Network recommendation to use this alternative paragraph for PEACE. “We want all people to be free from fear, violence and all forms of economic, social and political marginalisation. As such, we want to foster more peaceful, safe and inclusive societies; to strengthen transparent, accountable and participatory governance and institutions at all levels; to ensure equal access to justice for all; and to protect the human rights of all people.”

5) Accountability: We are pleased to see the concept of accountability still in the draft, (PARA 42, 56) and strongly call for this to be maintained. The post 2015 agenda should be monitored and evaluated not just by governments but by people themselves - including young people. With this in mind we welcome the call for “a robust, effective, inclusive and transparent follow-up and review framework” which “will help countries to maximize progress in implementing this Agenda and will promote accountability to our citizens” (PARA 56). We also welcome the call for follow-up and review to be “open, inclusive and transparent, and support the participation of all people and all stakeholders” (PARA 57), with reference to Major Groups (PARA 70).

  • Be Ambitious: Overall the follow-up and review section has been considerably weakened from the previous draft (PARA 61), with less direction on including stakeholders and citizens in national-level review. We support the call from Beyond 2015 UK, and strongly encourage reinstating the original text to that ensure reviews are conducted in a robust and inclusive way at least every four years and that these are led by national government, be transparent and publicly available. We would also like to see the reference “peer-review” reinserted, instead of “peer learning” (PARA 52), and language on shadow reporting from stakeholders and civil society included.

6) Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: We welcome, and call to maintain (PARA 24): “universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education.”
Be Ambitious: We must move beyond simply delivering services, to a specific reference to the right to sexual and reproductive health. This should be strengthened through ensuring access is for all adolescents and young people and is non-discriminatory, affordable, non-judgmental, and gender sensitive.

7) Decent Work: We welcome the commitment to promoting youth employment (PARA 25) and the inclusion of ‘decent work for all’ and ‘decent jobs’ as part of overall employment policies (PARA 25).

  • Be Ambitious: Ensure ‘decent work’ is used consistently in the document. For example, (PARA 25): “We will therefore adopt policies which promote [add: decent work for all], increase productivity and productive employment, financial inclusion...”

8) Education: We welcome, and call to maintain the commitment for “all people” to have access to “quality” secondary and tertiary education which “helps them acquire the knowledge and skills needed to exploit opportunities and to participate fully in society.” (PARA 23).

  • Be Ambitious: Quality education is a human right, it is not solely a means to a workforce, and so we suggest the following change (PARA 25): “All countries stand to benefit from having a healthy and well-educated [add: population] [delete: workforce]with the knowledge and skills needed for productive and fulfilling work and full participation in society.”

9) Data: Without the appropriate technology, resources, financing and capacity building - the data revolution for sustainable development will not be realised. Once we have increased and more varied data, it is essential that this is transparent, reliable and accessible in a timely manner, for it to be effectively used in follow-up and review. We welcome the recognition of ICTs contribution to sustainable development (PARA 12 & 35), and the need for financial resources, capacity-building and transfer of technologies (PARA 32). We also welcome the recognition of data from third-parties, and the call for “public-private cooperation” (PARA 59).

  • Be Ambitious: We call for the inclusion and recognition of citizen-generated data, in particular the role it can play in national and sub-national level reviews of progress, to bring marginalised voices and lived experiences into reporting and accountability cycles. We also call for further specific references for capacity building of civil society and people in the use of data, beyond just the institutional capacities of NSOs (PARA 43 & 59).

10) Indicators & “counting youth”: Alongside resources and capacity building for accessible and transparent data, we need data that can give us an adequate picture of progress on the SDGs. Disaggregated data will be key and we call to maintain references to “quality disaggregated data” by gender, age and disability (PARA 43, 57 & 59).

  • Be Ambitious: To ensure inclusive, responsive participation in decision-making throughout all aspects of the SDGs, we also call for a perception-based global level indicator ‘on inclusive responsive participation in decision-making at all levels’, which can contribute to measuring a number of targets, including 5.5 and 16.7. We support reference to an indicator framework that is “simple and robust”, preserving the “political balance and ambition” (PARA 58), though call for recognition that we have the opportunity to develop a handful of ambitious global-level indicators. These can fill in long-identified data gaps - on political and civic participation - which can be both a means and an end to achieving the SDGs, and ensure no one is left behind.

11) Equality and Inclusion: To achieve transformational change, the SDGs must reach young people in all their diversity and this could be better reflected throughout the text. Despite their potential, many young people are marginalised because of their age, sexual orientation, gender, race, disability, race, colour, language, religion, culture, migratory status, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic situation, disability or other status. We strongly support the pledge to ‘leave no one behind' and welcome the promise to ‘endeavour to reach the furthest behind first’ (PARA 4), therefore building on the success of the MDGs but aiming to reach the most marginalised first.

  • Be Ambitious: PARA 4 could be strengthened further with language stressing that no target will be fully met unless met for all. Throughout the text, the term ‘vulnerable’ (PARA 22, 23) should be replaced with ‘marginalised’ reflecting the wider societal and structural causes that lead to specific members of the population being excluded from sustainable development.

12) Climate Change: We welcome the improved language on resilience and resilient infrastructure throughout the declaration (PARAs 6, 7, 9, 25). Addressing climate change is a precondition for achieving a safe, equitable and positive future for all people and planet, especially young people and future generations.

  • Be Ambitious: The introduction and vision still fail to adequately address the link between poverty eradication, sustainable development and climate change. Paragraph 3 should acknowledge the massive threat that climate change presents to the achievement of poverty reduction and sustainable development.”


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