Opinion: Fragmented, Incoherent & Chaotic – Global Goals need better Orchestration

Jonathan Volt • 17-01-2016
Opinion: Fragmented, Incoherent & Chaotic – Global Goals need better Orchestration

A new universal agenda including 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets was established in New York this September. It is a complex agenda with interlinked issues, which requires an “orchestrator of orchestrators” to ensure an effective and fair implementation process.

This text was first published on Politheor's website

One of the strengths of the new agenda is the acknowledgement of interlinkages. “We reiterate that this Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, including the means of implementation are universal, indivisible and interlinked,” write the UN (para. 71 in the new agenda). But while it is common sense that climate change, education and poverty are interdependent problems within a shared environment, the biggest hurdle for a successful implementation of the SDGs is an international system that is not fit for purpose. It has two inherent problems: First, issues are being organised in ”silos”. Second, it is fragmented.

Importantly, this system is not designed to handle the interlinked problems we are facing. This is evident in the case of climate governance, where the UN climate conferences grow in complexity, agenda items and participants every year. A new bottom-up approach, with Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), has also contributed to a mess of miscellaneous policies.

Things are also getting more intricate outside the UN umbrella, with additional forums such as the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy, multilateral- and bilateral negotiations (see the China-US climate deal) and a growing number of Public-Private Partnerships (like the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate) emerging almost every week. This policy shift reflects a diverse set of motivations and doubts of an effective UN climate agreement.

The effect of this fragmentation is multifaceted. Even if an increased level of fragmentation includes additional actors, which has an inherent value in a global governance process, fragmentation comes with a price.

Studies have shown that an increased level of fragmentation is worrisome for both equity and participation. Public-Private Partnerships, which play a key role in the implementation of the SDGs, have a history of mixed results and generally proven to be incapable of helping the most marginalised groups. In accordance with this, a recent report shows that climate change and inequality are among the SDGs that are least likely to be reached. If the SDGs cannot help the people who need them the most – what are they good for?

Such an incoherent governance system entails a working stream where ”agreements are negotiated by specialised ministries,” which are “detached from the negotiating arenas of other international agreements,” argues media and governance scholarNorichika Kanie. In other words, only policy coherence can bring both effectiveness (through knowledge sharing and efficient allocation of resources) and inclusiveness (ensuring that we ”leave no one behind”). Take the SDG 13 on climate: After a couple of vague targets, it states that global action against climate change shall be negotiated in the UNFCCC. No coherence.

Integrating the many dimensions of sustainable development will require political leadership and someone who dares to challenge the current institutional system. The only plausible forum that could impose some policy coherence is the UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). HLPF is a central UN platform under the auspices of ECOSOC, in which follow-up and review of the SDGs and the new agenda will be conducted.

A topical Policy Brief shows that an empowered HLPF could provide that coordinating leadership. First, the HLPF should prioritise “policies designed to improve […] institutional coherence across the UN system,” argue a group of distinguished governance scholars. Second, HLPF must facilitate a forum for productive dialogue, in order to solve existing and future North-South disagreements. Third, they ought to take advantage of their universal membership to attract actors outside the environment-development nexus. If governments can’t agree on an “orchestrator of orchestrators” that is the HLPF, a successful implementation of the SDGs will have a slim chance for success.


Tags: Governance,means of implementation,Sustainable Development Goals

Multilateral Aid 2015: Better Partnerships for a Post-2015 World

OECD • 15-07-2015
Multilateral Aid 2015: Better Partnerships for a Post-2015 World

This 2015 OECD report on multilateral aid contributes to the broader debate on how to implement the post-2015 development agenda. It argues that multilateral organisations have a fundamental role to play to forge and strengthen inclusive partnerships that will provide the collective, cross-border solutions needed to eradicate absolute poverty and foster a new era of economic progress, environmental sustainability, and peaceful and inclusive societies. But to be fit for purpose, multilateral organisations will need to implement a challenging reform agenda to both addresss the unfinished business of internal changes and respond to a fast-changing global environment. Multilateral Aid 2015 identifies how bilateral providers can support multilateral organisations in implementing the necessary changes and fostering effective partnerships that (i) make best use of all resources available for development, including earmarked funding, and (ii) leverage knowledge and resources from partners beyond the "traditional donors". 

The multilateral system has stood the test of time. Over the past fifty years, it has proven to be resilient and responsive to changing development dynamics and urgent needs, a major source of development expertise and know-how, and a powerful channel for intermediating and allocating resources. As the international community stands on the brink of the post-2015 era, the future role to be played by multilateral organisations could be even more important. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals' transformative vision will call for inclusive partnerships that will provide collective, cross-border solutions for readicating absolute poverty and fostering a new era of economic and social progress, environmental sustainability and peaceful and inclusive societies. The multilateral system at large - global, regional, traditional and new - is uniquely equipped to support this agenda. Multilateral organisations are politically neutral conveners of global partnerships, vehicles for upstream pooling of resources, facilitators for multi-stakeholder cross-border orperations and setters of global standards and norms. Further thinking about how to improve the functional features of the interactive relationship between providers, shareholders and the institutions themselves will be necessary. 

