“We need to conceptualize first before we define goals, targets and indicators” says Dr. Veerle Vandeweerd


I forbindelse med UNDPs Nordiske Kontors Post-2015 debatserie havde vi inviteret Dr Veerle Vandeweerd til at holde et oplæg. Her er hendes indspark om de nye bæredygtige udviklingsmål.

Copenhagen, 11 March 2013. Today, UNDP Nordic Representation Office had invited Dr. Veerle Vandeweerd to Copenhagen as guest speaker at its second breakfast meeting on the post-2015 agenda titled Sustainable Development Goals in the new Post-2015 Framework: the Route, the Risks and the Human Dividend. The objective of the breakfast series is to promote engagement and informed debate about the new development framework after 2015 among stakeholders in Denmark. For previous and future guest speakers see undp.dk/post-2015.

Dr. Vandeweerd is Director of UNDP Environment and Energy Group in the Bureau for Development Policy. She is managing some 300 staff world-wide and a core portfolio of around USD 500 million amounting to a global portfolio of around USD 1.5 billion with counterpart contributions. Environment, energy and climate change accounts for a major part of UNDP’s global budget and work programme and is a major focus area and closely interlinked to UNDP’s human development agenda.  

Dr. Vandeweerd was recently appointed co-chair, together with UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), for the UN Technical Support Team to the newly established Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An inter-government group of 30 member states agreed to at the Rio+20 conference. Denmark holds a joint seat together with Norway and Ireland. Dr. Vandeweerd’s presentation for the breakfast meeting was titled: Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda: the Route, the Risks and the Human Dividend.  Below is a summary of her key points:


There are eight ongoing and integrated processes and activities that together will help to define and shape the next development framework after 2015, when the MDG’s reach their deadline and the SDG’s will take effect. All these processes are coordinated and integrated by a one UN secretariat that supports them: the UN delivering as one in real terms.

1.    The UN Task Team; representing 42 UN agencies and co-chaired by UN DESA and UNDP. Submitted a report – Realising the Future We Want for All - to the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) in June 2012 outlining the vision of and conceptual framework for the UN for the post-2015 agenda.

2.    High-level Panel (HLP) on the post 2015 development framework, established by the UNSG in July 2012. It will submit its r report to the UNSG in May 2013. The next meeting will be held in Bali. The report of the HLP will feed into the SG report to the high level special event on the MDG’s in September 2013.

3.    UN Development Group consultations. The most comprehensive global consultation ever undertaken by the UN to promote a bottom up  input in defining the SDG and involve civil society in defining the post 2015 development framework.. The consultations include 74 national consultations; 11 thematic consultations and a global e-consultation. The first report on the national consultations has been drafted and will be submitted to the HLP at their next meeting in Bali. Next and final report due in June 2013 and will feed into the UNSG annual report on the MDGs.

4.    On-line surveys, consultations and contributions through MyWorld.org and TheWorldWeWant.org.

5.    Regional consultations conducted by the UN economic commissions.

6.    Open Working Group on SDGs. Will hold their first meeting on 14– 15 March 2014.

7.    Establishment by the UN SG of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) led by Jeffrey Sachs to bring in the scientific knowledge and underpinning in the post 2015/SDG processes.

8.    Consultation with the private sector through the Global Compact.

Dr. Vandeweerd said she was optimistic about the processes coming together in the end.

Key characteristics of the process:
-    A high degree of cooperation and consensus among the 42 participating UN agencies.
-    The most comprehensive global consultation ever undertaken by the UN.
-    A true global consultation, which include both developed and developing countries, and reach out to the poor and the marginalized in an unprecedented way and extend. Private sector, civil society, youth, parliamentarians are all involved and actively engaged. The post-2015 development framework and SDGs have captured people’s attention and they wish to contribute to crafting a more sustainable future in the follow up to Rio.


The MDGs have proved powerful as both agenda setting and as promoter of a strong human development focus. It is important to stay focused on achieving the MDGs until 2015 and to accelerate our support over the next two and a half years. UNDP’s MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) was introduced in 2010 to help countries identify bottlenecks and to help address them. At this point, the MAF has been applied in 42 countries with considerable success. 

As we define the next development framework, there is much we can learn from the MDGs, both their strengths and their weaknesses. The SDG’s should build on lessons learned through the MDGs.

Seven points were highlighted that emerged from the initial results of the national and thematic consultations on the post 2015 development framework.

1.    Important to focus on basic human needs, access to water, decent food, energy, basic health services etc.

2.    Move beyond GDP and while constructing the SDGs and associated targets and indicators, pay attention to the data needs and availability, to the monitoring and reporting requirements.

3.    Greater attention to qualitative and not just quantitative aspects of the envisaged goals, e.g. education for all, yes, but what are children learning, access to water, yes but how safe is it to drink…

4.    The issue of inequalities is of paramount importance and the national consultations suggest it must be addressed.

5.    Governance is an important enabler.

6.    All three strands of sustainability must be incorporated (economic, social and environmental strands).

7.    The new framework must be universal and apply to all countries, rich and poor.


    •    There are already far too many SDG’s being proposed (see ODI website via UN DESA website). The danger is that lobby groups will dig in their heels and just argue for their SDG without considering the broader framework, why we need SDGs and what we want to achieve through them.

    •    Right now there are three potential approaches: i) selection of the SDGs become like a Christmas tree with too many goals. This would not lead to a rational outcome. ii) the SDGs will be designed as a jigsaw puzzle with each SDG having an economic, environment and social component and r iii) the SDGs will become a truly transformative instrument by focusing on the drivers of change and using them to move the world to a more sustainable future  We should aim for the latter.

    •    While it is important to think about means of implementation and financing, we need to think differently and beyond ODA, which will always only play a small, albeit, catalytic role, while the large transformative investments have to come from national budgeting (public and private) and international investments.

    •    ODI has listed on their website some 250 SDGs that have already been proposed. However, too early focus on targets and indicators could slow or arrest the negotiating process before it has already begun and would most likely lead to an outcome of lowest common denominator.  We need to conceptualize our approach to the SDGs first before starting to negotiate. Hence, this negotiation process should not start until the conceptual issues have been agreed, i.e. late 2015.

    •    It is also critically important to continue conversation with civil society until end of 2015 to build ownership and buy-in on the goals. Important to remember that it took civil society five years to accept the MDGs because of lack of ownership and consultation.  Civil society should stay engaged and involved up to the end of 2015, ensuring that the public voice is heard and reflected and that an engaged citizenry contribute to the definition of the next development framework and is ready and willing to implement it, once the intergovernmental process has defined it.


Important to recognize that the Millennium Declaration is still valid; we might not need to reinvent but revisit the Declaration from 2000 and augment it to reflect the current realities. However, the conceptualization of the SDGs will determine how effective the outcome will be. A number of reflections in this regard:

•    Filter; of the 250 SDGs that has already been proposed –and the many more that will be proposed before 2015 - how do we filter/select them? A useful methodology could be to look at them from the perspective of either ‘drivers’, ‘pressure’, ‘impact’ or ‘response’. And to reflect on how they will contribute to making the world more sustainable. SDG could be beacons/milestones on the road to a more sustainable future. We should aim for SDGs being ‘drivers’ of change and consider the means of implementation. Many of the goals currently being proposed are status goals, giving no indication how the desired status will be achieve and providing no incentive to change behavior, production or consumption processes and patterns. )

 •    Country specificity; while we are aiming for a universal framework, we need to recognize that countries are at different stages of their development process. To address this, we could aim for different goals for different countries, OR, generic goals (e.g. access to basic services) with different targets and indicators for different countries. As such all countries would subscribe to the same goals but select targets and indicators that reflect their priorities and concerns.  

 •    Three strands of sustainability; the UN
SGs Energy For ALL (EN4ALL) initiative is the most clear example of how to integrate the three stands; Access goal = Social dev; Efficiency goal = economic dev; Renewable goal = Environment dev.  The economic goal is always the weakest and should not be reduced to an efficiency goal only.

 •    Reporting; do we start from different baselines or targets? Do we give countries different time horizons to report on the achievement of the goals and associated targets and indicators. It is important to build up a fair and realistic reporting framework.

Many more conceptual issues need to be addressed and solved before we start negotiations of the actual SDGs  if we want a rational and transformative process that will guide the world to a more sustainable future, along the lines as stipulated in the RI +20 Outcome Document.

The conversation has begun

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