Order the publication here.

Find the highlights of the publication here.

Tags: inclusive partnerships,means of implementation,Post-2015 Development Agenda,Sustainability

Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR): advanced, unedited copy

UN • 12-06-2015
Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR): advanced, unedited copy

Building upon the 2014 Prototype Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) , the current report responds to the Rio+20 mandate to contribute to strengthening the science-policy interface (SPI) for sustainable development, particularly in the context of the high-level political forum (HLPF). Given the anticipated adoption in September of the post-2015 development agenda, the report asks how well prepared the scientific community is to inform the sort of integrated and multidimensional problem solving and policy making that will be needed for implementing this agenda. 

True to its mandate, the GSDR is designed as an assessment of assessments rather than seeking to pioneer new knowledge. It endeavors to present a range of scientific perspectives and to be policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive. One distinctive feature of the report is its illustration of different vantage points from which to examine the science-policy interface and to view integration and interlinkage across goals, sectors and issues. Its preparation involved and inclusive, multi-stakeholder process drawing upon scientific and technical expertise from within and outside the United Nations System. 

The science-policy interface (SPI) functions at many levels, from the global to the local. The report considers the functioning of the SPI at international and national levels, the latter in relation to the nexus of oceans, seas, marine resources and human well-being and the cross-cutting issue of disaster risk reduction. 

The report is structured in the following way:

Chapter 1 and 2 each illustrate one of the structering dimensions of the report and serve as an introduction to the rest of the report.
Chapter 3 examines the aforementioned nexus of oceans, seas, marine resources and human well-being, while Chapter 4 discusses disaster risk reduction (DRR) within the sustainable development agenda.
Chapter 5 reviews debates on promoting industrialization as a strategy for advancing inclusive economic development, and how the industrialization challenge and opportunities are being recast.
Chapter 6 concentrates its anlysis on selected aspects of science-policy interface in the context of countries in special situations, such as least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS).
In Chapter 7 the authors explore possibilities to bring science issues and findings easier and more effectively to the attention of policy makers.
Chapter 8 takes a look at new data approaches to monitor the sustainable development progress in Africa, talking about new technologies, big data analytics and the integration of collected data within existing frameworks.
Chapter 9 finally summarizes the report and presents the most relevant findings of each chapter. 


The full report can be found here.

Tags: frameworks and conceptualizations,Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR):,means of implementation,science-policy,sustainable development,United Nations General Assembly High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)

Universal Sustainable Development Goals: Understanding the Transformational Challenge for Developed Countries

Stakeholder Forum: Derek Osborn, Amy Cutter, Farooq Ullah • 02-06-2015
Universal Sustainable Development Goals: Understanding the Transformational Challenge for Developed Countries

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are intended to be universal in the sense of emodying a universally shared common global vision of progress towards a safe, just and sustainable space for all human beings to thrive on the planet. They reflect the moral principles that no-one and no country should be left behind, and that everyone and every country should be regarded as having a common responsibility for playing their part in delivering the global vision. In general terms, all of the goals have therefore been conceived as applying both as ambitions and as challenges to all countries. All of the goals and targets contain important messages and challenges for developed and developing countries. 



This study proposes a new method of analysis of the goals and targets to assist in identifying those which will represent for developed countries the biggest transformational challenges, in the sense of requiring new economic paradigms and changes in patterns of behaviour as well as new policies and commitment of resources. 

In the initial analysis, the methodology identifies the goals of sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), sustainable energy (SDG 7) and combating climate change (SDG 13) as the three most transformational challenges facing developed countries - and as being the challenges on which the world at large needs to see the developed world place a strong emphasis for action so as to relieve the overall anthropogenic pressures on the planet and its natural systems. Other goals involving significant transformational change in developed countries include the need to achieve more sustanable economies and growth pathways, the goal of greater equality, and the goals to achieve better protection of the oceans and of terrestrial ecosystems. 

Social problems of poverty, health, education and gender issues are still present in developed as well as in developing countries (though to different degrees) as are all the other issues covered by the SDGs. And the universal applicability of the SGDs stresses to the need to continue to confront all of these issues comprehensively in all countries. But further progress on these issues in the developed world cannot be expected to have such a large, transformational effect either within those countries themselves or in its impact on the rest of the world. 

The report suggests that the method of analysis it employs should now be used more widely to explore more deeply the major transformational challenges which the SDGs present to developed countries, as they begin to plan their SDG implementation strategies. It could also be applied to help other countries or groups of countries to identify the major tranformational challeges which the SDGs imply for them. 

The full report can be found here

Tags: climate change,frameworks and conceptualizations,means of implementation,Post-2015 Development Agenda,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,SDGs,sustainable consumption and production,sustainable energy

Project Information Document

The Earth System Governance Global Research Alliance & Sustainable Development Goals • 11-05-2015
Project Information Document

Earth System Governance - a global research alliance, is the largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change. The Earth System Governance research alliance takes up the challenge of exploring political solutions and novel, more effective governance mechanism to cope with the current transitions in the biogeochemical systems of the planet. The normative context of this research is sustainable development; earth system governance is not only a question of insitutional effectiveness, but also of political legitimacy and social justice. 

At the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio+20"), the UN member states decided on developing "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDG). The goal setting and implementation processes, and the development of the goals and their indicators pose a challenge to policy-making and to research. 

The Earth System Governance Project, jointly with partner organizations is taking up this challenge. The research on SDGs is coordinated by the Earth System Governance Tokyo Research Centre, which is co-organized by Tokyo Institute of Technology and United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), with funding from the S-11 research project entitled Project on Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015 (POST-2015) of the Ministry of Environment, Japan.

The aim of this 3-year project is to provide inputs into the policy process on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, with particular focus on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), based on rigorous scientific analysis on the governance of, and governenance for, the Post 2015 Development Agenda, which includes longer-term philosophical and normative underpinnings to SDGs. 

Tags: adaptiveness,Earth System Governance Project,environmental governance,frameworks and conceptualizations,,governance definitions / concepts,means of implementation,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,POST2015 Project on Sustainability Transformation beyond 2015,science-policy,United Nations University (UNU)

Making Money Work: Financing a sustainable future in Asia and the Pacific - Overview

Asia Development Bank • 30-04-2015
Making Money Work: Financing a sustainable future in Asia and the Pacific - Overview

Asia and the Pacific, home to more than half of humanity, has the money to improve the lives of all its people, and protect the planet in fair and durable ways. However, funds are in many hands, invested elsewhere, or used for various purposes. It is time to move beyond this fragmentation and align finance behind sustainable development, recognizing that while capital will be key, so will the capacity to apply and attract it effectively. 

This report explores some of the ways forward. it highlights not just the need to inject more money into investments that contribute to sustainable development, but also to attract funds toward them - to finance human needs, infrastructure, and cross-border public goods. The report spans public and private options, in their distinct roles and in combination. An eight point agenda suggests how key constituents can do their parts. Working together, they can make money work for development where benefits are not only more equitably shared, but will last for generations to come. 

Find the full report here.

Tags: frameworks and conceptualizations,means of implementation,poverty,sustainable development

Governance trends in the intergovernmental sustainable development discourse: a text analysis

Simon Hoiberg Olsen, Eric Zusman, Magnus Bengtsson, Tim Cadman, Ikuho Miyazawa • 25-04-2015
Governance trends in the intergovernmental sustainable development discourse: a text analysis

The international policy community has promoted sustainable development as a response to human-caused global environemental degradation for four decades. Implementation barriers have nontheless frustrated efforts to achieve a more sustainable future. A large body of literature holds that complementing top-down compliance-based governance with more collaborative forms of governance can help overcome these barriers. However, this literature often has a strong normative bent and draws from a limited number of case studies over a relatively short period of time.

While there is a long empirical track record of important outcome documents from key sustainable development meetings, extracting patterns from their coverage of governance and related means of implementation (MOI) (finance, technology, and capacity) can prove challenging. This paper uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to assess whether and to what extent governance (both compliance and collaborative forms) as well as related MOI appear in nine key documents from 1972 to 2015. The analysis shows a sharp increase in references to governance in general; a gradual increase of references to compliance-based governance; a steady increase in text on collaborative governance; and a sharp increase in text related to MOI. A possible interpretation of these trends is that collaborative forms of governance are increasingly complementing the preexisting government-centred views of governance. Additional research would be needed to examine not only if similar trends can be found at national levels, but more importantly whether collaborative forms of governance produce better outcomes or whether the increasing emphasis at intergovernmental levels are mere lip service to non-state pressure. 

Find the full article here.

Tags: collaboration,compliance,frameworks and conceptualizations,Governance,means of implementation,Post-2015 intergovernmental process,S-11,Sustainable Development Goals

Policy: Five priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Yonglong Lu, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Martin Visbeck, Anne-Sophie Stevance • 23-04-2015
Policy: Five priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Restructure data-gathering and evalutation networks to address climate change, energy, food, health and water provision, say Yonglong Lu and colleagues. 

Find the full publication here

Tags: big data,data-collection,frameworks and conceptualizations,means of implementation,Science and the SDGs,science-policy